Under Where?

The male gaze dilemma meets pretty panties

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” – Dorothy Parker

While borrowing lines from Hamlet to describe panties may seem like a stretch no elastic waistband should endure, Ms. Parker’s witty remark raises many questions concerning what we choose to put on underneath our clothes. It’s a simple decision that arises daily for both men and women, often thought to be mandatory and thoughtless, but is it? For myself (and I hope I am not alone in this one) countless daydreams are filled with visions of me slipping in and out of lingerie; of waking to the early sunlight in my darling (but too rarely worn) vintage babydoll slip. I wish for the moment when passion stops to observe the way silk skims a nipple. But more often than not, these moments are either lost or pass within a flick of the light switch. So why do we invest so much of our time and money on a moment so brief?

One understanding is that our obsession is centered around conforming our bodies to an attractive ideal. From the Victorian corset to spanx, many women have attempted to chisel their way to the ‘perfect’ feminine figure with elastic and whale bone. Jill Fields, author of An Intimate Affair, links the evolution of our unmentionables to the ever-changing gender distinctions and transformation of the twentieth century American woman. While this socio-historical approach helps us understand how we have evolved from bloomers to thongs, it hardly explains our fascination with undergarments within the context of the bedroom.

In her novella Simple Passion, Annie Ernaux describes the events of her intimacies with a married man. At the height of their affair, she pauses to illustrate the wreckage of their most recent encounter: “I would sit staring at the glasses, the plates and their leftovers, the over flowering ashtray, the clothes, the lingerie strewn all over the bedroom and the hallway.” The garments, meticulously prepared, lay discarded amongst the carnage of the evening. Ernaux’s illustration is a scene that I’m sure many women have woken up to, or even caught their feet in as they stumbled sleepy-eyed from the bedroom. The tableaux provokes a common interpretation of intimate apparel. We picture Ernaux, the blood and guts of her affair, and a pair of red lace panties. She dresses—and undresses—for him.

Feminist film criticism has brought to us the idea of the male gaze, and as Fields points out specifically in the case of lingerie, “Women construct themselves in dress and deportment as ‘to-be-looked-at,’ which requires them to look through the male gaze to see whether their bodies are attractive objects on display.” But this is where I seem to fail. I can say with confidence (based on many years of field research—please don’t tell my parents) that hours shopping and countless dollars and debt later, I have found that the only reason a guy ever remembers the colour of my bra is because it was resting on the nightstand beside his iPhone. So why persist?

As I sit on a rainy afternoon, making a chart of sexual encounters, what I wore, and the reaction, I come to a hypothesis. And while I have never been one to air my dirty laundry, here it goes. The results of my oh-so-scientific chart seem to point to one small black g-string as the undefeated champ—which I’ll have you know I have only worn a handful times out of necessity, under a super tight pencil skirt, or this one pair of jeans that fit like they came out of the last musical number in Grease. Revealing cellulite, stretch marks, and the obvious deviance from my squat routine, this particular delicate would not be my first choice. Instead, I tend to opt for things you would expect to see circa Valley of the Dolls. These items, a tiny bit more modest than your average g-string, are how I have chosen to represent my sexuality—despite the often lackluster response.

In the past half century, feminist art has been subverting women’s status as sexual objects by claiming this very status and exercising their ability to choose how it is represented; in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, “To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object.” While I would never claim my high-waisted satin briefs to be a feminist statement, something does seem to bind these two ideas together. Is our time spent rifling through Victoria Secret catalogues a forfeit to the demands of the male gaze? Or could my obsession with the latest Agent Provocateur collection be a reclaiming of my body and sexuality? While I would prefer to place myself in the latter category, it could very well be that I am simply stuck in a male gaze of decades past, where the movements of Lana Turner across a screen would have forced me to tighten the elastic of my wrap-around girdle. Pushing up and into the unmentionable adventures of my future, however, I will strive with every eye-hook latched and every stocking unrolled to ensure that these private garments become my own quiet reclamation; that, like my outer layers, what I put on under my clothes will remain how I want to be represented, both as a woman and sexually.

photography // Laura Tuttle

Backwards In High Heels: A Fred & Ginger Supercut

A look at the classic Hollywood style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

When WORN held its redesign Indiegogo fundraiser last fall, the top perk for support was a film supercut of the bidder’s choosing. One of the supercuts was snapped up by Nathalie Atkinson, Style editor and culture columnist at the National Post. Atkinson’s choice was a supercut of every single outfit Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers wore when they appeared together on-screen in their ten musical pairings. Here, she explains why.

My taste—and to a degree, what I do for a living—was shaped in my teens, by whatever TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies host Elwy Yost felt like watching every weekend.

