It’s four ‘clock in the afternoon. I am sitting in one of many theaters at the cineplex. Just before movie time, a group of what appear to be retired women stream into the theater. After the obligatory discussion about which row to choose, they decide on dead center of a row three ahead of me. On the aisle is a twenty-something woman. The group leader points towards the middle of the row and says to her, “Excuse me but there are going to five of us. Don’t worry we’re not all dressed up and wearing heels.” I laugh to myself as I enjoy the subtext, “Sorry we’re going to crawl over you but we’re not going to step on your feet with stilettos or whack you in the face with an oversize bag.” As I will see heels, bags, belts, and hats figure big in the movie, Sex and the City, and that’s what I have come to see, not the characters or the story, but the clothes and the style. Just for the fun of it and to play my part, I am wearing one of my favorite pairs of shoes: Manolo brown mules with orange trim and kitten-heels.
Ah, the shoes. We can credit Carrie Bradshaw in the TV series of Sex and the City for making a pair of Manolos de rigueur for any self-respecting fashionista. Perhaps we can even go so far as to credit it for opening the floodgates for our national obsession for fashion labels. The movie Sex in the City is another thing. It is a sort of fashionista parody. It is all tongue-in-cheek. Or is it? Somewhere on the streets of New York women are wearing just such outrageous get-ups. I know because some of them get captured in Bill Cunningham’s “On The Street” spread in the New York Times Sunday Styles section. But elsewhere?
How many women do you know strut around in 3-to-4-inch heels? I don’t know any. The last time I wore a pair of strappy sandals with 3-inch heels my ankles swayed dangerously as I walked the short block from the car to the restaurant. In fairness, though, I need to pay attention to what the other women of Silicon Valley are wearing. After a week of investigation the results are that the overwhelming majority are wearing anything and everything but high heels. However, amazingly, I did find a group of twenty-somethings wearing them. These were not black gladiators, or royal blue satin models with gem-encrusted buckles, or feathered purple sandals, or white ankle booties, or satin mules with pom-poms, or even fish skeleton stilettos with 4-inch heels. For the most part, these were pointy black models, some with cut-outs or little bows, and all with 3-to-4-inch stiletto heels. These women looked sleek, but at 6PM they also looked like they couldn’t wait to get rid of the shoes as they careened through the aisles of the local Whole Foods market.
My research on heels also took me to the web where I discovered that stilettos are mandatory not only for the women of Sex and the City and twenty-somethings in Silicon Valley, but also for Italian policewomen. According to La Stampa, last year the Interior Ministry decided that the Italian police women’s uniform needed updating. Prescribed was a younger, more sexy look. A focal point of the new look was fitted military style jackets with big shoulders, straight pants, and stilettos. Only one problem: To save money the shoes were bought in Romania and when they arrived they were too small. My Italian isn’t that good but it seems that what miffed the public was not the stilettos but that they were sourced in Romania, not Italy, and had arrived too small to wear. As any Italian or Sex and the City woman can tell you, what better way to capture a criminal or lover than to knock him down with a stiletto. But, to be of use the shoe must fit.
I also learned that my ankle swaying must be all in my head, because regardless of the height of the heel, ankles don’t roll any more or less. The normal foot adjusts. That’s what a study presented to the World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering 2006 and published by Springer says anyway. Perhaps the only out is that little word “normal.” What’s a normal foot anyway and does anyone have one?
There are lots of bags in the movie. There’s Samantha’s big white leather one with matching wide belt and Carrie’s glittery Eiffel Tower bag, and a variety of oversized clutches. But mostly, the bag story is Louise’s Louis Vuitton story. Louise knows and loves the latest handbag fashion but her style stops there. That’s too bad. Why does she have to dress like a frump? Just because she has a degree in computer science doesn’t mean she can’t dress and dress well. Unfortunately she doesn’t. And, oh by the way, if I had been Carrie my question to her in the job interview would have been “What’s a computer science graduate doing applying to be an administrative assistant?” and not, “What’s a girl sharing a room with three others doing with a Louis Vuitton bag?” I know I didn’t go to see the movie for the story but honestly … .
