The Vagenda

Weekend Treat: The Top Ten Most Frustrating Things About Fashion (A Vagenda Book Extract)


As your Friday treat, and ahead of a Vagenda talk at the Hay Festival this Sunday, we thought we’d share an extract from the Vagenda book with you. And hey, if you like it then you can make our bloody weekend and buy it. Happy weekend!


1. I’m sorry, but I don’t speak ‘fashion’


Flick through a magazine such as Look (always a particularly good example of utter vapidity) and you’ll notice how most of what they say is expressed in a kind of girlie gobbledygook indecipherable to your average woman (we like to call it ‘twig Latin’). When the fash pack aren’t busy spaffing on about how everything is ‘totes amaze’, ‘delish’, ‘fabulous’ and ‘fierce’, they’re using baffling phrases such as ‘tonal separates’ and ‘capsule piece’. Grand dames such as Tatler, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, thankfully, always maintain a certain level of aristocratic detachment. It’s the magazines lower down the food chain, such as as Grazia, Glamour, Company and InStyle, that talk about fashion in tones of breathless reverence or squealing enthusiasm (OMG! WANT!) that imply clothes actually mean something profound.

Hence a pair of leggings becomes an ‘investment piece’, a T-shirt is a ‘wardrobe staple’ and a skintight pleather graphic print catsuit becomes a ‘must-have’ or even a – shudder – ‘lust-have’. And let’s not forget the tendency of fashion journalists to use singular terms for plural items, so instead of ‘statement heels’ and ‘casual trousers’ you get ‘statement heel’ and ‘casual trouser’, and all the while you’re sitting there thinking: ‘WHAT ABOUT MY OTHER LEG, GODDAMMIT?!’ and wondering if you’ve entered a twilight zone of idiocy. Which, of course, you have. In fact, part of the reason so many women love the actress Jennifer Lawrence is her absolute refusal to inhabit that twilight zone by speaking twig Latin. When a TV presenter asked her at the Oscars what ‘pieces’ she was wearing, she innocently retorted, ‘What do you mean? Like, this is the top, and this is the bottom.’ Our kind of woman.

2. Bond Street is not a high street



A bargain at £2,700

Don’t you just love it when a magazine or newspaper supplement shows you a picture of a gorgeous dress, only for you to note that it retails at an eye-wateringly expensive three grand? And that’s when they’ve bothered to show the price tag. The higher-end magazines often just put ‘price on application’, which we all know means ‘Not for the likes of you, plebeian scum.’ It bags costing enough to feed a small family for a week will still be hailed as a ‘bargain’ because hey, it’s not like you need to eat, is it? Is it?

And that’s before you even get to the next level; Hermès bags have their own waiting lists and cost upwards of ten grand. To quote the incredible Nora Ephron, author of such seminal essays as ‘I Hate My Purse’: ‘On the waiting list! For a purse! For a $10,000 purse that will end up full of old Tic Tacs!’

Then again, the more you spend on clothes and accessories, the less you spend on carbs and therefore the more likely you are to fit into those tiny silk hotpants that the Rich Kids of Instagram are wearing this season. What do you mean you need to pay rent? You can sleep under your fur in a supermarket skip, darling. ‘Hey, it’s OK that your only investments are hanging in your wardrobe!’ squeals Glamour. But is that really OK?

What’s more, any fashion magazine claiming to be putting out a ‘high street’ issue will still only feature the most expensive shops, such as Reiss and Whistles, and a few pages later will inevitably get distracted and start gushing about Miu Miu again. Because although they claim to listen to their readers, they still seem to assume that you’re reading their rag from a yoga retreat in the Maldives, or, having it read to you in the sauna by your personal secretary/slave while he or she brings you to orgasm with a solid gold loofah. What’s even more hypocritical in this mindset is that most of the journalists writing the content are being paid shockingly low wages – if they’re being paid at all. We all know how fashion loves an unpaid intern: Company magazine once cajoled their fashion writer into producing one of the most insulting articles of all time, entitled ‘How to be a good intern’, which cautioned readers to think of lengthy unpaid internships in fashion and fashion journalism (technically illegal but prevalent, we might add, in the good old UK) as ‘free training, rather than, say, slave labour’; this in the same breath as recommending that the intern learn how everyone in the office has their coffee and file this vital information next to their individual phone numbers. Knowing who has their decaf soy latte at 4 p.m. hardly seems like training you couldn’t get for minimum wage at Starbucks, so Company pretty much shot themselves in the foot with that one – not that we’re likely to see them change their payment policy any time soon. As a friend of ours who recently quit fashion to become an estate agent said, ‘I’d like to actually be able to afford the clothes.’ Which brings us to
our next point.

