Archive for the ‘Sociology of Fashion’ Category

What’s the Deal with Heels?

May 31st, 2013 10:00 am

High heels look fabulous. They always add polish and sex appeal to an outfit. So why do they have to be so impossibly uncomfortable? As much as we want to wear them, the hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute logistical reality is just too painful. It must be this way for most women. And, yet, the shops and magazines are always full of sky-high heels. How have vertiginous heels (seemingly) become the norm?

Fashion historian Amber Jane Butchart told Emerald Street that the recent influence of the Seventies on fashion is largely responsible. But she also believes that the allure of heels also comes from their historical associations with power. High heels are far from being a 20th century invention, Butchart says. “Early Greek actors wore platforms of varying heights to denote the social status of their character, Louis XIV wore high-heeled shoes in the 1600s, while chopines were worn by aristocratic European women in the 15th-17th centuries. These women would lean on their servants and the platform ensured their clothes didn’t get dirty. Things aren’t as black and white today but I think that on some level, we’ve retained the illusion that the higher the heel, the more power a woman wields.”

Shonagh Marshall, executive curator at Somerset House, says our attraction to heels is all about aesthetics. “When we wear heels we arch our back and they transform the way we walk into a swagger. They’re the ultimate in glamour,” she says.

Not only that, but heels also heighten a woman’s sexual assets. They bring out attractive  musculature in the legs and elongate them. They also tip the body so that the breasts and bum stick out. They may be symbols of power in some respects, but perhaps on some evolutionary level they also appeal to a man’s  masculinity because they make a woman more vulnerable. Heels slow her down and decrease her mobility; they make her quite decorative – like a pretty bird that must be protected. Evolutionarily, it has always been in the female’s interest to seek protection by males.

These are just a few thoughts on the reasons behind heels’ enduring popularity. They certainly are open to multiple interpretations. Though Butchart and Kitty McGee, Stylist’s executive fashion editor, believe the current shift toward flatter styles (ballet flats, loafers, brogues) will continue, heels will always be a style that women fall back on (literally!).

Read more about the history and evolution of high heels here.

Bags of Weekend Fun!

May 24th, 2013 4:41 pm

Looking for fun and enlightenment this bank holiday weekend? Then head over to London’s Saatchi Gallery and witness the magic of Hermès artisans at their crafts.

From May 21-27, the Festival de Métiers exhibition at the gallery will feature a selection of Hermès artisans demonstrating how they make luxury products in their workshops in France. Visitors will see the famous Hermès silk scarves printed right before their eyes. Demonstrations of the creation of the much-coveted Kelly bag will also take place. Visitors will be able to interact with the craftspeople as they bring to life watches, jewellery, handbags, scarves and other iconic Hermès objects.

Admission is free, which helps towards the cost of a Kelly bag, right? (A girl can but dream.) Maybe we’ll just try chatting up an artisan…

No Matter Your Size, Negative Body Talk is a No-No

May 21st, 2013 10:00 am

How many of us have a friend who (as much as we love her) kind of brings us down and makes us feel uncomfortable because she’s constantly saying negative things about her body and appearance? Or maybe we ourselves have gotten into a bad habit of voicing that negative inner voice (we all have one—that’s another thing to work on correcting). What does this negative body talk really achieve? Well—according to a recent study—it ultimately serves to alienate you from people and to make you less “likeable.”

As reported by Huffington Post, psychology professor Alexandra Corning and her research team at Notre Dame’s Body Image and Eating Disorder Lab asked 139 undergraduates with average BMIs to look at photos of women of various weights captioned with both negative and positive statements from the women themselves about their bodies. The participants viewed eight photos each, including every possible combination of body size and positive or negative statement.

The findings indicated that participants “liked” the women who said positive things about their own bodies more than those who engaged in “fat talk,” and positive overweight women were liked most of all.

The researchers concluded that the undergrads preferred the overweight women who made positive statements because a larger woman expressing satisfaction with her appearance may be less threatening than a thin woman expressing confidence. They also decided that seeing larger women being positive about their bodies “may encourage others to accept their own bodies as well.”

The HuffPost article also cited a 2011 study led by Rachel Salk involving a similar number of students, which demonstrated that women also engage in fat talk in order to be reassured of the opposite by friends, but are not usually comforted by friends’ responses. “In Western cultures,” the study reads, “women’s dissatisfaction with the size and shape of their bodies is so common that it has been termed ‘normative discontent.’”  This study also concluded that women may express body dissatisfaction not only because that is how they feel, but because they think it is how they should feel about themselves. In other words, society expects women to feel bad about their bodies. (Interestingly, though Salk feels that fat talk diminishes with age, a 2013 study found that women replace fat talk with old talk, or negative comments about their increasing age.)

Ultimately, Corning’s study refutes Salk’s study’s conclusion that fat talk bonds women together, and feels that her findings are important “because they raise awareness about how women actually are being perceived when they engage in this self-abasing kind of talk.”

So there’s now scientific research to support the downside of voicing negativity about ourselves aloud. Now we all need to work on silencing that negative inner voice—easier said than done– that whispers only to us…

What do you think about these studies?


© Anne Kroul, 2013.