I am not one of those women who make assumptions about others based on what they’re wearing, but at a recent event, I caught myself staring at a young woman, probably well-bred, who decided it was appropriate to step out in a sheer skirt that revealed her knickers in their entirety.
Slightly dumbstruck, I looked to my male colleagues for a reaction. Nothing. Their gaze fell on her with the same analytical inspection that one applies to an inanimate object like a car, interesting enough to turn heads, but not worth any actual emotion.
That’s when it hit me – I had seen this before. This young lady was not the first of her kind, and she would certainly not be the last.
She was merely a ‘Fashion Lemming’ following an imaginary leader who graced TV shows, magazine covers and music videos.
If Miley Cyrus and Rihanna can prance about in next to nothing, we can too, right? Women’s Lib, Feminism, Sexual Equality…we’ve earned the right to flaunt our bodies so men can ogle at us like objects, right? Right?
Somewhere in my subconscious, I can hear my grandmother making judgment calls on women based on a tiny hole in their stockings. Imagine the fall-out if we were to time warp a selection of our fashion icons back to the 1950s, 1960s or even the 1990s. ‘Girl Power’ certainly seemed more assertive in platform sneakers than it does in a miniscule piece of nothing that covers up far less than it reveals.
But before we get on the bandwagon of blame, let us talk about where this all starts – the catwalk.
I think it’s safe to say that the general public has never really understood this realm of the fashion world where storytelling and trend collide. As in theatre, where actors wear more makeup and project their voices to be heard, fashion’s stage is the runway and all that ascends it a show. It is however how the mass industry adapts this ‘performance’ that really has the most significance, and sadly we do not have enough modest stylists on hand to curb the epidemic.
Let us look back to Spring 2013 when we were first introduced to the crop top. Paired with a trouser or skirt fitted high in the waist, it flirted on the fringes of sexy without giving it all away. Likewise, racy bra tops played peek-a-boo under a jacket, whispering just enough without having to shout for attention. While ‘Sports Luxe’ revealed that athletic was the new sexy, minimal was the new feminine.
Cue a set of ambitious stars who thought they knew better and voila! You have street style that borders on ‘street walker’ – no imagination needed. Eventually their quest to ‘out-flash’ each other either resulted in complete nudity or epic fails on the red carpet. But on the way there, it left millions of women ‘enlightened’ in a very dark place.
How is this for a shocker? Fashion never wanted you to wear a crop top and micro-shorts (outside of the gym), they never intended you to reveal your ‘Wednesday’ panties under a mesh dress, and no, that bra top is not appropriate for anyone over a size 32A.
You see, some looks seen on the runway should never be reality; and just because that Attention Addict on Instagram is selling her body for followers, you don’t need to leap aboard for the downhill ride.
How people react to one another in real life is greatly different to La-La Land. The six-foot model wearing lace with nothing underneath is not going to be bothered backstage. Kim Kardashian is okay wearing latex with 10 bodyguards surrounding her; but you, my dear, are not safe in your sheer dress at the petrol station. There will never be a good enough reason to attack a woman, so please do not think I’m even suggesting that we cover-up for change. But I do think a few values need to be upheld in order to keep womankind’s image on the up and up.
Why not stand out from the crowd? Rita Ora may wear a side slit up to her hip on the red carpet, but you can make your own choices. I always say: if you have to coordinate your underwear with your outfit – it’s showing way too much. Clothing should never make you feel uncomfortable; so if you’re pulling and tugging, struggling to sit, stand or walk, chances are it wasn’t made to ever really be worn. That’s the deluded designers’ fault, not yours. A woman doesn’t need to show skin to be beautiful – she just needs to be comfortable in her own skin.
Alarmingly in a society that is always connected, we have so few meaningful connections. Our race to gain more friends and followers online has disconnected us from our reality, our heritage and our culture. The selfies we post are more important than how we really look – it’s all an illusion. So we’ve cast ourselves in a fantasy production of day-to-day life; and let me tell you, the critics aren’t impressed.
Once upon a time women were feminine: we succeeded with grace, we failed with dignity. Men will never be less attracted to skin, but with so much of it on display, they will grow tired of the irreverent show. Little by little, we dull our own sparkle. In a world where less may get you more glances and advances – ask yourself what exactly you wanted in the first place.
Download issues of Forbes Africa
- Single Digital Issue: Nigeria 60 - Forbes Africa Oct/Nov 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: James Mwangi Cover - Forbes Africa Aug/Sep2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa June/July 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa April 2020 - 30 Under 30 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa March 2020 R50.00