The Feminism of Fashion

Artistic Licence: What not to wear, taken from The Sunday Business Post
03:55, 28 September 2014 by Nadine O’Regan

Recently I was browsing through a clothes shop in Temple Bar when I became aware of two women, a mother and her indie rocker daughter, lingering nearby. The conservatively attired mother was showing pretty necklace after pretty necklace to her slumped-shouldered teenager.
“Would you not think about this one?” she beseeched. “Or this one?” The daughter had a face like a squashed bug, she was pale and mortified. I winced with sympathy for them: the daughter having the day from hell, and the mother trying to force her child into her own clothing ideals, not realising her daughter wanted to wear anything but her mother’s version of herself.
This being September – the key month in fashion’s calendar – every newspaper and magazine, including this one, is putting its best face forward, ready to advise its readers on the hottest Autumn/Winter trends to wear. And for most adults, fashion is that simple: a collection of things nice and not nice. But consider the lot of the indie-rock teen discovering themselves. A decision about whether to wear Doc Martens or high heels isn’t simply a sartorial issue to them, it’s an expression of the kind of person they want to be. Fashion as an expression of indie-rock individuality is the 1980s tan trench coat worn by John Cusack in Say Anything. It’s the succession of cool band T-shirts sported by Jack Black in High Fidelity. It’s the Ramones’ dusky fringes. It’s every cool on-stage outfit Meg and Jack White ever wore.
Fashion is about being yourself, even when that self is a cross 16-year-old who wants to do anything but wear something “nice” or “attractive”. Going to my teenage discos in west Cork in the 1990s, I used to wear suede Doc Martens, pale blue cord flares with scuffed ends and a plain top. None of these things was attractive. That wasn’t the point. I remember my mother’s friend Evie sitting by the fireside, looking at me with a horror verging on despair. “But would you not wear heels?” she asked, in a strained voice. “And a dress?”
Evie wasn’t to know that what actually happened at our town hall disco was hardly quiet waltzing. No, our favourite thing at the time was to wait until Nirvana or Rage Against The Machine blasted from the speakers, then literally pile ourselves on top of each other in a kind of human pyre. Breathing was difficult in the pyre. Heels would not have been the correct sartorial option.
At the time, if you’d asked me, I would have said that fashion didn’t matter to me. I wouldn’t have understood then that – as a child of the increasingly feminist 1990s – my anti-fashion stance was in itself a statement, and a very definite choice. Forget fashion, I wanted to be judged on my brain, not my shoes. And I didn’t have the confidence back then to think the world both allowed girls to wear short skirts and to be simultaneously perceived as intelligent.
Are things different now? You’d hope so. But last week, the former Harry Potter actress Emma Watson gave an impassioned and important speech on feminism, broadcast to millions. She wore a conservative white dress doing it. The tabloids later ran the story, but alongside old pictures where she was attired in a tiny skirt, clearly on a casual day off. They used her clothing to undermine her, juvenilise her and patronise her. They were like a parent insisting on one interpretation of their child, unwilling or unable to admit how much more there was to see.
Fashion can be frivolous. It can be fun. And it should be. But fashion is also socially important in ways that sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to admit. I’d like to think that if I were a parent, I’d allow my children to be who they wanted, to find a form of expression through fashion and also to find themselves while doing it. Let them eat cake and wear capes – or goth boots, if that’s their bag. If nothing else, the pictures in later decades will be amusing.

Song in the Key of Life Listen Backs

Songs in the Key of Life

Songs in the Key of Life is my newish show on Dublin station TXFM, where every week one guest pops in to talk about their lives and play some of the songs that have been meaningful to them. Below is a list of all the artists and well-known types who have been on to date, and there are links included, where available, to bring you straight to the programme, so you can listen back to interviews with the likes of Tori Amos, Damien Dempsey, Joseph O’Connor, Elbow, Paddy Casey, John Carney, Steve Wall, Liam O’Maonlai, Colm Mac Con Iomaire and many more.

Hope you enjoy!

