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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Licentiate Column 26/05/11: Do it Like a Dude

It’s not often that you’ll picture The Queen (of Great Britain, natch) and Jessie J in the same room, let alone the same thought, but lately I’ve had the two on the brain. One is a monarch, the other one is not. But they both do it like a dude.

Elizabeth II is one of only eight disputed premier queens to ascend to the throne since 1066 and has somehow managed not to be overthrown, arrested after nine days, dominated by her husband or die of dropsy - which is no mean feat in itself. Jessie J is not that important when it comes to explaining myself, but her song is.

Elizabeth II is one of those rare breeds of women - the women of the old guard who don’t have to resort to trousers to assert their power. The royal wardrobe has always been sleek, tailored, severe - but never masculine. It’s all kitten heels and handbags at dawn, the contents of which are often disputed. I’m thinking a paisley-upholstered hipflask of scotch, some menthol cigarillos and a filofax with the nasty details and unlisted numbers of every PM, baron and magnate alive today. And a lipstick.

When most women look to protect themselves, whether it’s protecting your interests in business or your modesty on a blustery day, a woman will wear trousers. If not trousers, a suit of some kind. Lines are sharp, shades are assertive in their boldness. No pastels for the bright women warriors of today, for she is strong and deserves a strong colour. Also, light colours stain so easily don’t they?

Dressing in the conventional masculine sense is spread over a broad spectrum. On one end, you have a pair of jeans. A person almost forgets that jeans were worn by men before they were assimilated into the murky genderless, unisex realm. On the other end are the unashamed, unabashed, totally admirable drag kings, who stuff tube socks down their trousers (not unlike some men, the Loose Women-watching part of me wants to add) and dot stubble and goatees on their faces with the precision of a Renaissance master.

Somewhere in the middle is my favourite kind of androgyne - Marlene Dietrich in a tux.  Masculine tailoring meets a feminine figure, with perfected painted eyes, coiffed hair and heeled shoes. With the coming of YSL’s Le Smoking suit in 1966, it was official: Suits are sexy.

Women dress in the male/female dichotomy for a multitude of reasons. Some do it for fashion, some for function, some for self-expression. Many women are not aware of the gender implications of buttoning up a shirt.

Some wear masculine tailoring as a type of armour. It says, “I am powerful. I mean business”. On the flipside, it also highlights our own vulnerabilities. Are we so afraid of being powerless that we refuse to be feminine?

The Queen knows better. After almost sixty years as a titular head of stare, she knows that power is not necessarily in the way that you dress. Clothes do not necessarily maketh the (wo)man. Sometimes trousers are good for nothing but outdoor pursuits.

A queenly caveat, though - if there’s a dress code, you’d better stick to it. Watch your step,
Kate Middleton.