An intensely anthropological take on fashion, style, and gender bending trends
Two beauty types. Which one are you?
I caught myself some time ago casting all people into two broad categories. First I distributed them between an ‘indoor’ or an ‘outdoor’ baskets. Every time I go through pictures from a prospective client I utter, “What an Indoor,” or, “Such an Outdoor type.” This division often correlates with a penchant for heels. ‘Outdoors’ often look stark in heels and benefit from losing them all together. The ‘Indoors’ seem to depend on heels like a bosom depends on a bra.
Earlier this month I had two clients representing both types in their extremes. One looked awesome and fresh in her concert T-shirt and distressed jeans. But in numerous pictures from corporate parties she looked like a contestant of the “Best Tutsie” dress-up challenge. The other client seemed to be born into gowns and Manolo satin mules. But I could hardly identify her from pieces of Roman ruins in the background of her European vacation Instagram feed. Casual, laid-back clothes made her vanish.
‘Indoor’ and ‘Outdoor’ types became very popular among my Russian readers and virtually memm-ed. My impromptu habit bore fruits and readers asked for more details and structure. I realized I had to develop my system further, but those spontaneous ‘Indoor’ and ‘Outdoor’ labels just did not seem descriptive enough. Inspired by my Greek lineage I referred to Hellenic mythology to further refine my approach to women’s beauty. This is how ‘Outdoors’ turned into Amazons, a race of women warriors and ‘Indoors’ morphed into Sirens, beautiful but dangerous creatures who lured sailors with their enchanting singing to shipwreck. These are the two beauty types that, regardless of our weight and BMI dictate our style. Namely: the choice of fabrics, hues, shoes, hems and accessories. Each has her own battles. Each enjoys her unique privileges.
The biggest challenge for an ‘Amazon’ is power dressing and evening attire. They look dull in business suits and satirically grotesque in formal wear. Women have a hell of a time picking out a wedding dress, or any gown, that does not make them look like a Tin Man. Now, this one is difficult, as many women get worked up about their nuptial frock and it is a demanding and investment-heavy piece. It can be a poor example to illustrate the difference, but some of you will know what I mean. All this does not imply that Amazons are banned from offices and reception halls, though at times they may prefer they were. Some Amazons succumb to pre-cut (one-size-fits-all) formal solutions and decide to just suffer through it. They often perceive it as their own personal deficiency. (How very wrong!) Others view dress-up traditions as a form of social stigma and take pride in scandalizing the establishment with their devil-may-care sartorial stance. In reality, there are ways for ‘Amazon’ types to dress formally while sticking to their identity and turning some heads (in a nice way). Italians are great at it, but Italians are great at everything aesthetic. Earthy colors and rough, crispy fabrics usually do the job well. That applies to wedding dresses too, though earthy and wedding dress sounds like an oxymoron. Or so it did for many years.
One of the milestones for an Amazon beauty was the 1956 French film, Et Dieu… Crea la Femme. It saw Brigitte Bardot getting married in a simple shirt-dress that resembled a table napkin and walking from the church barefoot. You could sense the erotic vibes just thinking about the Mediterranean rocky sand massaging the soles of her feet. No wonder we so rarely saw Bardot in heels in the following decades. The ballet flats helped to keep her barefoot image alive.
Now imagine Grace Kelly walking barefoot in her dress down that very Mediterranean street. Exactly. This is a great example of how a Siren beauty does not respond well to Amazon tricks. And this is why so many women today struggle with their casual attire.
The majority of today’s brands seem to be heavily influenced by the image of Bardot walking down the aisle barefoot. This is what they build their brand identity upon and this is one of the reasons that ‘Siren’ women, who need crepe fabrics to thrive, find it impossible to find clothes today. Some of the Sirens resign to wildly available jeans and knits, fall into constant frustration with their image, or just stop thinking of it all together. Others take pride in traveling that extra mile to keep themselves put together, only to end up looking out of place with their sexy heels, shiny satins, overdone hair, and full makeup. My fellow Russians are notorious for that, partly because the Siren archetype prevails in Eastern Europe. Being dolled up inappropriately at times is not just a sartorial culture (or lack of thereof), it has something to do with anthropology too.
Sirens are not doomed to spend their lives dressed as if for the Venetian carnival, though many of them wouldn’t mind that. The ever-present heavy makeup, invariable heels, and body-con, overly ornate clothing is often a primitive attempt to channel the bygone level of care put into one’s appearance. This is innate to all Siren types. There are other sophisticated ways to translate your glamorous self into laid back clothes that are in tune with the modern casual vibe. They usually come with fabric integrity and – alas – a price tag. So, conscious shopping and luxury consignments are keys here. Fabric quality can sometimes be bypassed for evening attire that is inherent to Sirens, but it becomes extremely important with casual clothes, because the very concept of casual is alien to the Siren nature. That is why their casual everyday clothes often cost way more than their formal numbers. A typical Siren can slip into a $100 gown and shine bright with a messy up do and minimal makeup. This is a real life scenario I’ve been playing for my Vienna ball outings for two years in a row. Mine was a dusty eucalyptus green polyester gown. All my casual clothes cost me an arm and a leg and range from painfully priced Brunello boots to Donna Karan wool leggings.
It is amazing that through dissecting aesthetics I came to understand and accept myself. Living in California I have been subjected to an array of outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing, and sailing. Not being outdoorsy in California is like being a Republican here. I succumbed to the slogan “California has a lot to offer,” quietly hating every minute of it but not even considering that there were options. As I came to the realization that a typical ‘Siren’ sartorial repertoire revolves around clothes with a touch of formal, I understood that they also often support my pensive moods, introverted nature, and even provide a certain protection of my fatigue-prone self. This was when I suddenly realized that I don’t need to like hiking and, (oh dear God!) I don’t have to hike. And I won’t miss anything. I may spend a night on a Latin dance floor or do a sidesaddle Victorian style one day, but I am not going to hike. Or ski on Lake Tahoe. Or sail. Because I am a Siren type.
After I published this text on my Russian blog in 2010, I was shocked to see it went viral. I really thought it was just a little entry I drafted one evening, brainstorming ideas that weren’t even that novel. I thought that my ‘Amazon’ and ‘Siren’ definitions really mirror the ‘girl next door’ and ‘ladylike’ or “classic” and “rustic” concepts, which have been around since biblical times. I didn’t think I was saying anything new. But I received, and five years later keep receiving, so many comments, emails, and thank you notes, that I realized there is a void. And there is a need. The voices came mostly from Sirens who felt they were finally heard and understood. Many of them said this entry helped them come to terms with who they were. This changed me forever and gave momentum to this blog.
Being a Siren myself obviously, my vibe attracts my tribe. Knowing firsthand how challenging it can get to maintain your Siren-identity in the Amazon-dominated world, I devote this blog to Sirens. Though they are my speciality I am also immensely curious about Amazons and love to work with them. Each entry, while being a Siren-geared tutorial always contains information for / about Amazons. Comparing these two and seeing both sides of every story raises our style IQ and enriches our vision.
An intensely anthropological take on fashion, style, and gender bending trends