USA Today, the newspaper that spots trends faster than People magazine, recently brought us the fashion news that, as the headline put it, "The shape of the '80s is very shapely." Thin is no longer in. "Ironically," noted the story, "now that marriage and diseases have sabotaged the sexual revolution, looking sexy is back in style. Voluptuousness is the new ideal."
Trend setters in this new direction include Madonna, with her push-up bras and bare midriff; She-Ra, the well-endowed action doll from Mattel, and my old nemesis, Elizabeth Taylor, whose ageless endowments grace the December cover of Vanity Fair. Voluptuously. As always.
USA Today quotes a hairdresser as saying women are going back to being sensual and an expert on fashion psychology is quoted as saying that "women who have earned their spurs in the work place are more relaxed with the notion of expressing their femininity in the way they dress."
Fashion models are a good 10 pounds heavier than they were two years ago, with the pounds judiciously placed. The fashion industry is turning out slinky evening gowns and tight minidresses, hip-hugging skirts and waist-fitting jackets. Cleavage is back, and breast augmentation surgery was up 32 percent in 1984. But the most horrific news of all comes from Dorothy Pollack, marketing vice president for Vassarette Inc., who was quoted thusly:
"By fall, bras will define the bosom more, with push-up shapes and wide-set straps. And a lot of people will be back into girdles." This in the same year that Karl Lagerfeld is putting hip pads in his designer togs.
Twenty years after the modern women's movement, we're headed right back to the hourglass figure. Put your pin-striped suit away and resurrect your merry widow corset. Those arbiters of taste, the dictators of fashion, are about to do a number on us again.
I will confess, herewith, only a limited interest in keeping up with "today's look," whatever that might happen to be. Somewhere along the way (I suspect my mother's responsible), the notion was firmly implanted in my mind that the idea was to look nice, not trendy. Whatever sway the fashion industry had over my mind it lost completely when it dowdied women into maxi-skirts and declared them elegant.
I never owned a pin-striped suit, even when that was supposed to be fashionable, because I never saw a woman in one who didn't look like she was wearing some man's clothes. Perhaps one of the great unheralded victories of the women's movement has been that women have been liberated from the narrow framework of what the ideal woman should look like -- framework that used to change from year to year, at least in terms of clothes.
In the past two decades, however, thin has definitely been in. Clothes might be feminine one year, practical the next; they might cover you up or reveal you, but one thing for sure, you were thin. Voluptuousness was definitely tacky. It's been heaven for women who are naturally thin and heavenly for those who are not naturally endowed. The ideal for some, at least, was infinitely more within reach than in the '50s when voluptuousness was in.
Anyone who entered adolescence reading movie magazines with Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe on the covers still has scars. They were thin where they were supposed to be and not thin where they weren't supposed to be. They had cleavage and could hold up strapless evening gowns. They were what we would call today "role models," and for those of us who weren't modeled the same way, it was hell.
You could starve yourself into being thin enough and pad yourself into being endowed enough, but this had its risks. Nevertheless, false advertising was rampant. Faking cleavage, however, was trickier. You either had it or you didn't, which must account for the growing popularity of breast implants. There may be hidden risks, but you can be fairly sure they'll stay hidden.
The female body liberated itself in the '60s and '70s. The real sexual revolution came when women discarded their cantilevered bras and girdles, which were devices invented by Torquemada, I'm sure. When sex came out of the closet, corsets went into the bottom drawer. Real women replaced ideal women.
Now, sex is out, repression is in, and girdles can't be far behind. No doubt the fashion arbiters will label this the "new sexual revolution," and the fashion industry will make a ton of money with the newest edition of the ideal woman. Fond as I am of sexual revolutions, however, this is one I plan to sit out. I spent the first half of my life confusing femininity with voluptuousness, but I burned my girdle in '65.