The Issue With T Magazine's 'Slut Clothes'

It's been a tough few weeks for mini skirts and the young women who flaunt them. Between CNN's blame-the-victim tone in Steubenville to the helicopter parents picketing Victoria's Secret Pink, you'd think America's most pressing national security issue is teen girls in glittery panties. (And according to Harmony Korine's bubblegum grenade Spring Breakers, that's exactly right.) And on the fashion front, T Magazine editor Deborah Needleman tweets "Say goodbye to slut clothes"...
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It's been a tough few weeks for mini skirts and the young women who flaunt them. Between CNN's blame-the-victim tone in Steubenville to the helicopter parents picketing Victoria's Secret Pink, you'd think America's most pressing national security issue is teen girls in glittery panties. (And according to Harmony Korine's bubblegum grenade Spring Breakers, that's exactly right.) And on the fashion front, T Magazine editor Deborah Needleman tweets "Say goodbye to slut clothes"...
Victoria Secret Pink's Bright Young Things campaign

Victoria Secret Pink's Bright Young Things campaign

It's been a tough few weeks for mini skirts and the young women who flaunt them. Between CNN's blame-the-victim tone in Steubenville to the helicopter parents picketing Victoria's Secret Pink, you'd think America's most pressing national security issue is teen girls in glittery panties. (And according to Harmony Korine's bubblegum grenade Spring Breakers, that's exactly right.)

Of course there's been some backlash. Jezebel and xoJane police the Steubenville assholes and the media outlets trying to protect them. Slate posts a reasonable and frank essay about how Pink's pink panties declaring "Call Me" and "Party Down" are hardly the stuff of tween Salome.

But meanwhile on the fashion front, T Magazine editor Deborah Needleman tweets "Say goodbye to slut clothes." She links a trend story extolling long sleeves and hemlines for Spring. "Valentino…has wiped out a decade of slut style on the runways," writes Suzy Menkes in the story. Ironically--or not--her piece is called "A Modest Proposal," referencing Jonathan Swift's satirical 1729 essay that suggests England end world hunger by eating poor people's babies. Yikes.

Reading both the tweet and the story feels like I've been stabbed in the gut with my own stiletto--and even though I'm probably damaging my career by saying so, I'm both disappointed and a bit furious with T for promoting them.

A modest look from Valentino's spring runway

A modest look from Valentino's spring runway

Have you seen the article yet? If not, have a look. You might wonder if the clothes were inspired by the Virgin Suicides homecoming gowns--they're long, floral, slightly shapeless, and teetering halfway between nightgown and water nymph. If they hang correctly on your body, these clothes will look amazing. They'll float in that graceful, goddess kind of way that recalls pre-Raphaelite paintings like Millais' Ophelia and Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot. With the right hair, shoes, makeup, and body type, these dresses are moving art. But if you're short-waisted/thick-necked/full-faced/circle your "real world" body here, you've got some problems. The proportions of a long-sleeved, high-necked, deep-hemmed dress are tough for "normal" shoppers--unless, of course, you want to sing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" and cross yourself en route to a nunnery. Sometimes petite women like Mary-Kate Olsen or curvier ones like Scarlett Johansson show up in these cuts on the red carpet, and they look fantastic. But they're super-famous and super-rich, which means they have super tailors. And although Valentino and other catwalk designers boast incredibly well-built dresses, their expert pattern-cutting comes at a cost... around $5000 per piece. Whether it's due to budget concerns or body type, most of us can't wear those clothes every day--and if I'd rather accentuate my non-willowy figure, does that make me a slut?

But forget about me--forget about all "real" girls. Let's take this issue to the 2013 runways. Is 18-year-old Lily McMenamy a "slut" for walking topless at Marc Jacobs? (If she is, should T Magazine take back their glowing profile on her from November?) Is Ruby Jean Wilson a "slut" for opening spring's acclaimed MJ show in hot pants? How about all the girls in Balenciaga's peek-a-boo bustiers and crop-tops? How about we get over this idea that the only way to look demure, or intelligent, or elegant, or anything other than "a slut," is by reaching for a caftan?

The author.

The author.

I'm not saying everyone should run around in "DTF" sweats (although hey, no judgement… I just bought this Spring Breakers top from Opening Ceremony). But the "virgin or whore and nothing in between" mentality that comes with calling anything a "slut outfit"--and anyone a "slut" for wearing it--seems to be the antithesis of modern fashion, and the ever-evolving power to change your own image. Just look at the sensuous lines of Yves Saint Laurent's groundbreaking Le Smoking Tuxedo, the playful wink of Mary Quant's mini dress, the elegant bombshells created by Alaia corset belts (including Carine Roitfeld-- is she a slut?)… come on. Are we really saying "slut clothes" are our only other option?

With fashion, we have the opportunity to create, explore, and celebrate the complex creatures we are, and those we want to be. It's disappointing to see women like Needleman and Menkes--influential and revered fashion insiders, and major players in our industry--reducing all those dynamic and powerful qualities into "trashy sluts" and "chic saints." Hopefully your wardrobe--and your self regard, and your personal taste, and your sex life, too--explores the millions of options that lie between those two borders.