Dressing the Part: 8/7/13

Welcome to the August edition of “Dressing the Part.” I’m Robin Abrahams, the Boston Globe’s “Miss Conduct.”

Wondering what to wear to an upcoming job interview, family reunion, wedding? I’ll be chatting today from noon-1pm Eastern Time here. Join me! (Or e-mail me your fashionetiquette dilemmas if you can’t make the chat).

Here’s what’s been on my mind during the past month.

Dressing for the Show

I’m a firm believer that all the world’s a stage, but when I go to an actual play, I especially like to dress in the mood of the performance. Not so’s it looks like I wandered out from the greenroom by accident, but I’m not going to show up at “Medea” in a peppy floral frock. Part of what makes live events—theater, music, worship services, sports—worth attending is your fellow audience members. Etiquette requires we don’t interfere with others’ enjoyment of the spectacle; I say, if you’re so inclined, go ahead and do your best enhance it! Here’s my outfit for a Boston production of “Absurd Person Singular,” a 1970s-era British comedy of very bad manners: a feminine silhouette in bright, almost violent colors, with traditional preppy accessories.

CSTjul13

“Style Bacon”

elainecolehaans

My theater shoes are Cole Haan’s “Monroe Deconstructed” (I have no idea what that could possibly mean) which are currently on sale!—and which I’ve worn some version or another of since “Seinfeld” ruled the airwaves. Two-tone shoes, for me, belong to an elusive category I have dubbed

Style Bacon

Like real bacon, Style Bacon makes things better. Like real bacon, Style Bacon can be the main dish, or a tantalizing seasoning. Like real bacon, everyone you know loves Style Bacon, to the point that you feel a little guilty, actually, for relying on it so much.

But don’t! Embrace Style Bacon: the silhouettes, colors, patterns, accessories that automatically take your outfit up a couple of notches of deliciousness. Having a good rasher of Style Bacon on hand can get you through fancy occasions that won’t say how fancy they are; the monotony of capsule wardrobes for travel; and days when you just need a little extra oomph.

More of my personal Style Bacon:

Fishnets. Black can be a little too va-va-voom for daytime, but neutral fishnets—grey, tan, beige, brown, olive, burgundy—can add a vaguely European touch of sex appeal. In cooler months, wear them over tights for a textured or contrasting look. I get mine from We Love Colors.

Black & white stripes / Leopard/cheetah print. Usually not both at once, although I will occasionally drape a leopard scarf over a striped shirt. Both patterns, though, create visual depth in an outfit, and although they are assertive patterns, they both coordinate well with neutrals, brights, pastels, and jewel tones.

This J.Crew necklace. I love it. Other people love it. And just like real bacon, it can burn my naked skin. (Trufax. It heats up in the sun, I can’t wear it on hot days.) J.Crew has excellent jewelry, which I usually score on eBay.

stylebacon

Appearance Privilege

Finally, in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, I posted the following (slightly revised here) on my Facebook page.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about appearance privilege. As a moderately attractive, medium-sized, slender brown-haired white ladyperson, I have never been profiled maliciously. I have very rarely even been profiled inaccurately. My physical type is our culture’s default setting for the Smart Nice Girl. From Fern Arable to Laura Ingalls to Mary Richards to Veronica Sawyer to Coco Chanel to Liz Lemon, I have never lacked for positive images of women who looked like me. My appearance has made it easier, not harder, to be taken seriously as an intellectual, as a professional, as a member of my chosen religious community. Women who look like me are the girl next door, the sensible wife, the breaker of glass ceilings, the comedienne, the thinking man’s sex symbol. There is little-to-nothing about my appearance that anyone would take as physically or psychologically threatening.

I am so incredibly lucky and have never really owned it. It’s much more socially acceptable to talk about wanting to lose 10 pounds than it is to talk about the ways your looks have made life easier. The latter feels simultaneously like bragging (as though you were claiming to be a goddess with people falling at your feet) and self-deprecation (as though you’re admitting that you didn’t earn what you’ve gotten).

So for what it’s worth, here’s one medium-sized brown-haired white woman saying that lookswise, I hit the lottery. And it’s not because I’ve bought the right products or developed the right attitude, because it’s much bigger than learning to be pretty or love yourself as-is. It has nothing to do with me at all. It has to do with the luck of being born into what my culture considers the right body. It has to do with the luck of having an inner self that matches the stereotypes of my outer self.

