Archive for the ‘clothes’ category

Marie Kondo and Miranda Priestly

February 10, 2016

I’m still working my way through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s a super-quick read; the slow bit is actually putting Marie Kondo’s suggestions into practice.

And yes, her approach is not for everyone. Any regular reader of this blog will be able to guess without reading a word of the book that this professional declutterer has a lot of privilege and is writing for people who also have a lot of privilege. Her simple (but powerful) idea is that you only keep the things that “spark joy” in your heart; taken literally, that would involve getting rid of a lot of boring but essential things. Fine if you have the funds to replace them, maybe, but disastrous if you don’t. (And, actually, pretty irritating even if you do. I could afford to get rid of my boring raincoat and buy a new one, but the thought of going shopping to buy one that “sparks joy” fills me with dread.)

So every time I mention something from the book to my partner, they sing the word “Pri-vi-lege!” in the way that we imagine Geri Halliwell sings “Protein!” at lunchtime. But I have a lot of affection for the writer. For a start, she’s so clearly on the autistic spectrum. She’s been obsessed with tidying and reorganising spaces since the age of five, possibly younger. She feels as if she can relate to objects in a way she can’t relate to humans. She’s astonishingly good at rearranging objects and spaces in her mind – so good that she doesn’t need to physically be in a space to come up with ideas for organising it. In fact, she can conjure up a picture in her mind of every single house she’s worked on and tell you exactly where her former clients keep their different categories of stuff. But because her obsession is in a domestic, traditionally female area, I suspect her Aspie nature has gone completely under the radar.

Same with Miranda Priestly, the bitch boss in The Devil Wears Prada. If you read the book, you start to suspect that 99% of the nightmarish crap she puts her assistants through is because she lacks theory of mind. Time and time again, she forces Andrea (the junior assistant) to play detective by withholding some important piece of information. For example, at one point Andrea is tasked with contacting an antique furniture shop that Miranda has recently visited; all she is told is the rough area of the city it’s in, so she travels from shop to shop asking people if her boss has been in recently. It turns out that all along, Miranda has been in possession of a business card with the full address and contact details for the shop. When Andrea admits defeat, Miranda gives her the business card and insults her for not using this information in the first place. The book is full of incidents like this. Does Miranda withhold information on purpose, to make life difficult for her assistants? Or does she genuinely not grasp that not everybody will be in possession of the information she has unless she shares it with them?

At another point, Miranda throws a party. Andrea is tasked with obtaining pictures of the guests, then memorising their faces so she can identify them correctly and greet them on the night. Is Miranda just putting Andrea through another trial? Or does she in fact need Andrea to do this because she herself has big problems recognising faces? At the party itself:

I didn’t have to hear what [the guests] were saying to know that she was barely responding at the appropriate time. Social graces were not her strength […] I always enjoyed the rare occasions when I got to watch Miranda trying to impress those around her, because she wasn’t naturally charming.

Towards the end of the book, Miranda is told she’s going to receive an award and will be asked to give a short speech.

“Why the hell was I not informed that I’d be receiving some nonsense award at today’s luncheon?” she hissed, her face contorting with a hatred I’d never seen before. Displeasure? Sure. Dissatisfaction? All the time. Annoyance, frustration, generalized unhappiness? Of course, every minute of every day. But I’d never seen her look so downright pissed off.

A sudden change of plan involving having to give a speech at short notice is enough to stress most people out, but is the intensity of Miranda’s reaction because she’s on the spectrum?

You shouldn’t internet-diagnose real people, so I guess you shouldn’t internet-diagnose fictional characters. But Miranda Priestly ticks a lot of ASD boxes. And yet…she works in the frivolous, female-dominated world of fashion, so of course she must be neurotypical, right?

Miranda Priestly can tell the difference between two seemingly identical white scarves with just one glance; that must be because she’s a silly frivolous woman obsessed with fashion. She can look at a person and instantly identify the designer of every single item of clothing they’re wearing, even if she can’t reliably recognise the face of her own assistant; that must be because she’s a label snob. Don’t get me wrong, she seems like an absolutely terrible person as well as an Aspie, and it’s her awfulness that moves the book forward. But if a book depicted a male editor of a magazine about model trains and kept every other detail the same, would it take 13 years for someone to suggest that he might possibly not be neurotypical? (The book came out in 2003, the film came out in 2006, and yet as far as I know, I’m the first person to suggest that the Miranda Priestly character could be on the spectrum.)

