Pondering the Power(less) Look

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch. – Gilda Radner

Why have tight sleeveless dresses and 4-inch heels become the modern professional woman’s uniform de rigueur? Rigorous indeed, requiring girdles (sorry, Spanx!) to squeeze into sausage casings with no room to breathe or move. Shoes needing morphine and lots of balance training just to maneuver across a room. I don’t care how much they cost or if they have signature red soles, they still hurt like hell.

Who has decided that this is the “power” look? If women in these outfits can’t feel free and have to deny they are in pain, why is it powerful? Where did this latest fashion come from? Possibly the popular TV show, Mad Men. It beautifully captured our nostalgia for smoking and drinking and eating bacon with carefree abandon as well as for mid-century modern design and dress.Old Girdle Ad

Ironically, the women in Mad Men lacked inherent power and if they had any career aspirations, they had to fight for them and survive being treated as objects. Like Ginger Rogers, they did everything men did, but backwards and in heels. The show’s fallout has exaggerated women’s fashion of that time. Having worked during part of the 60s, I remember that our sheath dresses were loose and comfortable and the heels, while not comfortable, were more like two inches.

So is today’s sex-object dressing a weird sort of retaliation? Women have made considerable progress in the work world. Do they feel guilty? Do they feel they have to placate men’s egos, prove they are still feminine even though they are bosses? Defer to a twisted idea of what looks powerful?

Personally, I preferred the fashions of the late 60s and 70s, simple flowing lines, dresses and pantsuits that were flattering and comfortable. The styles accommodated work and play. In the 80s, power suits made their appearance. I had a grey flannel pinstripe skirt and jacket I wore for important meetings at Xerox. In those days, we also pulled on pantyhose and clunked around on solid heels. Our jackets and blouses came with shoulder pads and we looked like linemen for the Green Bay Packers.

The next two decades brought softer styles and in some industries, such as hi-tech where I was a technical writer, it was anything goes. Grunge, punk, lumberjack, surfer dude, super jock. Jeans on casual Fridays became torn jeans or even shorts and flip flops every day. The men and women engineers at Qualcomm don’t trust suits and sexpots.

In the small but upscale beach town where I live, we see every type of fashion, from bathing suits to long dresses. If a woman walks by in a tight dress and high heels, most likely she is a banker, realtor, business coach or fundraiser. Or, according to a local joke, she could be the mistress of a rich man up in L.A., especially if she’s young.

Occasionally I see an older woman decked out in a bright red or blue satin suit and a little hat and even though I might not want to wear that myself, I feel happy for her – go for it! She’s obviously enjoying herself. And so are the many artists and other creative folk who invent colorful costumes.

Yoga, pilates and other workout studios are popular here – and so are new stores selling the right clothes to work out in. Yoga pants in wild colors and prints are now walking from morning to night up and down the sidewalks. They are extremely forgiving and with a flowy blouse or cardigan, look great.

I prefer to change into jeans when I get home from yoga. I like my yoga pants, but they are a little too warm and sweaty for me to wear all day. And my jeans keep my diet honest. When they feel tight, I know I’m eating too much.

Really I think we should be able to wear what we want and enjoy whatever style we think suits us and our lifestyle. Overall, that’s the general way fashion goes for most of us. I try to keep an open mind about what others wear.

I’m just having a hard time with the sexpot look. I am not against looking sexy, but when I see the poor women newscasters on TV with every bulge magnified, I feel sad. Hopefully the Mad Men phase will pass. Recently I read an article on how fashion designers are promoting a new gender neutral style. Photos of androgynous models in heavy wool pants and sweaters. They aren’t as bad as the top-heavy jackets of the 80s, but my god, looking at them makes my skin itch.

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Here I Am versus There You Are, Feline Version

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who walk into a room and say, “There you are!” and those who say, “Here I am!”  — Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)

Leaving aside people, I’d like to apply this distinction to cats. Dogs, in my experience, are a revolving door of both, but I could be wrong, not having lived with any long enough to fully appreciate unique canine personalities.

Cats I know well, having shared space with them most of my life. Currently three: Dewey, 8, and sisters Lily and Zoe, 5.

Lily leaps into the “Here I am!” category. Walk into a room and she comes running and yowling. For such a slim and non-Siamese cat, she has a loud and deep voice. If anyone appears at the door, she’s right in front of them in a flash. “Hi, pet me! Aren’t I beautiful?” If I talk to one of the other cats, she also comes running, even if in a deep sleep in a far corner.

Leaping Lily
Leaping Lily

Like a jealous kid, she can’t stand it if she’s not the center of attention. Her worst habit is wanting this attention whenever I’m on the phone. She makes such a ruckus I can’t hear the person on the other end. This is not too bad if it’s friends or family, but with business conference calls, it’s embarrassing. I’ve tried shutting her out of my office, but she soon escalates into a full-blown tantrum, throwing herself at the door. I try to remain calm and professional, hoping the corporate stiffs are not picturing me in a zoo in my pajamas with wild hair.

Lily is my only lap cat. “Here I am, now that you have your morning coffee and writing journal so well arranged on this comfy couch.” She is also the most agile, able to leap and land in high places.

Just as Lily is slim and loud, her sister Zoe is compact and quiet. If a stranger comes to the door, she retreats into the “There you are and I don’t want to be here” category. Eventually she’ll walk halfway back and watch warily. If it’s me, she’ll approach slowly. Unlike Lily, she doesn’t like her head rubbed, prefers to be brushed or patted on the rump. She has a soft purr and meow. But of all my cats, she is the one who prefers my company during the day. “There you are!” Working at your computer? I’ll help you by walking across your keyboard. Wrapping presents or addressing envelopes? Perfect resting spot. In the mornings, she is the quietest, snuggling into the back of my knees until I actually stretch and say good morning.

Zoe the Helpmate
Zoe the Helpmate

It took me awhile to realize that she is the sneakiest of my cats and that she exacts revenge on the other two. Every morning, she and Dewey get into a wrestling and howling match for about five minutes. Then Zoe saunters up to Lily who hisses. Mostly the cats get along and I assumed that it was Dewey and Lily who were being more aggressive. But no! After watching more carefully, I realized that Zoe pounces on Dewey every morning, wrestles him to the ground, then chases Lily into a corner and bats her on the head. So, she has her way of saying “Here I am!”

Dewey the oldest is the shiest. He was a terrified kitten when I adopted him from the Humane Society, found at the age of five weeks alone on a sidewalk. He shook when I lifted him out of his cage and then spent three days under my couch when I brought him home. His stance was definitely, “There you are and I want nothing to do with you.” Almost as far as a feral cat, but fortunately not entirely.

Gradually he learned to trust and “There you are” became his reassurance. He transformed into one of the sweetest and most loving cats I’ve ever known. He is the first one I see in the morning, sitting by my head, watching. As soon as I open my eyes, he kneads his way across my stomach. This brings Lily leaping to the top of the bed.

Dewey the Gentle King
Dewey the Gentle King

Dewey is the only one who sticks his head into what I’m eating. He loves eggs and turkey bacon. He is an affectionate big brother to his sisters. Licks them both on the head, often taking the lead with Zoe and responding to Lily’s “Here I am, lick it.”

Like Zoe, he runs from most people he doesn’t know. Unlike Zoe, he doesn’t sneak back, but hides under my bed covers until strangers leave, a big lump in the middle.

When my son and his wife visit with their dog, Ruby – “Here I am! Here I am!” – all three cats scramble under the covers. “There you are, you little alien. Here we are not. Go away.”