Toronto Star

Why fashion makes us look foolish in photos

- Heather Mallick

Twenty years from now, we will all look dated and ridiculous in photos, no matter how beauteous we think those selfies right now. This is because we are creatures of our time. Our hair, glasses, facial expression, our very pants will be purely 2015 and will send our children into howls of derisive laughter.

This will hurt. Are we not great enough to transcend time? (No.)

The details, the killer details, stamp our era on our foreheads.

Take bottoms. The Nicki Minaj-Taylor Swift-Katy Perry quarrel on Twitter was either meaningles­s or absorbing, depending on your tastes. I deplored it, seeing it as a retro cat fight among three women of great wealth over a video award so tacky you’d use it to weigh down the door of your garter-snake cage.

But what struck me about Anaconda, Minaj’s soft-porn video tribute to what Freddie Mercury once joyously called “fat-bottomed girls,” was her contributi­on to the way we see bodies.

Some women are fighting, justly, for the right to look “thick” in public, to be just plain big. Heavyset men have always had this right, walking around topless in the summer like an off-season mall Santa.

In Minaj’s video, a throwback sample from Sir Mix-a-Lot proclaims his “anaconda” — the silliest name any man (even Drake) could come up with for his significan­t organ — “don’t want none, unless you got buns, hon.” The video becomes a festival of bunnery waggling in the viewer’s face. “Skinny” women should beware, apparently. They could get sat on.

For there are fashions in bodies as there are in clothes. Right now, whether you know it or not, you are reflecting your era. When food was scant, the rich were fat. With cheap fast food on offer, the rich are thin. Swift is whippet-thin, Minaj is thick. That both are images of this era is a triumph for women.

This is new. As a Guardian critic explained in 1958, the dress designer Charles Worth was the first to tell rich women what to wear, rather than them telling him what to sew. He made women’s waists contract and expand, breasts too. He manufactur­ed consent.

At the turn of the century the breasts of the Gibson Girl “jutted out like wide sloping shelves.” In the 1920s breasts were made to look flat. In the 1950s they grew bigger and higher, smaller and braless in the 1970s, and inflated in the ’90s when the brassy big-lipped hair-extensione­d look began.

Now men are being tormented too. They must have six-pack abdominal muscles that look like rubble. They are told to load their hair with product. Male cologne is a big sector. The modern male is nervous.

Our surroundin­gs change too. In Toronto’s dilated real estate market, re- altors boast of hardwood floors and granite countertop­s. But a smart condo owner would install carpeting to ward off noise complaints from the condo below. Hardwood makes no sense now and carpet will return. Granite countertop­s are done. It’s all quartz now.

Eyebrows thickened in the ’40s, slimmed in the ’80s. Now thick is back. You can have eyebrows shaped, or you can paint them with RevitaBrow until caterpilla­rs grow on your brow bone, topping eyelids already heavy with 1960s liner. Men are wearing eyeliner now. It looks good.

In our homes, we see the foolish retro trend of leggy mid-century furniture. Fat furniture that used to sit flat on the floor is boxy now, with at least four legs. It is more likely to topple on small children. High and elaborate baseboards are hard to clean. Your fashionabl­y open kitchen shelves are sticky with dust and grease. Vacuuming time has doubled.

The rimless eyeglasses of American monsters — Robert McNamara, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld— have vanished and big black rims are in. Oblongs are done, round is back. We’re dressing our faces like Le Corbusier, the man who helped invent ugly architectu­re. Elaborate portraitur­e is out, illustrati­on is in. Wallpaper is back. It won’t last.

Men’s suits have changed, suddenly. Eighties pleats are gone and suits are cigarette thin. But there is no crease in these modern unforgivin­g pants. I am uneasy.

Look at those blackmail photos. There you both are, him suit-constricte­d with owl glasses, her well-cushioned with Groucho Marx eyebrows. How silly you look, how quintessen­tially 2015.

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