The Dita Complex: or, why I think we should all stop worrying and love our tights

So, Dita Von Teese, right? I personally consider her a fairly good thing: even if you don’t find her attractive, and I don’t particularly, I think her styles are interesting, some of her outfits fantastic and her attidudes (‘I’m not really pretty, it’s all paint, posture and projection’, to paraphrase Burlesque/Fetish and the Art of the Teese) admirably egalitarian. I’m even, that cardinal statement of twenty-first-century approval, on her Twitter. (It’s mostly about her glamourous life and vintage clothing. Quelle surprise.) And then, the other day, she had a bit of a rant, about that incendiary sartorial sticking-point of contemporary culture, tights and jean shorts. On Parisienne girls, no less. This combination ‘puzzled’ Dita; ‘…is there someone that started it & it’s trickled down badly or is it street fashion? I need someone to blame, people!‘. And I just thought, what? Whilst I have all the time in the world for Dita’s vintage/couture/stockings-&-heels-at-all-times schtick as her personal choice and/or an option for everybody else, tights under

shorts strikes me as comfier and less hassle than any, let alone any combination of, corsetry, heels, suspender belts, tailored jackets, anything leather, anything lace next to the skin, latex…the list goes on, and Dita apparently wears these things every day. So, in the effort not to misquote her, I went back to her book, there to be confronted with:

‘I advocate glamour. Every day. Every minute. Glamour above all things. This is what I say. There was a time…when a lady dressed to the nines no matter what her destination. This great girl wore seamed stockings and garter belts every single day…She painted her lips a flushed, rich scarlet. Wherever the day took her, she wore high heels and satin gloves to her elbows, soaring cocque feathers and veils of the finest netting over her eyes….’

Which puts it somewhat more forcefully that I would ever have dreamed of paraphrasing her, so, y’know, thanks Dita. And as I say, I’m more than fine with that as her personal choice. I dress in an equivalent manner myself on a fairly regular basis, given my penchant for creative nghts out,  and I have friends who do likewise much more, and look immensely beautiful and entirely appropriate whilst doing it. But out of a choice whose existence is much more important than which way a person chooses. And the underlying ideologies make me distinctly queasy. Even in the First World (Dita silently elides the numerical vast majority of women across the world who even in the times indicated weren’t doing anything of the sort, or spent most of their time serving those who did) the financial and temporal resources to do so were only available to a minority, and a class-bound minority at that. Even today, the gear Dita advocates is frankly expensive, delicate and difficult to come by, whereas tights and jean shorts can be obtained for under a fiver (I tested this). So we should all aspire to things available only to a financially solvent and appropriately connected minority? Fuck that, to put it delicately. And the gender implications of ‘glamour every minute’, of ‘woman as [fetish] goddess’, as performer of a ‘magic’ instilled by her clothes, doesn’t even bear thinking about.

I’m lucky enough to have the kind of body and face that can just about pull off the glamorous stuff, and/or many other carefully constructed combinations of clothing to send a particular, sexualised signal, if I want. Which is a privilege. But the crucial thing is, as Dita is quite open about, glamourous or fetishistic clothing are ‘magical charms’, to which (distinctly heteronormatively, *bad* Dita) men (or, in my experience, people regardless of gender) respond. To put this another way, people atracted to one dressed thus are by and large attracted to the signals, the charms, the look, the image, *not* the person underneath. If they know you, and you’re expressing a side of your personality they haven’t seen  before, or dressing specifically for them, it becomes something different and more personal, but I think it’s fair to say that I or anyone dolled up in corset & heels will attract attention simply for the outfit, the glamour. And I don’t want either my personal connections or my femininity to be defined by dressing thus, dammit. I don’t want to have to feel less of a woman if i’m not dressed up, or to put it another way, that acceptable feminnity is essentially constructed, and acceptance of my performance of it contingent on my significantly altering my natural state for the (ingrained, cultural) appreciation of others. I’m just as much of a woman – and, dammit, a PERSON – in PJs, or jeans, or my usual odd combination of garmentage, or tights and jean shorts, dammit, as I am becorseted and heeled. Dita may not like the look of tights and jean shorts, and that’s totally her prerogative. But a) she appears to be in a minority (the twitter responses were largely men commenting with some equivalent of ‘legs AND arse, what’s not to like?’, insert despair here) and b) everyone else has a right to dress for comfort if they prefer. I have many, many stockings, but I also wear tights a lot because *suspender belts are a hassle* (and holdups tend to roll down my skinnyish thighs, even now they almost touch, so they’re impractical). Which doesn’t make me less successful as woman or lover or anything else.

And, underneath this, is the concern: it’s much, much more important to me that my lovers and partners and friends appreciate the person underneath whatever i happen to be wearing than when I’m glammed up. People yelling things at me in the street if i’m in school uniform or corset and heels are yelling at the corset and heels, not the person. Dressing up, glamming up, are for me defensive, distancing acts. *I* am hiding behind cultural signals. Whereas some of the most significant relevancies I’ve been told by lovers are ‘wear anything, I love you in anything and anything on you’ and (when dressed up) ‘I’d find you just as attractive naked, to be honest’. (Both paraphrased slightly to hide identities/context/my bad memory.) I want attraction, and appeal, and all the things Dita discusses in her book, to be ultimately about all of me, not only the person I am when I choose to perform or dress a certain way, fun though doing so can be. And I *like* tights and jean shorts. They keep your legs warm.

About Sasha Garwood

Academic, critic, endlessly fascinated; reads, thinks, listens and talks far more than is good for her. Ex-anorexic, ex-ME, excitable, queer, kinky, nosy, mouthy; overanalytical, overaffectionate, overarticulate, oversensitive, certainly overfond of the prefix ‘over’. Purveyor of uncomfortable truths. Talks filth in public. Needs more sleep.
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One Response to The Dita Complex: or, why I think we should all stop worrying and love our tights

  1. Also, if past!woman were atch dressing like that all.the.time (which: no*) she’d still be wearing same 4/5 dresses constantly, and they’d smell much more… fragrant than we’re used to. And a lot of the clothing of the past was constructed for comfort to an extent – for a start, it was hand fitted, which makes a huge difference in comfort, natural fibres, and the layers of underwear made most clothing warm and reasonably comfortable – even stays, for e.g., and the corsetry they turned into, are basically there to stop bosoms waving about and being a pain. And isn’t warm and comfortable as well as looking pretty nice the point of the shorts/tights thing? (see also: Victorian trend for glamourous knitted lace shawls and wraps – which I can attest have the extra benefit of being incredibly warm and soft.)

    I love a lot of DvT’s clothing and style, particularly because I love the costume-glamour of it all, the way she really creates herself with her clothes (I’m jealous of anyone who can do that!) – but it’s always, at bottom, a choice for all of us. And in any case, if everyone dressed like DvT every day, what would be the point of the lady herself?

    *Not completely untrue. But people seriously over-estimate how glam people were in the past, taking a courtly style of dress that some people wore some of the time as being a norm. And also, the make-up thing is right out for ‘nice’ women: whores pinch, ladies rouge, and all that.

    (sorry, that got expanded from my couple of tweets!)

    Like

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