3. They don’t actually wear the clothes


You know that ugly lilac coat the fashion people are constantly telling you to buy? The faux fur one with the metal studs? They’d never wear it in a million years. The only reason it’s been featured in their ‘ten hot items’ section is because the hack owed the PR a favour. Sometimes they’ll even acknowledge that a trend is slightly dubious and start tittering, ‘We know it’s wrong, but we want it anyway . . .’ (Subtext: Buy the knee warmers, you gullible fool, I want more freebies.) The dishonesty of it all is palpable: nowhere is it more obvious that what masquerades as content for women is really just a dumbed-down pamphlet heavily influenced by marketing than in the fashion media. It’s the same with those annoying ‘Street Style’ features (we’re looking at you, Grazia) which imply that the whole country is populated by designer-clad, stylishly casual trust fund twiglets (‘Oh, we just happened to bump into Arabella Whittington- Starley-Moncrieff looking effortlessly chic in Croydon of all places’), when in reality it’s a stupid, fake set-up engineered by journalists to give their overprivileged young friends and relatives another little nepotistic thrill. And that’s because . . .

4. They think you’re an idiot


Thought you could dress yourself? Think again, shitmuncher. From that ‘How to wear’ feature (see: every fashion magazine ever) it’s obvious that fashion editors think you can’t even put on a pair of trousers without their assistance. If they could have their way, they’d break into your house and burn all your clothes, because they basically think you’re a baboon in a dress. This is why they’ll show you a picture of a celebrity wearing jeans and a T-shirt and tell you to ‘get the look’, with appropriate replacements from the high street helpfully attached. Consider that online clothes retailer ASOS’s market dominance stemmed from its marketing of celebrity looks (it stands for the long-forgotten ‘As Seen On Screen’). And, if the celeb isn’t wearing the industry-approved ensemble that advertisers want you to buy into, there’s always the clothes-shaming feature where fashionistas pick apart some poor celebrity’s red-carpet appearance because she dared to pair a navy necklace with clearly aquamarine shoes. Grazia is a great one for this. Its weekly bitch-fest ‘You, the Fashion Jury’ sees a panel of experts and one reader annihilate a woman in the public eye because of her fashion choices, damning her with faint praise and words such as ‘unflattering’ and ‘frumpy’. Examples include such bitchy ‘witticisms’ as Florence Welch being described as looking like ‘a doll that’s been dressed by a child in clothes made from a duvet bought in a house sale’, Heidi Klum being slated for failing to match her genetics to her dress (‘a pity Ms Klum has hazel and not azure eyes’) and Rita Ora being told that she looks like she’s starring in ‘the new Harry-Potter-inspired video by Prince’ (er, sounds awesome to us). It’s all part of this myth that fashion is an exclusive club as well as being an esoteric, difficult-to-master discipline in which one must try hard to become an ‘expert’.

Because of your fashion ignorance, magazines think it’s their job to mummy you through every conceivable scenario you might experience – from what to wear on a date (red, tight), to what to wear for a ‘meet the parents dinner’ (three-piece suit to demonstrate your serious side; dominatrix heels to show that your bedroom skills are up to producing the family’s next heir). And yet, while they’ll always tell you what to wear on a spa retreat or a show at London Fashion Week, they’ll never tell you what to wear at times when some wardrobe advice might actually be pretty useful, such as giving evidence in court, going up the job centre, or attending the funeral of someone you didn’t know well because of their very attractive and newly single grieving spouse. And that’s because they’re too busy trying to convince you that ‘shopping’ is a leisurely pastime we’re all supposed to bond over. But the fact of the matter is that . . .

