In the insanely hilarious spoof movie ‘rockumentary’, This is Spinal Tap, one member of the band, David St Hubbins, is complaining to another, Nigel Tufnel, about their forthcoming LP. “They said the album cover is a bit sexist,” he says. Tufnel responds: “Well, so what? What’s wrong with being sexy?” To which St Hubbins replies: “Sexist, Nigel.” There is, obviously, a huge difference in the meaning of the two words, one that has perhaps become more focused latterly and not least so in the fashion industry. In a recent essay in The Guardian, Jess Cartner-Morley noted: “Sex appeal will always be an integral part of fashion, even if sexy has become a less straightforward compliment after MeToo.”
We have been here before, in fact – in the Swinging ’60s, no less. In her new book, How Was It For You – Sex, Love and Power in the 1960s, Virginia Nicholson refers to women’s lib groups protesting against swimwear advertisements on the London Underground by putting up stickers which which read ‘This exploits women!’ One (male) newspaper columnist of the day commented: “It won’t be long – you mark my words – before calling a girl beautiful will get you a swift karate punch in the kidneys.” If we weren’t before then maybe, to rather exaggerate Cartner-Morley’s observation, we are there now.
Brand names which continue to promote risqué lines, such as Victoria’s Secret, have apparently suffered critical reviews of late and, more important, falling sales. The days when it might sometimes be hard to tell if an item of female clothing (while not being worn) was a skirt or a belt may be over. I read a piece in a newspaper last week which declared that the boilersuit is now back in favour, and one could hardly have an item of clothing less likely to conjure up the word ‘glamorous’. It’s shapelessness isn’t going to do any favours to anyone, female or male, who might think they have a decent-looking body. And as Cartner-Morley suggested: “As long as the survival of the human race depends on sex, looking attractive isn’t going out of fashion.”
Meanwhile, I note that my name is topical in fashion circles. (My surname, I mean; not Robert.) At last month’s London fashion week the dominant colour in the autumn/winter collections was green, as shown on the home page. Whether this was due to increasing environmental awareness; as a tribute to the last line of the hymn, Jerusalem; or an acknowledgement that fashion is a money-led business is not for me to say – although I would mention that I read the feature in the Financial Times…