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Seeing Double

June 24, 2012

By Richard Vincente


You don’t have to look very hard these days to find examples of how the evolving universe of fashion lingerie — the undiverse, as I call it — conflicts with public standards and exposes our mixed feelings about how, when and where we display our bodies.

We live in a society that celebrates and peddles sexuality with an increasing lack of restraint … but that same society also has a collective comfort level that is easily offended, even when it seems hypocritical.

Double standard? Or just the eternal tension between the progressive liberals we’d all like to be and conservative conformists we really are?

You can get a sense of this tension by looking at our attitudes toward celebrities and their fashion choices. For example, all-American supermodel Kate Upton (above) is going to sell a ton of magazines this summer thanks to her red-white-and-blue cover for GQ. I’m not sure what the DAR thinks about this, but so far Kate’s super-sexy, tolerance-testing take on Old Glory hasn’t drawn many complaints. It might be against the law in some countries to put the nation’s flag to this kind of use, but in America it’s just edgy and clever (at least on Kate Upton).

Alas, poor Jill Biden apparently isn’t entitled to the same laissez-faire leniency. The vice-president’s wife set the Twitterverse and blogosphere buzzing this week when she was spotted shopping at a La Perla store in Chicago. You’d think a girl would be safe shopping for some decent undies, but Madame Veep touched off a controversy over the wisdom of buying luxury lingerie in the middle of an election campaign that, to a large extent, is focused on the growing economic disparity among Americans.

If you ask me, though, I think many people were just made uncomfortable by this fleeting glimpse into the very private world of a public figure (there was similar hooting and hollering last winter when it was erroneously reported that Michelle Obama had been spotted in an Agent Provocateur store in New York).

We prefer our underdressed celebs to be packaged and put out for public consumption, like Kate Upton, rather than speculate on what they might look like, or do, in their spare time. Stars who pose in racy get-ups are always welcome; those who are seen, candidly, in the same attire make us uncomfortable.

If there’s a double standard there, it impacts on the lingerie community, which has aggressively promoted the underwear-as-outerwear trend over the past few years, persuading once-shy women that it’s okay — even fashionable — to show off some of those lacey goodies. Lingerie today isn’t just about comfort and fit, it’s about self-empowerment — and the fashion world has made self-exposure a desirable, almost virtuous, character trait.

But be careful. Public perception, as always, lags behind fashion trends. And there’s a reactionary press (and public) ready to tsk-tsk like hyperventilating hens whenever some women show a little too much skin.

Earlier this week, for instance, newly engaged singer Miley Cyrus (yes, she’s an adult now!) made headlines once again when photos of her in public dressed in a cami-and-boyshort combo were published online — as if her outfit somehow crossed a line of taste or morality. Sigh. When it comes to pushing boundaries in this business, doesn’t it always seem like one step forward, two steps back?

The same reaction greets superstar daughter and party girl Paulina Gretzky (above), who loves the outerwear look and gets in big trouble every time she steps out in a bodysuit or corset. The 23-year-old not only got her grounded by her famous dad last fall when her style choices became widely circulated on the Internet, she’s also earned international notoriety for simply adopting a fashion trend that has become increasingly commonplace. Here’s how the Vancouver Sun reported her recent appearance at an L.A. Kings hockey game:

Paulina Gretzky skipped the nearly nude outfits for a Los Angeles Kings hockey game with dad Wayne Gretzky at the Staples Centre in L.A. on Monday.

The 23-year-old siren – known for her racy online photos – looked downright ordinary without the extensions and extensive cleavage.

No word of whether the decision to cover up was her own – or another crackdown from Dear Old Dad …

Ouch! If that kind of judgment was applied equally and universally, the fashion community would be in big trouble. Luckily, it’s not.



At the same time as Miley or Madonna or Octomom are getting pilloried for wearing somewhat less than a burqa in public, others like Emma Stone and Kristen Stewart (above) are being applauded for recent photo shoots in revealing lingerie looks. In those cases, the young stars are celebrated for untypically stepping outside their comfort zones to explore new fashion choices and new sides of their own personalities.

I know it’s asking a lot, but wouldn’t it be great if we could allow all women to do the same without risking judgment, condemnation or recrimination?

Richard Vincente is the editor of Lingerie Talk, Canada’s leading lingerie news site.

 
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Richard Vincente

Richard Vincente is the editor and publisher of Lingerie Talk, Canada’s leading weblog covering the fashion lingerie market. Since Lingerie Talk’s launch in early 2010, Richard and his team of contributors have provided a reasoned and authoritative commentary on trends, collections and personalities in the lingerie industry.
 
Richard is a lifelong print and web journalist who has covered many of his personal passions, including politics, music, travel and social causes. He is a former editor with the Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading daily newspaper, and owned and managed a community newspaper for several years. Since 2003 he has focused exclusively on web publishing ventures.
 
Intimate Intelligence will look at broader cultural issues that affect, and are affected by, lingerie fashions. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome.
 
Visit Richard’s external blog LINGERIE TALK.