Elwy loved old movies and particularly the RKO musicals of the ’30s, and as a consequence so do I. I love the costumes in many of his favourite Silver Screen classics—Rosalind Russell’s striped topcoat and hat from His Girl Friday, everything Myrna Loy wears in The Thin Man, by costumer Dolly Tree, the pre-Code bias satins and boas of Dinner at Eight. But the grace, elegance, and wit of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ costumes in their musical comedy pairings remain my favourite. Their panache not only affected dance: it popularized the American songbook (Berlin, the Gershwin) not to mention a fantasy world of stark black and white Art Deco interiors and beautiful evening attire. “The Continental” from The Gay Divorcée won the very first Academy Award for best original song.

The legendary dance duo spent eight hours a day for six weeks rehearsing and perfecting choreography with Hermes Pan prior to shooting a film (which they did, in long takes, on perilously glossy floors). Note that as a 1982 “Frank & Ernest” newspaper comic strip by Bob Thaves later coined, Ginger did everything Fred did, only backwards. And in high heels.

They were the perfect complement for both banter and ballroom: Fred’s dancing is debonair and classy; Ginger’s is graceful but sassy (or as Katharine Hepburn put it: he gave her class; she gave him sex appeal.) Did they or didn’t they? Reading Rogers’ 1991 autobiography, Ginger: My Story, you’ll learn that while both were performing in separate Broadway shows before she was lured to Hollywood (when they made their first picture together, it was her 21st and only his 2nd), she and Fred had been more than a little warmly acquainted. They’d been on a few dates and even shared a real clinch or two (which is more than they ever did on film, given the newly cordial and reserved relationship with Astaire, by then married and, according to Ginger at least, his wife Adele was jealous and possessive).

Fred is known for the white tie, black tie, and tails, and Ginger’s loveliest bias-cut ballgown costumes are those made in collaboration with Howard Greer, a fashion and costume designer who stayed on in France after the Great War to work at Molyneux, Lucile, and Poiret before returning to Hollywood. (Fun fashion fact: Rogers didn’t make her first trip to France until 1952, but she made up for lost time. In Paris she stayed at Le Meurice, where Earl Blackwell squired her to a fashion show and later, numerous private fittings with designer Elsa Schiaparelli. And in the 1970s, Ginger collaborated on a capsule collection for J.C. Penney!)

Carefree’s “The Yam” dress by Howard Greer is one Rogers describes as “chiffon panels of red flame and steel gray.” In this film she also wears a bold original dress design of appliquéd arrows piercing a heart by costume designer Howard Greer and Edward Stevenson (you may recognize it from its recent contemporary copycat: a few years ago New Zealand designer Karen Walker did a very, very similar frock she called “Cupid”). There’s “Change Partners,” also by Greer: “a beautiful black marquisette gown, with a picoted bodice with silver threads, which caused a slight glimmer of reflected light as I danced around the floor.” The dress for “Color Blind” made her feel “like the fairy godmother in Cinderella.” For The Barkleys of Broadway, the first number in the film was the “Swing Trot” and costumer Irene made her a gold lamé dress to contrast with the purple chorus gowns. “My dress had a very full skirt and when I whirled, it filled with air because of the way it was sewn—balloon-style at the hem.”

It’s in 1949′s The Barkleys of Broadway, their final film together—in Technicolour—that you see the beginnings of Astaire’s more casual personal style, later recognizable in films such as The Band Wagon and Funny Face: the necktie as belt, the kerchief, the brightly coloured shirts paired with shortened trousers that showed off his intricate footwork (which inspired Michael Jackson to crop his trousers the same way). Here, the menswear is by MGM costumer J. Arlington Valles.

The Fred and Ginger movies follow a loose formula—a meet-cute dance number, a solo, a casual one, a romantic seduction dance (such as “Cheek to Cheek”), and one grand production number to close. And while they’re elegant, my favourites of their 1930′s costumes aren’t the formal suits and gowns but their more playful, casual attire. Fred was daring, for his day and American audience, because he emulated the English tweed sport jackets and Savile Row suiting style of the Prince of Wales (he traveled to London himself to be fitted by purveyors Hawes & Curtis or Anderson & Sheppard). Ginger wore witty, sometimes goofy costumes like satin sailor suits (Follow the Fleet), like jodhpurs and roller-skating skirts, in the looser numbers. There is also, of course, some dish about the infamous costume at the heart of the legendary fight she had on Top Hat with Astaire and their longtime director Mark Sandrich, the director on five of their nine RKO musicals together (their 10th was in colour, at MGM). Rogers had specifically asked for a pale blue dress with front and back neckline trimmed in long ostrich feathers. Fred didn’t care for it, especially since with every movement and quiver, it shed feathers—all over his tuxedo, for example.

She got her way and the dress—and all its feathers—floats languidly and sensually through the number; it now resides in the Smithsonian, along with her glittering dress from The Piccolino. The dance partners reconciled and from then on, his nickname for her was ‘Feathers.’

