April 27, 2009
just a thought – fashion’s bluestockings
There is a certain type of woman in fashion who never fails to fascinate me. She is a fiercely ambitious career woman, intensely creative. She is surrounded with the trappings of fashion; the luxuries and frills, the fabrics and the shoes, and yet she does not seem to crave fashion for herself. She dresses in simple clothing and eschews the makeup and the hair stuff. The intellectual pursuits of fashion – the ideas, the business – are what fascinates her, not the acquisition of things or the indulgence of adornment.
I guess I feel a strong alignment because I feel like I am one of those women in embryo. I prefer to have a sort of uniform rather than collecting various things and styling myself with them. I’m not an outfit blogger because my daily outfits are so incredibly monotonous. Yet I am fascinated with all things fashionable when they are outside of me. I love the shows and the parties, the politics and the competition, the ideas and the predictions, the history and all the nuances – in short, the intellectual side of fashion is what compels me, not the physical.
The result is I fade to the background amongst the magpies and the models, the socials and the shopgirls. I like it that way. It feels right.
The online dictionary defines “bluestocking” as “a woman having literary or intellectual interests”. You can read the origin of the term here. Wikipedia gets into the implications and associations of the term – a bluestocking is not only an intellectual, but a woman who doesn’t dress fashionably or go out of her way to make herself attractive, whether on principle or because she just doesn’t have the inclination. The stereotypical librarian, in a severe hairdo, conservative clothing and no makeup exemplifies the idea of a bluestocking.
The paradox of a bluestocking in fashion is all the more striking because they are so rare. For a woman to be powerful in fashion and yet reject its persuasions takes a strong personality. Here are three of fashion’s most famous bluestockings.
In person, Ms. Cutrone looked more polished and rested than she ever has on The Hills. She wore Prada heels and head-to-toe black. She has jet-black hair and wears no visible makeup atop her startlingly pale skin, which gives her the look of Wednesday Addams 30 years later. On The Hills, she is drawn and demanding, an East Coast Queen of the Night to Ms. Port and Ms. Conrad’s ditzy blond Californian Princesses.
“You thought you were meeting a designer,” says Vera Wang. She’s barefoot in the full-floor living room of her Park Avenue apartment, stuffing a Rice Krispies Treat in her mouth. The room is so ornate—all yellow and gold, with a coordinating Monet on the wall—that it looks more like a grandly named suite in a very, very expensive hotel than a home, and Wang, 56 years old but jiggle-free in a pair of tight black leggings, resembles no one so much as Eloise, calling out to her housekeeper for her shearling coat. “I’m actually a little clown,” she says, grabbing the leggings in both hands and yanking them upward.
I wonder if she gets fed up of everyone casting their eyes over her attire, as they must surely do. After all, if she were the editor of Dentist Weekly, we’d all want to see her teeth. She says she’s used to it and, anyway, people very quickly lose interest once they realise, “I’m not a clothes horse and have never set myself up to be.”
This is the thing about Shulman. She isn’t Vogue in the way that, say, Diana Vreeland was and Anna Wintour is. She isn’t its bosom-less, French-manicured, divinely dressed, Chanel-scented, Dior-lipsticked embodiment. She isn’t even tanned, fake or otherwise. Indeed, her bare legs are that scary English white.
Can you think of any other fashion bluestockings?