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Cintra Wilson’s ostensible topic: D.C. fashion; her actual topic: her George W. Bush obsession

September 22, 2015

My latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

Cintra Wilson 2009.jpg“Culture critic” Wilson: Dubya on my mind

Cintra Wilson needs to get down to Washington more.

The former New York Times and Salon self-described “culture critic” has an article in the Atlantic titled “Why Women’s Fashion in D.C. Is So Patriarchal–and So Terrible.”

A better title might be: “You Mean George W. Bush Isn’t the President Anymore”?

Here’s a Cintra-lating sample (also an excerpt from Wilson’s new book, Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style):

“Rich Georgetown ladies tend to drift into that Pat Nixon look that denies that the late sixties ever happened. Their clothes evoke a demure, under-control, decidedly non-rowdy, submissive type of woman who appreciates her role as an ornament of great value, and sits prettily and quietly in Gulfstream jets. It is the look of mothers of brides, and Hong Kong billionaires’ wives. The hard hair and brocade jackets are a throwback to the freeze-dried, declawed, prim, undersexed, shellacked, deodorized, imperial-establishment matron style that always seems to crawl back into women’s fashion during Republican administrations, and tends to coincide with tighter restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, upticks in racism and Bible thumping, and the economic rape of the middle class by  ‘unforeseeable’ stock-market calamities that still somehow always seem to massively benefit the nation’s richest 1 percent.”

Memo to Wilson: The last time we had a Republican administration with all the “Bible thumping” was in 2008, seven years ago. The Obamas don’t go to church much.

During the darker years of the Bush administration, it struck me that the cut of most women’s clothing in retail fashion inventories eerily evoked Rosemarys Baby. It was all baby-doll dresses and little pastel blouses with Peter Pan collars and smocking over the collarbones. Child-women were infantilized and bowed up until they resembled decorative, virginal Easter eggs. All the high heels seemed to evaporate from department stores in favor of quiet little ballet shoes that might enable a wife to tiptoe out of the dining room so that the men, freshly cigared, could talk like grownups.

Gee, I was living in Washington back then, as I do now, and I don’t remember the baby-doll dresses with the Peter Pan collars, but maybe that’s a fashion trend I missed, since I work at home. But here’s more evidence that Wilson actually wrote her book nearly a decade ago and then sat on it for a long time:

“The creations of designers who cater to First Ladies, such as Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, and newcomers like Derek Lam, tend to be nostalgic and never-challengingly hip. It is a clean, monarchic glamor. The brands have a tenure granted by the designer’s perennial alliances with actual monarchies and the otherwise untouchably rich. In iconography alone, such brands are pure currency: Jackie O. both mourned JFK and married Onassis in Valentino.”

Let’s see: Valentino is long-retired. Oscar de la Renta, he dead. The last First Lady he dressed was….you guessed it, Laura Bush. Derek Lam is the only au courant First Lady designer, having dressed Michelle Obama on a couple of occasions. I’ll bet Wilson dropped Lam’s name into her book for a last-minute update as it went to galleys.

But the real target of Cintra Wilson’s sledgehammer wit seems to be Ann Taylor, whose retail chain comes in for massive oppobrium because it sells clothes designed for women whose job titles are someting other than “culture critic”:

“The default answer to this no-win fashion conundrum, for an alarming amount of working women, is to buy their wardrobes at Ann Taylor; a label so ubiquitous in D.C. it might as well be tattooed on the C7 vertebrae of every woman under 60. The line has always offered tasteful middle-management office classics in wool with just enough spandex to vaguely suggest a Sarah Palin strip-o-gram. My shorthand for the look was always ‘capitalist burqa’ or ‘corporate office submissive’: cubicle-wear of so-so quality for the single girl in her late twenties whose self-esteem has been almost beaten to death by the beauty-industrial complex, and whose decent education has been punished with a thanklessly demanding office job. She’s a can-do Cinderella who has always had to change the oil in her own pumpkin and is too overworked to have a healthy social life outside the workplace. Her outfits must therefore be corporate-respectable, yet body-conscious enough to attract a nice tax-attorney husband.”

Wilson’s obsession with Sarah Palin, who hasn’t been on the Washington scene since the Bible thumper was crossing his last days in the White House off his calendar is yet another sign that Wilson’s D.C. observations are getting long in the tooth.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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