And if you look closely, around the 50-second mark you’ll see the high-gloss dance floor littered with the ostrich feathers that have slowly drifted over the course of their dance.

text // Nathalie Atkinson
video // Daniel Reis

Every one of the costumes they wore on-camera together during their partnership, in chronological order:
Flying Down to Rio
The Gay Divorcee
Roberta
Top Hat
Follow the Fleet
Swing Time
Shall We Dance
Carefree
The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle
The Barkleys of Broadway

further reading >
Astaire & Rogers by Edward Gallafent
Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein
Puttin’ On the Ritz: Fred Astaire & the Fine Art of Panache by Peter J. Levinson
Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk by Sarah Giles
The Astaires by Kathleen Riley

The Stories We Tell

Five Wornettes revisit the fictional characters that inspired their closets growing up

Moon Prism Power!
When I was about 10 years old (pushing the limits of an appropriate age for a cartoon obsession), I loved Sailor Moon. She was my moon goddess of style. Though my love may have shifted from Sailor Scout to Sailor Scout, it was the idea of a sassy uniform only put on through an intense and magical costume change that I found most appealing.

The fantasy driven schoolgirl fashions had me acting like a fool as I begged my parents for the whole kit and kaboodle of consumer products marketed to my tween self. I remember the tense Christmas morning phone call between a friend and I as we discussed who had gotten what under the tree that morning. It was as if we thought it made us better people to have added to our growing collection of imported plastic accessories that made us “feel” like we really were “Super Sailor Scouts”—stylish schoolgirls with badass super powers.

As I got a bit older, my obsession stuck in the back of my mind. I couldn’t bear to part with the dolls, t-shirts, and plastic wands that hung around collecting dust in my closet. The cool punk girls I met in high school shared my secret love. We regularly discussed how awesome our animated hero and her friends were.

How did this totally fanciful, junk-food TV show fit in with my new found, anti-consumerist, teenage feminist rants? I began to reposition my fascination, turning my old Sailor Moon nightgown into a hot butch muscle tee and mixing the cutesy Sailor Moon-inspired pigtails of my youth into a riot grrrl-inspired statement. Perhaps the rumours of a lesbian love affair between Sailor Neptune and Uranus had even had an influence on my queerness. Even though I’ve more or less retired this obsession, I still get giddy every time I see a Japanese school uniform, excited at the thought of the magic that the girls who sport these get-ups possess. // Jenna Danchuk

Ten Points for Slytherin
I was obsessed with Harry Potter as a kid to the point that I managed to convince myself that a) I was his sister and b) Voldemort was stalking me. Okay, I’ll admit—I’m still obsessed. I couldn’t watch the last part of the last movie because I couldn’t deal with the fact that the series was ending. Before, when I identified as Gryffindor, I was partial to their house colours of red and gold. I was really big on wearing men’s ties as accessories (eat your heart out, Avril Lavigne). I used to carry a wand around until I was, like, 12. My mom claimed it was just a stick and told me to grow up. (Muggles, am I right?) Unfortunately, I haven’t. I still have the wand (yew, dragon heartstring core, inflexible), lying around somewhere.

When I was 10, I got glasses for the first time, and I didn’t feel like a Horrible Nerd Dorkasaurus as I might have had I got them at an earlier stage. I felt like this further confirmed my assumption that Harry Potter and I were related and I was actually a witch. The reason I wasn’t accepted to Hogwarts, I told myself on my 11th birthday, was because it is in England, and I lived in Canada, and Hogwarts Express doesn’t cross the ocean. Obviously. Anyway, Harry Potter made me feel cool about my glasses. I was in good company.

As I got older, I started to get into Harry Potter from a different perpective. I realized that I was cleary a Slytherin, and that green and silver were the way to go. I still like red and don’t hate Gryffindors, but I avoid gold clothing if I can help it and wear silver instead. // Sofie Mikhaylova

Here. Swear. Swear on Chanel.
I can’t remember being obsessed with anything other than dalmatians as a child, but in Grade 10 I fell under the spell of Carrie Bradshaw. The obsession spilled over to Sarah Jessica Parker (does anybody really differentiate between the two?) and I can remember going to school wearing my Great Grandmother’s broaches as fasteners on an asymmetrical grey cardigan, an homage to her Gap campaign.

My all-time favourite outfit during this phase was based on a dress from the final episode of the series. It was a sea-foam green tulle skirt which I made myself and layered over a structured black halter dress, meant to emulate the dress Carrie runs across Paris in, eventually reuniting with Big (gush). I wore it to our high school’s drama and dance awards.