5. Shopping is not a hobby


When they’re not berating you for owning the wrong kind of plain white T-shirt, fashion magazines are busily engaged in trying to convince you that fashion should be your life, and that your life, in turn, should be fashion. Choosing which on-trend leather flying jacket to ‘invest’ in this season is pitched as a decision akin to Sophie’s Choice with serious, potentially life-threatening repercussions (despite the fact that by next year it’ll be totes passé). This capitalist correlation between what you wear and your very existence – the clothes you wear become, on some level, you – goes some way to explaining the strange phenomenon that’s emerged in the last few years of treating shopping as a hobby. What once used to be more of an everyday errand has now become a worthy pastime in which women can engage. This is no thanks to lifestyle porn such as Sophie Kinsella’s novel-turned-romcom Confessions of a Shopaholic, structured reality shows such as The Hills, Real Housewives and Made in Chelsea, and that pesky, persistent notion that one has to look ‘fierce’ at all times of the day and night (we blame supermodel TV mogul Tyra Banks for this – a crime on a par with the myth she perpetuated that it is possible to ‘smile with your eyes and not your mouth’, or ‘smise’).

Yes, shopping can be fun, but as most women will tell you, it can also be a tedious, stressful experience that tests your mental health and self-esteem to the limits. Enough of us have returned home with armfuls of shopping bags and collapsed into an armchair breathing heavily, a traumatised look on our face to rival that of a veteran who has seen action in ’Nam, to know that shopping is by no means a constant merry- go-round of super-fun funsies, nor a form of therapy, nor a replacement for more meaningful cultural activities such as going to an art gallery or bitching about your job over pastries. Indeed, trying to find a pair of the latest velvet jeggings in Topshop on a Saturday afternoon is more akin to Dante’s vision of Hell than a chilled-out weekend excursion. Meanwhile, we’ve all managed to convince ourselves at least once that a jaunt down to Primark will be perfectly lovely, never mind that it usually ends with a near fist-fight in the queue for the last designer-copycat crop top: the opening of a new Primark store on Oxford Street in London in 2007 saw 3,000 people stampede into the store at opening time. When the carnage couldn’t be controlled by the fifty security staff already hired to quell the chaos, police officers on horseback rode in to help shoppers who had been thrown to the ground and trampled by their fellow bargain-hunters.

Just as strangely, magazines have started treating shopping as a formative experience akin to losing your virginity or graduating college; a feature in InStyle called ‘My life on the high street’ even had celebrities indulging in misty-eyed, nostalgic reminiscence about the first pair of jeans they had ever bought. Seriously.

6. Clothes maketh not the woman


When you’re not being reduced to tears of joyful reminiscence by the thought of your first ever trouserskirt, it’s important to be constantly aware of what message your clothes could be revealing about the inner workings of your personality. (Does that kaftan say ‘charming ingénue’ or ‘member of the Manson family?’) It’s a good thing we have articles such as ‘What your party outfit says about you’, then, to show us the ropes. Not. And delightfully for us, the sage advice of style ‘experts’ has increasingly been replaced by exactly what young men in their twenties think about the top you squeezed your knackers into on a Saturday morning when everything else was in the wash (because we dress completely for men – didn’t you get that memo?).

Said young men take to this daunting task of contributing to features with such erudite titles as ‘Men vs fashion’ with all the seriousness of a Booker Prize judging panel, pontificating needlessly on some poor victim’s outfit choice and psychoanalysing her tit tape without even giving her the courtesy of a right to reply. ‘You can tell from her cleavage that this girl likes to party and is wild in the bedroom,’ Jason, 23, from Husbands Bosworth will grin, when in fact Mandy is a virgin who hates social gatherings and simply paid too much attention to Elle’s assertion that ‘the nineteenth-century French courtesan trend is really in this season’. Of course, you’d never get a bunch of feckless twats commenting on some poor bloke’s sartorial choices in the same way in a men’s magazine, probably because the statement ‘The fact that he is wearing bootcut jeans means he must be excellent at cunnilingus’ is not something that anyone would say, ever.

