I went to the grocery this morning (because even fashionistas have to eat, or at least feed their children, who apparently are tired of pasta EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for some reason) and because my grocery of choice is a SuperTarget, I decided to do a little market research (I'm looking for an inexpensive sundress to toss on after the pool).
What I found instead was this:Mossimo Supply Co. for Target, $21.99
The full-length sundress is back for Summer 2007, and I find myself less interested in the actual trend than I am in the logic behind it, particularly in light of the ongoing conversation we've been having here about where exactly one shops if one is old enough to drink legally but not yet eligible to collect Social Security.
The last time the full-length sundress was hott was in the 70s, when I (and many of you, let's face it) were kids. My mother most likely had a dress like the ones I saw at Target today, or perhaps like the ones J. Crew
is showing just now, which seem a little more her style. In fact, quite a number of things that were big in the 70s are coming back into fashion, and I think this has less to do with fashion being cyclical or with designers running out of ideas (really, was this
EVER a good idea?) than it does with a kind of nostalgic longing for the past. Or, more specifically, with the kind of painful identity crisis many women my age seem to be having just now.
I've been talking to a lot of women lately about what it means to be nearing 40, about how our lives are--or at least seem to be--different from our mothers' lives at this same moment in time. We talk about how the cultural expectations of us as women and wives and employees and mothers has changed, how now every choice we make is dissected and critiqued and found wanting, and how the stress of all that is wearing on us. The other night I had dinner with some incredibly smart and funny friends, all of whom, in one way or another, are feeling the strain of being women. One friend has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was listing for us all the medications she takes, none of which, she says, really work. Another friend has lost perhaps fifteen pounds recently, and while she looks great, we all fretted a bit about how little she is. A third friend recently moved and was telling us that she has been yelling at her kids more lately, and that she feels guilty about that. A fourth friend changed jobs not too long ago and is still coming to terms with her longer work hours and with the fact that she has hired a nanny to cover for her during the week. We all laughed about how much more we drink these days, more, say, than we did in the years between college and children, even though those really SHOULD have been the last of our big party years, without mortgages or private school tuitions or retirement savings to worry about.
In this context, I find the return of the full-length sundress fascinating. It's not a practical piece of clothing, if you think about it; it's the kind of thing you would wear to host a party, not to chase the kids at the park or go to the office or run errands on the weekend. The long sundress requires that you sit or stand peacefully with a drink in your hand and just relax. I think, for a lot of us, that's how we remember our mothers, although I suspect that our mothers would laugh at that. I think the resurgence of clothing from our childhood is a play on our constant fears about adulthood and our deep desire to return to a time when our biggest worry was getting our homework done in time to go out and play before dinner.
I won't be buying a long sundress this summer, both because that's not my style and because I want to move ahead, away from all this angst and fear. But I do want to keep thinking about what fashion says about us as women, and why designers and manufacturers are insisting that we dress like children, or like our mothers did thirty years ago, instead of acknowledging all the roles we play in our daily lives and providing attractive, comfortable, affordable clothes to dress for it.In lieu of the long sundress, how about some long shorts? I'm over at Mrs. Chicken's today, dishing about how to wear shorts this summer. Helpful hint: no one wants to see your underwear! But you all ready knew that, didn't you?