Cinemode: Working Girl: A 1980s Cinderella Story

Working Girl, released on this day in 1988, is the era’s quintessential Cinderella story, the tale of a 30-year-old woman searching for business rather than romantic success. With one quick snip of the scissors through her teased, bleached tresses, Tess McGill, played by Melanie Griffith, begins her transformation from Staten Island secretary to Manhattan business maven. Next, she sheds the tell-tale accent and her ridiculous Reeboks for the better contents of new boss Katherine Parker’s closet while the latter is laid up in Switzerland following a skiing accident. This is not only a self-made Cinderella but an opportunistic one, too.

Tess is an assertive heroine, so hungry to get ahead that she agrees to push around a dim sum cart like a street vendor at a welcoming party for Katherine, played by Sigourney Weaver. As Tess’ Aqua Velvet–coated hair begins to wilt, she watches Katherine, wearing an eye-catching, devilish red dress, masterfully handle all the dark suits in the room.

Katherine is Tess’s first female boss, and one two weeks younger, no less. When they first meet, Katherine’ simple strand of pearls contrasts markedly with Tess’ chunky metal jewelry. Katherine’s no-nonsense manner, her clearly stated ground rules and her insistence that Tess call her by her first name all set her apart from Tess’ former bosses. We sense that things are looking up for Tess. Even her sartorial metamorphosis begins with a little advice from Katherine, who misquotes Coco Chanel’s adage, “dress shabbily and they notice the dress; dress impeccably Read More »

Fashion Statement: Tina Chow

“Femininity…has nothing to do with wearing ruffles. You can show your femininity regardless of what you wear. Your attitude will show it. Femininity and feminism go hand and hand.” —Tina Chow, jewelry designer, model, muse and style icon. Painting by Andy Warhol. Photo by marvelous photographer Arthur Elgort. To read more fabulous Fashion Statements, click here.

Happy St. Catherine’s Day, Patron Saint of Milliners!

Today, November 25, marks the day where single French ladies celebrate the steadfast resolve of a fourth-century gal named Catherine of Alexandria, today our Patron Saint of Milliners and Couture. The story goes that Roman Emperor Maxentius had his eye on Catherine, but she refused to marry him and was promptly executed. (Another story, by way of the church, says she was executed for spreading Christianity across Europe.) Either way, Catherine was named the patron saint of unmarried women nine centuries later, and on this day, gals around France place hats on their heads—traditionally a starched cap on the eldest unmarried woman in town and paper bonnets on the heads of the others—and spend the day praying to St. Catherine for a worthy husband. The tradition of hats is what led to Catherine landing the patronage of millinery, as well as launching the term “Catherinette,” meaning an unmarried woman age 25 or older, and a French saying, “to do St. Catherine’s hair,” meaning “to remain an old maid.” Charming!

Thankfully, this holiday has morphed through the years from a humiliating experience for single women to one embraced as a kicky holiday by French couture and design houses and milliners. Young seamstresses traditionally shut the shop doors to the public and have an all-day party with champagne, dancing and sweets, while making elaborate and outrageous Read More »

The Bra That Wasn’t There

They called him an “enemy of the church,” a menace and, my personal favorite, “the Bolivar of the Bosom,” a reference to the 19th-century general who helped lead Spain to independence. But Los Angeles–based designer Rudi Gernreich didn’t have a fixation on breasts, as many critics angrily contended. Nope, Gernreich was quite happily gay, for one thing, and his appreciation for nudity transcended gender and singular body parts. He insisted his interest was not in exploiting women’s bodies, but in freeing them from binding, structured garments. He aimed to create clothing that followed the tides of fashion, though most of his designs—the topless bathing suit, the thong, the see-through blouse and psychedelic color combinations—were more innovative than consequential. Which is how on this day in 1964, Gernreich came to launch the No-Bra Bra, a featherweight pairing of two bias-cut triangles of sheer nylon net molded with only a single small dart. The elasticized shoulder straps, wrote fashion doyenne
Eugenia Sheppard, “are as narrow as strings…and invisible as nothing.”

Light and invisible as it may have been, from Gernreich’s perspective, the bra wasn’t small enough. “I kept trying to make it briefer,” he said, “but there’s still too much going on.” Read More »

Madonna: The New Feminist

I stumbled across this article in the New York Times last night and it makes a nice little footnote to Rachel’s Madonna/”Everybody” Story Behind the Styles. As of last week the Times is celebrating the 40-year anniversary of its Op-Ed section, and rerunning “greatest hits” pieces from over the decades. “Finally, a Real Feminist,” was posted today (or yesterday? the day before? NYT please start dating all of your multimedia pieces, especially anything T magazine so I’m not always in the dark about what is old and new news. Thanks.) is by one of my own greatest-hits list of favorite social critics, Camille Paglia, who penned this piece about Madonna as a “new feminist” in 1990. It was a great read then—the story drew a ton of attention—and it’s a great read now. Paglia explains/defends the piece in a short video, looking back Read More »

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