August 9th — Damien Dempsey

Donaghmede’s renowned son Damien Dempsey arrived into studio for a candid discussion about music, his single status (his mother is still at him about it) and his feelings about performing alongside his heroes, including Bruce Springsteen. He also sang a bit of Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing, which was deadly!

http://www.txfm.ie/player/listen_back/13/1605/09th_August_2014_-_Songs_In_The_Key_Of_Life_Part_1

August 2nd — Paddy Casey

Paddy Casey has been famous for his music since he was barely out of his teens. Spotted by Sony rep Hugh Murray, Casey was once managed by Paul McGuinness (U2, PJ Harvey), but quit his major label to do things his way. Casey talked new directions and suggested great, great tunes by Parliament, Stevie Wonder and New Order.

http://www.txfm.ie/player/listen_back/13/1488/02nd_August_2014_-_Songs_In_The_Key_Of_Life_Part_1

July 26th — Liam O’Maonlai

Frontman of the The Hot House Flowers, Liam O’Maonlai opened up about his Dublin origins, learning how to kiss (and wanting to do it again) and his career in music, from performing at the Eurovision to ploughing a solo path. Brill tunes by Aretha Franklin, Prince and the Bothy Band featured. ..

http://www.txfm.ie/player/listen_back/13/1372/26th_July_2014_-_Songs_In_The_Key_Of_Life_Part_1

July 19th — Stuart Clark

He might be best known as the deputy editor of Irish music bible Hot Press, but Stuart Clark was once a pirate DJ on the high seas, and has the stories (and the, ahem, unusual piercings, as he reveals) to prove it. Fantastic tunes from The Clash, Manic Street Preachers and The Lightning Seeds were all part of the programme. . .

http://www.txfm.ie/player/listen_back/13/1253/19th_July_2014_-_Songs_In_The_Key_Of_Life_Part_1

July 12th — John Carney

One of our favourite guests on the series so far, Irish director John Carney (Once, Begin Again) gave out to me roundly for forgetting the song Mary’s Prayer, and vividly described telling terrible fibs to Billy Corgan, getting ditched by Scarlett Johansson and even sang a little bit of Mary’s Prayer himself. . .

http://www.txfm.ie/player/listen_back/13/1136/12th_July_2014_-_Songs_In_The_Key_Of_Life_Part_1

Continue reading

Online self-publishing: my Biz Post column (20th Jan, 2013)

What does it take to become a success in the world of online self-publishing? Is there a particular kind of novel that is more likely to do well in an electronic format? And if there is, how would one go about writing such a book?

These are the kinds of questions that you don’t find authors and publishers debating much yet, but perhaps they should. Glance around your nearest bookshop or Amazon.com, and you’ll find a million manuals that explain how to create a novel, using chapter headings such as ‘Learning Your Craft’ and ‘Ten Rules for Good Time Management’. But few of these manuals discuss the importance of the space into which a novel is delivered, and what it means for the authors who are publishing now.

Make no mistake about it: publishing online is a totally different proposition from doing it on plain old paper. Think of the strain on the eyes of reading in an ebook format, for example. Think of the harried reader who buys a Kindle to read on crowded commutes. Think of the modern world, in which a million types of entertainment compete for our attention. And think of who is succeeding in this new world, and why.

Many self-published books which began life in an electronic format have now succeeded beyond the authors’ wildest expectations. Take the eyebrow-raising Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, for example; or new bestseller Wool by Hugh Howey, which is about to be turned into a big-budget Ridley Scott film; or Switched, the debut novel in the million-plus selling Trylle Trilogy by the 20-something Amanda Hocking.

What do these books have in common besides their humble origins? Actually, quite a lot. All the authors in question write within specific genres: S&M (EL James); dystopian fantasy (Howey) and trolls (Hocking). They are suspenseful and attention-grabbing, using blunt, effective (and sometimes very poorly rendered) prose to keep and hold readers. They are short, but allow for the possibility of sequels. They lack profound messages. “My goal was to keep people reading,” Hocking has said. “They have to ignore everything else and read the book.”

In his latest book, How Music Works, David Byrne talks about the importance of context in the area of music. The Talking Heads founder says that the type of music we make is vastly influenced by the space into which that music is delivered: so we get drums in a tribal space, which carry well over distance, and plaintive choir singing in a high-ceilinged church. At CBGB, for example, the small room lent itself well to the performance of punk rock – a sound which would have seemed ridiculous if performed in a church. The Ramones and Mozart both understood intrinsically what would work for their particular type of arena. They knew that environment plays a huge role in shaping the music.

For this new type of publishing space, it should be obvious that we need a new kind of book: one that grabs the attention fast, doesn’t bother with fancy language, relies on a clever idea and can be made into a series of books incredibly easily. Readers who choose to read in electronic formats will naturally want a different kind of prose. And the world of writers will have to learn to provide for that. So maybe it’s time for those self-help manual authors to take a leaf out of a new book – and begin to think about what it means to be a successful author in today’s world of e-publishing. After all, increasingly, it’s where the big bucks lie.