I think the only problem my obsession with Carrie’s fashion might have caused was that it was so different from what everyone else was wearing in my high school, and so I sort of stuck out like a sore satin-gloved thumb. While everyone was showing up for class in jeans or sweatpants, I was wearing chiffon floral skirts and oversized fake flowers pinned to my cardigan. // Casie Brown

“Whoever said orange is the new pink was seriously disturbed.”
Growing up, I always got the idea that my peers didn’t think I was very smart. No matter how high my grades, my optimistic attitude combined with my affinity to wear pink matching outfits and my blonde streaked hair made me an easy target for dumb blonde jokes. I felt destined to be intellectually downtrodden until the day I saw Legally Blonde. Elle Woods was just like me: fun, girly, and smarter than she looked. I faked an eye exam and got cute glasses, paired knee socks with heels, and began telling everyone I would go to McGill, to which one boy said, “Alyssa, you’ll never be smart enough to go to McGill.” But, like Elle, I studied hard and tried to be best friends with everyone regardless of their judgment. The climax of my Elle Woods phase involved a head to toe hot pink Betsey Johnson corduroy outfit, complete with hot pink knee boots my mother acquired in Las Vegas, accessorized with a pink basket full of pink cookies which I spent my high school day handing out to students. After that I started dating a drama guy and went from Pretty in Pink to Checkerboard Ska. It was a rocky transition.

I never did get to McGill, but only because they didn’t offer a program as well known and successful as the Ryerson School of Journalism, where I am currently finishing my degree. I do, however, still wear pink with pride, and sometimes when I get to class and take out my floral notebook and rainbow pen set, I smile to myself and silently thank Elle for helping me find my smart self. // Alyssa Garisson

All I want is a dress with puffy sleeves.
Anne of Green Gables was a really important book for me as a child. I just liked how she was so herself, even though that self was a little weird and loud and prone to unfortunate accidents. I’ve never dyed my hair green (by accident, that is), I’ve never gotten my best friend drunk (by accident, that is), and I’ve never floated away in a lake and been rescued by a mischievous, handsome boy from school (not yet, that is). I might not have had flaming red hair, but I did have big, bushy, brown curls—I stuck out in the sea of sleek blonde hair that was the style for all the pretty girls in elementary school.

When I first read Anne of Green Gables, I didn’t fully understand what “puffed sleeves” were—I remember looking in a mirror and holding my sleeves up off my shoulder in an attempt to visualize what Anne was talking about—but I definitely sympathized with Anne’s yearning for trendy clothes that her adopted guardians couldn’t afford. As a child, all my clothes came from the sale section of a local discount outlet store. I always wanted what I couldn’t have: designer purses, t-shirts with logos printed on them, $30 lipgloss from department stores. My mother had a very Marilla Cuthbert attitude towards the whole thing. They’re both very practical women who work hard to balance a small budget and are seemingly impervious to trends or impractical wants. I’m the complete opposite—as soon as I was old enough to work, I worked in the trendiest boutiques and department stores, spending my minimum wage earnings on the latest styles.

Once, when I was working at a law firm and had lots of disposable income, I came across a cardigan that had legitimately puffed sleeves. It was a black button-down sweater with ruched stitching on the shoulders, giving them a raised, “puffed,” look. I don’t know if the designers had Anne of Green Gables in mind when they designed it, but I bought it immediately. I never wore it. It’s not really my style. I didn’t relate to the actual puffed sleeves—I related to Anne’s wanting. I understood desiring what you can’t really have. Besides, buying those items for yourself rarely fills a void. When Anne finally gets her puffed sleeves, it’s because Matthew, her guardian and best friend, knows that puffed sleeves will make Anne happy and sets out to get them for her. I’ll always remember how I felt reading about Anne unwrapping the paper on her beautiful brown dress that Matthew got Mrs. Lynde to make. Anne had someone who really understood her and who would have done anything to make her happy. I like to imagine that Anne never gave away or threw out that dress because it reminded her of how much she and Matthew loved each other. She outgrew the puffed sleeves, but she never outgrew their relationship. BRB, crying forever. // Haley Mlotek

photography// brianne burnell

The Ties (And Sweaters) That Bind

My dad is not a modern, clothing-coveting man. He doesn’t see the point in spending money on such frivolous things and hasn’t worn a tie in almost a decade. He avoids buying new garments with the stubbornness of a child, and when he does purchase them, he always insists they remain pressed, clean, and pristine, ultimately helping him avoid shopping for longer periods of time. His classic look is a black or navy crew-neck sweater, and dark-washed jeans or corduroys. My stylish mother often totes home fashionable new things for him to don, which he stashes deep in his closet and refuses to wear.

Ever the money-saver, he always tries his hardest to return the things my mother buys for him, but he isn’t always able to do so in time. The outfits he hasn’t managed to get a full refund for have slowly accumulated in my parents’ closet, hanging there mournfully, practically shining underneath the thin layer of dust that has settled on them.


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