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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Licentiate Column 07/10/10

Last week I was privileged enough to be asked to contribute a blog post for an international charity, which I’ll admit is somewhere outside of my remit. If my comfort zone was Planet Earth, this piece that I was writing was newly-discovered, Earth-like Planet G; 20 light years apart, but not so different when you think about it.

The post concerned girls and women in developing countries and the plights that they face in all aspects of life, from education to pay equality to personal safety and security for the future. My first thought was that of how lucky I was to be living in a country where I could sue the pants (or skirt - when it comes to litigation I’m all for equality) off anyone who discriminated against me because of gender. The second was a slow, dawning realisation of the type only seen in bad soap operas, when the protagonist finally emerges from the dim veil of improbable amnesia. I write every week about the only industry in which men get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Like most businesses, the fashion industry is male-dominated, from CEOs to designers, but it is decidedly female oriented. In every fashion week, only one day is devoted to the stronger, less fair of the sexes. Yep, I’m referring to the dudes.

I’d be committing a generalisation of a broader stroke than Michael Phelps could ever achieve if I said that fashion was just not made for guys. So, I’ll tentatively declare that fashion only appeals to a certain type of man (and I can pretty much guarantee that, if you’re thinking of Mark from Ugly Betty, then you’re way off the, uh, mark).

Your typical ‘fashion guy’ is more Dapper Dan than Screaming Stereotype. He is driven by the kind of compulsive thirst for knowledge that drives other men to dismantle the engine of a car or categorise thirty years of League Cup stats by year and commit them to memory. He needs to know how the proportions of a shirt work, he knows what colours go together, he appreciates great craftsmanship and draws inspiration from fashion movements past and present. He isn’t a particular size or shape. He could be any race, have any sexual preference.

He could be any man who is concerned with how they look has a vested interest in fashion, whether you’re label junkie on a first-name status with the staff of BT’s or a careful shopper like my father, who is meticulous about his impeccably proportioned, made-to-measure suits.
Yet men don’t have the breadth of choice that women do. Go sit in a busy part of town on a Saturday night and count the amount of men with identikit short-sleeved, checked shirts tucked into unflattering high-rise faded jeans. Then weep for humanity.

The boyfriend however, thinks I’ve got it all wrong. He thinks that all these beshirted studs actually are concerned with fashion. They just have no style. “Style is like a signature”, he preached to me in between bouts of Grand Theft Auto. “Fashion is just what’s available in shops”. Apparently, these guys are making the best of what’s available and doing a terrible job.

“Fashion is for the herd”, he says. “Style is for the black sheep, who hangs outside of the group.” “And what about stylish men who are into fashion?” I enquire. “Does that make them grey sheep?”

“No”, he concludes, chewing a potential pearl of wisdom. “A sheep that is both fashionable and stylish is just a sheep that’s caught on the fence”.

If you want to read the post that I wrote for Plan Ireland on gender inequality, you can read it on the Because I Am A Girl blog here.