Since a female friend of mine came out as Aspie recently, I’ve been wondering how many other women have gone undiagnosed because their Aspie traits have been masked by stereotypically female interests.

A nice thing to do in February

February 10, 2015

Gather all your woolly gloves together and handwash them, using the wool/delicates detergent of your choice. If winter is nearly over, you can pack them away almost clean. If there’s still lots more winter to come, you’ve just given them a new lease of life.

If you’re thinking that your gloves don’t need washing, just try it once and see how dirty the water gets.

Lie-to-word ratios: Moschino Cheap & Chic

May 14, 2013

Moschino Cheap & Chic is a fashion line from the Italian designer Moschino. So that’s the first word taken care of very quickly: it’s definitely not a lie.

But cheap? I’ve just taken a look at the recent collection online. Looks like a belt will set you back around £209.00, a blouse is retailing at £446.00 and a pair of fucking red trousers is £203.00.

Obviously we all have different ideas about what “cheap” means, depending on whether we’re buying, say, an aircraft carrier or a loaf of bread. But I think most people would probably baulk at spending hundreds of pounds on a single item of clothing for everyday wear. Personally, I wouldn’t spend £700 on a blazer unless it had a jetpack attached. So cheap? No.

And chic? Again, this is subjective. You can tell it’s high fashion because the women’s sizes only go up to a 12, thereby excluding the majority of the UK’s female population (the ones who weren’t already excluded by the damn prices, that is). And the men’s range features lots of clothes that would be laughed at in most of the social situations I encounter. But chic? My subjective opinion is no. These clothes are what I’d describe as boggin’. Some are unwearable because they’re transparent; others are super-frumpy yet sleeveless; there are plenty of hideous patterns to make you look like the office joker.

I’m sure there are some people who are capable of looking good in Moschino clothes. But that’s not the test of chic. To me, the test of chic is: do these clothes make you look better than you would otherwise? For example, would you actually look better in a Moschino T-shirt than you would in a completely plain white Primark T-shirt? I’d say the answer, pretty much across the board, is no. I challenge the reader to find three items in the entire spring/summer 2013 collection that they would actually like to wear. I bet it takes you a while. Now remember that you have no idea whether or not it’ll fit you anyway, because you can’t find the size guide. And you don’t know if you can wash it or if you’ll have to shell out for dry cleaning, because they don’t bother to give you that information; surely anyone who can afford it has servants. Oh, and that reminds me: you can’t afford it anyway, can you?

Ignoring the ampersand, Moschino Cheap & Chic comes out as three words, two lies. A lie-to-word ratio of 2:3.

Wear black at my funeral

April 17, 2013

A few weeks ago I went to a colleague’s funeral and noted, not for the first time, a trend for funeral-goers to wear colours other than black. I was brought up to believe that the “correct” colours for funerals are black, more black and perhaps grey if that’s the colour of your only suit. Maybe my upbringing wasn’t typical, but I do think the tendency to wear other colours is a relatively new thing.

The justification is usually the same: “It’s a celebration of [the person’s] life.” But it just doesn’t work. For a start, most of us are cursed with crappy communicators as our next-of-kin, so it’s rare for all the funeral attendees to get the “no black” memo. Secondly, funeral-goers almost never actually wear celebratory clothes. If black is banned, you tend to get a wintry mix of browns, blues and greys. Maybe that’s because people feel that party wear is disrespectful, or maybe they just feel too sad to wear anything fun. Either way, that should be a massive clue as to why avoiding black is bad: because funerals are not a celebration of the person’s life. They’re a time for saying goodbye, for sharing the grief with others who will understand. You’re remembering the person and their achievements on a sad occasion, and that’s OK. True celebration happens in other ways.

The colleague whose funeral I attended was definitely a man who deserved celebrating. And he was a man who loved fun, who loved partying. A real celebration of his life would have involved men in dresses (and I’m definitely not counting priests here), Cuban rum, Irish whisky, beautiful women, bright colours, music, dancing. We had a little post-funeral party where the drinks flowed, the music played and beautiful women were in attendance, and that’s great. But the actual funeral was a depressing affair – of course – and the people who turned up in beige fleeces instead of black clothes didn’t change that.