On to the belts: Big belts cinch the look of many hideous outfits. Take, for example, Samantha’s opening outfit in the movie, a hideous red power suit with football-shoulder-pads, a pencil skirt, and a too wide belt or the yellow pencil skirt with giant white belt at the office. Or consider Carrie’s wide punk-look metal studded black belt that she wears with several outfits including a fifties style swooshy print day dress with reverse print coat. Finally, ponder Charlotte’s palette of flowery fifties style dresses with cinched waists and big skirts that are sometimes finished off with a big belt. I shudder. What combinations! Creativity is one thing; bad taste is another. Sometimes though, the big belt works as it does when Carrie wears a brown one with a safari vest and red camisole. On the streets and in the malls and offices of Silicon Valley I look for signs of big belts. There are none at Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom’s, or Neiman Marcus. I strike out until I spot a big studded model on an out-of-the-way rack at Burberry’s. But on the Burberry website, belts are not listed on any of the drop down menus and when I search for belts, not a single one shows up solo. There is a belted dress, the usual collection of belted raincoats, and even a pair of shorts sans belt. Belts, it seems, are not big anywhere except on the women of Sex and the City.
And, there are the hats. The most bizarre is the blue bird thing Carrie wears on her not-to-be wedding day. When she appears in the bosomy Vivienne Westwood dress with her hair swept severely up and back and adorned with a fist full of blue feathers, I have to look hard. Later, she laments, “I made the effort. I put a bird on my head.” What kind of effort is that? There are lots of oversized large brimmed hats like the ones you always see on the mark-down table at Neiman Marcus. Actually Samantha looks great in these even when used as a prop to hide under to spy on and flirt with her next door neighbor. I think a lot of women crave to wear hats but are put off by their old-fashioned image. Baseball caps are acceptable and everywhere, and this year a lot more wide brimmed straw and cotton hats are covering heads in Silicon Valley. As people move out of their cars and onto bikes and sidewalks, hats are making somewhat of a comeback. There’s also the charming fedora that Carrie wears while accompanying Miranda who is shopping for halloween attire and ends up with a witch’s peaked hat on her head. Carrie’s hat almost made me wish for the cold brisk fall weather of the Northeast.
What accessories and how they are wore is the best fun but the outfits, or getups, deserve a word or two, don’t they? For me, an outfit is something thought out in terms of color, fit, and effect, and has a purpose, like dressing for work or for skiing; a getup is an accident going somewhere to happen. First, there’s Samantha. She may be a sex maniac but she’s also an intelligent woman who can handle a crisis and succeed in business. So, why the hideous clothes? Really, what’s with the 1980s power suits? Talk about vintage. Where did they get those shoulder pads? No business woman I know, at least here in Silicon Valley, wears a shoulder-padded suit or a four-inch wide belt with pencil skirt, or a sweeping decolletage. OK, so I admit that at Paris fashion week last fall there were some pretty weird shoulders like this boxy horror caught by Cunningham. But on the street? I don’t think so. Really, Samantha looks best in sushi and stilettos.
Poor Charolotte. There’s not much to say. Her most fashion success is with running gear. The super logical but utterly confused Miranda is either wearing earrings bigger than her head, dizzying too big geometric prints, a tie-dye t-shirt and pajama bottom, or a very attractive, well cut, slightly off-center wool business suit like the one she wore at her rendezvous with Steve on Brooklyn Bridge. Miranda, the workaholic, doesn’t pay attention. Mired in the details of meetings, briefs, and play dates she can’t see the forest for the trees. Her wardrobe is either off or on overdrive. There’s no big picture; there’s no Miranda style. There is just a lot of stuff which brings us to Carrie’s wardrobe.
Here is a wardrobe that could take on any department store: There is enough of it. There’s the pink pants with striped shirt, vest, and tie; a grey crepe sheath with perfume flask necklace; the pink sheath with black metal-studded belt and rope of pearls; not to mention the wedding dress spread for Vogue and the Vivienne Westwood extravaganza; there are silk chemises with long pearls; black jeans and a sleeveless ruched taupe top; the purple dress with the low back and black bra straps showing; a little black dress and choker; a gray with red and black jersey dress; the label-less two piece white satin suit; pajamas with fur coat and sequined skull cap; a fur stole with pearls and socks; a long school-girl red woolen scarf; the oversized mauve coat; the kimono dress; the long empire waisted beach dress; elbow length leather gloves; and driving gloves; and the list goes on and on and on. It must be noted that on occasion Carrie does wear the same thing more than once. These are the foundations of her style: The black gladiator heels, the black studded belt, and the rope of pearls. The style is in the details.
All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum