Choice fashionism!

Lofty political language gets thrown around in the coverage of the Milan fashion shows ... but to what avail?

Published February 27, 2006 1:15AM (EST)

The collision of high fashion and feminism is rare, but often rich. So I absolutely loved an Associated Press story on Friday about the fall-winter fashion shows currently taking place in Milan, Italy.

"Italian designers have learned a new trick," it began. "Don't impose, offer. Next winter's fashion allows women to pick and choose at their convenience, from feminist to feminine, raunchy to romantic."

What's this? A larger philosophy of empowerment being spouted on Milan's catwalks? One that was missing from, say, the New York runway bacchanal that took place a couple of weeks ago?

Well, let's just say that nobody should set fire to her drainpipe jeans just yet. Reporter Daniela Petroff may have been straining hard to find the fashion emancipation here, but it's a hopeful idea!

Petroff quoted Miuccia Prada as saying, "Enough of the cutie look. It's time women showed some fight," before showing a collection that featured "aggressive women in animal prints, woolen helmets, Stone Age furs and militant footwear."

And Dolce & Gabbana appeared game on the subject of female self-determination. Domenico Dolce told Petroff, "What counts is to make women look and feel great," just before the D&G show, inspired by the Napoleon and Josephine -- think "delicate military jackets" -- who were divorced in 1809 because of the failure to produce a male heir.

Gucci's collection featured "rock-star sexpots dressed in glimmering gold," albeit modeled by women "with stringy blond hair, pale faces and eerie black eyeliner."

And then there was D-Squared twin designers Dean and Dan Caten, who "combined sport and sex in a cheerful collection inspired by posh country living." According to Petroff, we have been set free by the Catens. "By night, their woman can choose to be demure in a pretty embroidered sheath adorned with strings of pearls. Or she can throw propriety to the wind in a pearl gray floor-length gown where silver chain shoulder straps meet a demure bow way below where a bare back is meant to end."

Oh my God! A pretty embroidered sheath adorned with strings of pearls or a pearl gray floor-length with silver chain shoulder straps and demure bow!?! My concern is: What if all this autonomy becomes too much for us couture-clad women? What if we need to be told what to wear and how to dress? What if our choices overwhelm us?

No fear! Apparently, despite the vast array of choices, one thing remains certain: "Belts play a big part, from the wide leather cummerbunds to mark a daytime waist to the delicate straps marking the empire waist on dramatic black chiffon gowns."


By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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