I write as someone who avoids wearing black in the normal course of things. Right now, I have perhaps six items of black clothing in my bulging, colourful wardrobe, including three pairs of jogging bottoms and a brewery T-shirt.  I used to wear a lot of black in my gothier days, but now it seems a waste when there are so many nice colours to wear. I also think that wearing non-black to work is a way of “levelling up” in your wardrobe choices. Choosing a different base colour –  even if it’s a safe option like navy, beige, brown or grey – somehow makes you look more sophisticated.

But I want people to wear black at my funeral. Maybe you admired alive-me for wearing nice colours, for being unconventional, for having an upbeat attitude (unlikely, I know). But my funeral won’t be a celebration of my life. Celebrate my life by drinking my favourite wine, chatting about me to others, doing things I would have approved of. Don’t do it at my funeral, because funerals are sad, and that’s OK. There’s no need to think outside the box once I’m inside the box.

George Osborne and the cult of early

October 10, 2012

George Osborne has been talking about blinds. He seems to have made the same point both during his speech at party conference and during a Today programme interview, which suggests he’s proud of it.

“Where is the fairness for the shift worker, leaving home in the morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of the next-door neighbour, sleeping off a life on benefits?”

Yes, Osborne is a paid-up member of the cult of early. His speech makes a lazy equivalence between opening your blinds, getting up early and doing valid work. Or rather, a lazy equivalence between not opening your blinds, lying in bed all day and receiving benefits paid for by the sweat and toil of others.

I’m delighted to see that there’s already been a backlash against his bullshit on social media with the “#myblindsaredownbecause” hashtag. (The Guardian did something similar too.) If you’ve ever read this blog before, you won’t need me to explain why Osborne’s rhetoric is dangerous, lazy rubbish. There might be a thousand reasons to leave your blinds down – and none of them are the Chancellor’s business.

I’ve written in the past about how the cult of early preserves the sumptuary laws. What I meant by that is that the cult of early is inextricably linked with a culture that says you have to be seen to be working, to go through certain rituals that have no value in themselves if you want the value of your work to be accepted. When we talk about “getting your hands dirty” we are talking about producing a visual sign for the approval of others, a sign that says our work is “real”.

Of course Osborne is of the social class that wears a suit rather than a fluorescent tabard, a class that stays up late in the House of Commons rather than getting up early to take up somebody’s floorboards. But his commitment to the modern-day sumptuary laws is total. The Conservatives want – have always wanted – people to look like what they are. That’s what’s behind the Conservative obsession with keeping school uniform despite no evidence that it improves academic performance or children’s behaviour.

Conservatives want the little people to look and behave like little people. They’d love it if social pressure controlled our appearance even more than it already does. If you work in a blue-collar job, you probably already get up early, drive a white or branded van and wear suitable clothes for the job. Maybe you drive badly and park on double-yellow lines to make the point still further that you are a Real Worker. Perhaps your appearance is visibly dirty or dusty. But for the Conservatives, that’s not enough. Open your blinds before you leave the house, for God’s sake, or all this theatre will have been for nothing!

The party that preaches rolling back the state and social mobility wants nothing of the sort. They want grubby little tradesmen to be thinking about their low social status before they’re fully awake in the morning. And they’re encouraging our neighbours to judge us even more than they already do. Leave your blinds closed and you invite judgment; open them and people get to look inside your house and draw more detailed conclusions about how you’re failing at something.

I used the word “theatre” when I described the rituals we go through to prove we’re workers, and I used it advisedly. Osborne is using the misdirection techniques of a stage magician. Leaving the house painfully early? Sick of your job that doesn’t pay enough, your boss who treats you like crap, the fact that you can’t leave because you won’t find another job? Don’t look at what might be causing those problems. Don’t think about the failure of coalition policy and contemplate joining Labour or the Greens. Don’t think about getting some real protection in your workplace by joining a trade union. Just look up! Look up at your neighbours’ windows and occupy yourself in observing, policing, judging. What lazy scroungers they must be.

The cult of early preserves the sumptuary laws

May 18, 2012

There’s a complex class aspect to our expectations about circadian rhythms. When you read a lot of 19th-century fiction, you realise that “people who come in the morning” is code for tradesmen, workers, people who aren’t social visitors as leisured as you are. The expectation persists to this day. That’s why so many blocks of flats have a general buzzer that will automatically let you in up to a certain time of day (usually noon) but then stop working. It’s for postal workers, deliveries, people who’ve come to fix stuff: basically modern-day tradesmen. If you want to get into a block of flats in the afternoon, you’d better be visiting a specific person (or unafraid of ringing lots of strangers’ buzzers until you get an answer). In other words, unless you fit the 19th-century expectation that an afternoon call is a social call, you’re forced into antisocial behaviour.