7. They want you to buy into bizarro trends



Whether it’s ‘luxe military’, ‘geisha oriental’ or ‘nautical seafarer’, fashion magazines will try to convince you to buy into some (probably offensive) trend or another, despite the fact that, in reality, they run in five-year cycles and if you hold on to your old shit long enough then those space-age shoulder pads will eventually look up-to-the-moment once more. The fact that fashion is tediously predictable remains, amazingly, one of its best-kept secrets, even though spring inevitably means florals, while anything hitting the shops around Christmas will have so much blingy diamanté attached to it that it will look as though its been spaffed on by Liberace. Fashion constantly tries to disguise the formulaic nature of its output by throwing in the odd ‘statement piece’ and disguising the trend with a different name. Last year’s ‘glam goth’ becomes this year’s ‘Victoriana’, ‘utility’ becomes ‘military’, and ‘masculine’ becomes ‘lesbian’ (we’re not kidding: according to, ‘lesbian chic’ was all the rage in August 2012. Who knew what you did with your genitals could hold so much cachet on the fashion circuit?)

8. They have the tact of a dead donkey


As the ongoing ‘lesbian trend’ demonstrates, fashion is known for many things, but its sensitivity to political correctness is not one of them. While telling us to ‘channel our inner 1950s housewife’ (presumably by popping a Valium and screwing the milkman with the lights off) can’t be seen as too ‘ridic’, sometimes the names of these trends can be a real kick in the teeth for ethnic minorities (see the aforementioned ‘oriental’) who, weirdly, may take offence at their entire culture being reduced to a fashion stereotype. Just look at the Navajo trend. Every time a magazine describes a trend as ‘Red Indian’ while offering up the latest fringed moccasins by Kurt Geiger, they are essentially taking a dump from a massive height on thousands of people with Native American heritage who suffered and are still suffering at the hands of colonial settlers, and all because some socialite heiress put a feather in her hair when she was coked up at Soho House. If you think that’s bad, then allow us to present you with Exhibit B, namely that occasion in 2011 where Italian Vogue tipped ‘slave earrings’ (normal hoop earrings to anyone else) as the hot new trend. And while we’re on the topic of fashion’s failure to speak to anyone who isn’t Caucasian, can we please address the ‘nude’ trend? As one of our Twitter followers pointed out: ‘YOUR NUDE DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN MY NUDE.’

American Vogue in particular has a reputation for tone-deaf editorials, perhaps most famously with their Hurricane Sandy ‘Storm Troupers’ photo spread, which showed real members of the emergency forces posing with models in couture. Other tactless turkeys include Italian Vogue’s 2007 ‘Make love not war’ story, which attempted to sex up the conflict in Iraq by showing models straddling topless soldiers and was described by a British broadsheet as looking like ‘prostitutes brought to an army camp as entertainment’. That’s before we even get to discussing Vogue Germany’s infamous attempt at ‘homeless chic’, French Vogue putting Lara Stone in blackface, and US Vogue’s ‘Rose in the Desert’ shoot with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma al-Assad.

Of course, it’s important for any art form to push boundaries, but, for a magazine industry that already fails to represent the racial and physical diversity of its readers, these examples of cultural insensitivity don’t give us much hope for the future. Nor does the glamorisation of violence, disaster and oppressive regimes. Is it only a matter of time before Vogue announces that it’s ‘channelling political prisoners’ and that ‘this vintage trench coat and complementary furry hat are the perfect attire for when you’re trying to escape from the Eastern Bloc while being chased by the Stasi’? Still, never mind – provided you keep hold of them, you’ll be bang on trend come the next Ice Age and Elle’s spin-off ‘Climate Change Apocalypse’ issue.

9. The clothes make you look bonkers


Of course, to our eternal credit, most women dismiss 90% of these fly-by-night fashion trends out of hand, which is why you hear so many of us shrieking, ‘What kind of bell-end would wear that?’ in the middle of River Island. You may recall the fashion industry’s conspiracy to get us to wear floral trousers and ‘re-imagined’ neon platform trainers a while back, trends which had such little uptake that the only people wearing them were teenage fashion victims who looked like 1980s children’s TV presenters on the run from a Channel 5 documentary about people who form meaningful relationships with inanimate objects. And although you’ll occasionally spot the odd fashion victim fearlessly working a pair of gingham knickerbockers, despite what fashion magazines might think, most of the population aren’t dense enough to buy something that makes them look totally crap and/or entirely lacking in self-awareness.

