Monday, February 25, 2008

"Let's Go Shopping!"

Does anyone else remember Teen Talk Barbie? "Math is hard" aside, she sure did love shopping. "Will we ever have enough clothes?" was another of her memorable lines.

Women and shopping: in the land of stereotypes these two go together like peanut butter and jelly. As a Forbes article reported last December, a Wharton study showed that women have a natural adoration for the shopping experience, while men would rather go home and watch football.

As one female shopper between the ages of 18 and 35 told the researchers: "I love shopping. I love shopping even when I have a deadline. I just love shopping." Compare that to this response from a male in the same age group who described how men approach retailing: "We're going to this store, and we buy it and we leave because we want to do something else."

Price says women's role as caregiver persists even as women's professional responsibilities mount. He speculates that this responsibility contributes to women's more acute shopping awareness and higher expectations. On the other hand, after generations of relying on women to shop effectively for them, men's interest in shopping has atrophied.

Hear that, men? Women are born to shop and men are born to let women shop for them.

But how should one shop? Why, for that we have Lucky magazine! A whole monthly glossy devoted to telling us what's hip, what's hot and where we can find it. Don't forget In Style, or any of the shopping pages leering from the back pages of any celebrity tabloid. Online, there's Divine Caroline, who sends me a daily "Found It. Loved It." email of amazing shopping finds. Top Button also sends monthly alerts to hot deals (mostly available in New York or for indecent amounts of money). I went to Ann Taylor Loft this weekend, and winking at me on the counter was a stack of Style 101s: textbooks for the clueless shopper.

I've read a pile of "how to dress" manuals myself, mind you, and sometimes I've found good advice. I learned a lot of about beauty products from Beauty: The New Basics, including what not to wash my face with. I tried picking up Three Black Skirts, but ended up being unable to stand its patronization and stupid illustrations after 20 pages or so. (You can buy my copy off Half.com.)

What is it about selling clothes to women? Why must we be treated as idiots who can't dress ourselves? There seems to be an inverse relationship of perceived beauty to perceived brains. As Jessa Crispin so aptly puts it:

Quick: How do you tell if a woman in a movie is supposed to be intelligent? First off, she’d probably be brunette, but past that. Glasses, yes. Little to no makeup. Her hair is probably in a ponytail. Clothes she probably bought at the Gap in a size too big. You know she’s the smart one because she thinks about more important things than her appearance.

It’s a stereotype, yes, but it’s constantly reinforced by intelligent women who should know better. Germaine Greer rallied women to taste their own menstrual blood in The Female Eunuch and then attacked fellow feminist writer Suzanne Moore by stating that “so much lipstick must rot the brain.” Feminists must reject the male gaze and use those ten seconds it takes to apply lip gloss to bring down the patriarchy. (Why sensible feminists have not figured out how to band together and write press releases to disassociate ourselves from the crazy women who pretend to speak for us, I’ll never understand.) Fashion magazines don’t help much either. Elle talks to Ashlee Simpson. And writes down what she says. To be recorded for all time.

And yet, in real life, if a woman is smart, she knows that she needs to dress as if she cares about her appearance, or else no one will take her seriously. Even if it means wearing makeup and heels when she would rather not (that would be me).

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