I want to work for a world in which everyone has it as easy as I do.

Ideas welcome.

repsofme

Elaine via Marie Claire.

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Already Pretty contributor Robin Abrahams writes the Miss Conduct social-advice column in the Boston Globe. (Got a question? Send it in to [email protected]!) Robin has a PhD in research psychology and is married to Marc Abrahams, creator of the Ig Nobel Prizes.

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  • bubu

    Fabulous fabulous fabulous. Funny and thought-provoking.

  • Anneesha

    LOVE the concept of style bacon! And love neutral fishnets.

  • Jean

    I love everything about this post. Fashion Bacon!! (patten red flats). But particularly the appearance privilege musings. I agree wholly. I look like you but I one up you! I am blonde (and little and thin, naturally thin, I eat a ton). I have always known I won the appearance lottery because I’m blond and am thin w/out easily gaining weight. It’ NOTHING I have done on my own. Nothing. I don’t feel guilty, so much as badly for other people who have to struggle just because my appearance fits “what’s in” at this moment in history. I’d be branded as unhealthy during other periods. And I’m not as tall nor as thin as a fashion model, so there is that.
    But I have pledged, like you, to work to change societal norms and I feel blogs like Sally’s and others are ways to do that, as is social media. To subvert the stupid advertising and women’s magazines and popular media messages. We didn’t used to have other routes to view “normal women” and now we do. Yay.
    Thank you so much for this.

  • http://www.fashionistastyle1.blogspot.com Londyn

    Great looks and inspirations :)

  • Susan in Boston

    Very interesting post. Never thought of dressing to suit the play, but I like the idea.

    I, too, was delivered into the world as “a moderately attractive, medium-sized, slender brown-haired white ladyperson” about 20 years before you were. Because of that packaging, I’ve been granted credibility that I sometimes didn’t really earn. That has made life easier, and in some ways, that has not been good for me.

    But it certainly has made me very aware of how people whose packaging falls outside the social ideal are dismissed. I once spent an interesting evening at a party with a dear, but very athletic, body-aware, packaging-prejudiced friend. I made a point of chatting with the folks who make him uncomfortable. I’m sure he got something out of it, though he’ll never tell me.

    Love the “style bacon” concept. I will call it “style anchovies.” Anchovies are in a lot of things and make significant contributions to flavor that you often cannot trace, yet discover only when the chef omits them.

  • Shanda Perry

    Your section about appearance privilege was money. This biracial woman (identifying as black) thanks you for speaking it. Right on.

  • http://fashionforgiants.blogspot.com Gracey the Giant

    So much yes to both style bacon and neutral fishnets. LOVE.

    Thank you too for speaking on Appearance Privilege; not a lot is said about it but it’s very important.

  • Amy in Austin

    Love your thoughts on appearance privilege and the comment “I want to work for a world in which everyone has it as easy as I do” hits the nail on the head for me. Thank you.

  • Kate Skone

    Oh man…I loved the Style Bacon, but what got me was the Appearance Privilege part. I am blonde, have naturally curly hair, blue eyes, smooth complexion, pink cheeks and lips, average height, 28 years old…

    …and I am a size 28, plus-sized woman. I do have a large bust and wide hips, so I have an exaggerated hourglass figure, from the front, but I also have quite a belly, so that from the side, that is what sticks out the farthest. And I am a Fat Acceptance Activist, so while I am comfortable with my body, I am very aware of how my size affects my life.

    In my life, I seem to get a partial pass, depending on the person with whom I am interacting. I get a ton of envious compliments on my hair. I am also white, so that certainly affects things significantly.

    But I am still quite plus-sized, and I really can’t think of anyone in film/television who looks much like me. Occasionally you will see a plus-sized lady in a show, which is great (minus any fat jokes made about her), but they are generally dark-haired (maybe that ties in with what you were saying, Miss Conduct?) and/or straight-haired. Seriously, I have thought about cosplaying in the past (I am also a super-geek, which of course also affects how people see/treat me), but who would I play? I would have to play the fat version of someone, or at the very least get a wig, but even then, my selection is incredibly limited.

    I have also had trouble getting a job before, and judging from all the statistics, this may be at least partially due to my size.

    So thank you for this – this sort of acknowledgement is refreshing. Oh, and I love everything you write, by the way!