So. The morning is for “real” workers, people who “get their hands dirty” and whatever other bullshit cliches you want to spout. That’s the cult of early for you. Yes, there’s grudging respect for people who do night shifts, but unless you live in a town where night work is very common, there’s no culture of trying to show this respect by keeping quiet in the daytime.

Personally, I have the white-collar privilege of being able to work from home a lot of the time and choose my own hours. Yes, being responsible for planning my own workload is mentally tiring, but I fully acknowledge it’s a privilege. I’m judged and paid on the actual work I do, rather than having a boss who plays power games about controlling when they get to see my face. That is most definitely a privilege, and I appreciate it.

Yes, working from home does involve mental effort and discipline, because there’s no longer an easy, spatial way of separating home stuff and work stuff. I’ve read endless blog posts about how you can get into work mode by dressing in smart clothes, setting aside a room of your house for work (because naturally, everybody’s house is big enough to do that) and performing little start-the-day and end-the-day rituals. That’s fine, but I’m coming round to thinking that perhaps the smart thing would be not to separate them at all, but just to get the most out of both of them.

I recently read a blog post on productivity and willpower that suggests you’d be better off not getting dressed before you start work. I accept what the author says about willpower being a depletable resource. I’m not completely sure that she’s right about willpower being at its strongest first thing in the morning – does that work for night owls? But assuming she is right, homeworkers like me should stop getting dressed and ready first thing. Why use up your precious, depletable willpower on choosing a suit or blow-drying your hair when you could be tackling your actual work – the thing that matters? You can do the face-the-world stuff mid-morning and treat it as a break from work rather than as stuff to be done before your work can start.

Great from a productivity and happiness point of view. But are you strong enough to withstand the cultural pressures telling you to get dressed earlier? If you’re still in your pyjamas at 10am, you will have to withstand loaded comments from every “real” worker you encounter. And no, of course you are not safe from these comments in your own home unless you never receive any deliveries, never have any work done on your house, never have the boiler checked or the meter read, never forget to put the bin out and have to rush out with it when the binmen are already there.

The comments are mostly light-hearted teasing. But the message is: you are a useless, pampered aristocrat and you don’t know what real work is. Those Superman pyjamas might as well be a smoking-jacket and a monacle. Your real income doesn’t matter. Your real working hours don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done any number of back-breaking “real” jobs in the past. You are the idle rich and that’s the end of the matter. And as with many jokes designed to reinforce cultural pressure, it’s very hard to argue without looking humourless.

In other words, the cult of early has preserved the sumptuary laws. They don’t have any legal force, of course, but un-codified expectations are often even harder to challenge than codified, legally binding ones. If you want the status of a worker, you must put some real clothes on.

Of course, this is about preserving someone else’s right to feel better about themselves by judging you. That’s why there’s not much you can do to stop being judged in this way, short of jacking in the freelance graphic design work and becoming a miner.

A little story to illustrate this: I used to subscribe to the “get dressed early and smartly” school of thought, so one day I opened the front door to a delivery driver in my work-from-home suit. His face cracked into the usual leer of thoroughly relished contempt and his first words to me were: “You haven’t been out, have you?” It took me a while to work out what he meant, which was a bit slow of me given that jokes about my laziness are the main topic of conversation I get from delivery drivers. He’d spotted a spider’s web woven across the front door, which was hard evidence that I was a lazy stay-at-home. With this guy, my smart clothes made no difference. My explanation of the concept of remote working made no difference. He just kept repeating “You haven’t been out”, amused and accusing. The subtext was so very obviously “I’ve caught you slacking!”

I closed the door on him while he was still cackling and then remembered: I had been out that day already. But I’d left the house by the back door, because I keep my bike in the back garden and this journey was by bike rather than on foot.

But the thing is: it didn’t matter. The fact that I actually had been out was no more relevant than the smart clothes or anything I said or the fact that I’d finished a difficult conference call to someone in a different timezone minutes before he knocked on my door. Nothing mattered. When people enjoy judging, they will keep on judging in the face of a huge heap of evidence that judging is not required. This is one instance where the “never apologise, never explain” thing actually applies. Just put on your metaphorical smoking jacket and close the door in his stupid fucking face.