It’s a hard truth to learn that something built to look good on a 7-foot-tall Russian 15-year-old probably isn’t going to look good on you. Fashion magazines will tell you to ‘celebrate your curves’ before making you flick through a shoot comprised solely of painfully thin models, and they are always trying to ‘teach’ you how to dress for your shape by categorising you as an apple, a pear, or a sodding butternut squash (and that’s the polite ones – one issue of Jackie bluntly asked its readership, ‘Are you a skinny, a normal, or a fatty?’). Despite this need to divide and conquer, the simple fact remains that if you’re in possession of tits, then what they’ll tell you to wear, every single time, guaranteed, is a wrap dress.

Nevertheless, magazines such as Woman & Home and Good Housekeeping are intent on forcing you to ‘flatter your shape’. ‘Upper arms are nearly every woman’s weakness in summer,’ instructs the former, as you look at your perfectly normal sized arms and, trying to hold back tears, head for the ‘bikini cover-up’ (the summer equivalent of the wrap dress) aisle.
And even a boring old wrap dress is likely to be subject to some kind of wacky fashion influence. We’ve lost count of the times that we’ve heard women in shops sighing heavily before uttering the words, ‘Well, I could always just cut out the shoulder pads’, or being forced to buy jeans with diamanté studs on the pockets which they’ll then pick at for weeks, all the while hoping that the bastard things will just drop off the trousers and hopefully the planet.

10. You’re never really comfortable


When you’re a teenager, and therefore precisely the person the fashion industry is targeting 99.9% of the time the ridiculousness of a fashion trend isn’t really a concern. The more impractical your mum thinks it is, the better. In fact, if the whole fashion industry were controlled by teenage girls then those ‘winter wonderland’ shoots in which a bare-legged model poses seductively in a pompom hat while failing miraculously to contract hypothermia would make a lot more sense. Examples from our readers have included persistent thrush from the ‘shorts, tights and French knickers’ trend (an unholy trinity if ever there was one); a ‘genius’ stick-on bra falling off at an extremely posh charity ball; and a pair of 32 in. flares wrapping themselves around one woman’s legs as she crossed the road, tripping her over and propelling her into the pathway of an oncoming car (which stopped just in time).

And let’s not forget high heels, or tools of the patriarchy, as Ms Greer would have it. They’re becoming more and more impossible to walk in, and at their worst can cause you to trip and fall to your death in a stairwell. They’re not great when you need to get anywhere fast, either, and, in Holly’s case, they damn well ruined a country walk by reducing her to the unwitting prisoner of a cattle grid. And that’s without mentioning those women who recommend taking two ibuprofen before hitting the town to offset the pain of particularly punishing heels. Yet the fashion industry is especially keen for us to continue wearing them. We’re supposed to stand by and nod sagely as study after study is vomited out by the bulimic world of fashion PR asserting that women can’t get respect in the workplace unless they’re six foot tall. Or we’re expected to pour our money into such ridiculous concoctions as the Tamara Mellon ‘Sweet Revenge leather legging boots’ being pushed by Net-a-Porter in the winter of 2013, described as a ‘standout creation’ where the ‘thigh boot pulls right up into a legging’. Yes, these are high heels with trousers attached. And FYI, they cost £1,595.

Elsewhere, let’s not forget that tabloids took great delight in 2011 in reporting what Christian Louboutin reckoned to women wearing heels. Apparently, by slipping your dainty little foot into a delicately arched frame, presumably as you let out a little moan of ecstasy at the supple qualities of the reindeer leather (sorry, Rudolph), you are putting yourself ‘in a possibly orgasmic situation’. Clearly, Christian has never been over at ours on a Saturday night, when we’ve grunted, sworn, and used frighteningly large plastic implements to bring ourselves to the painful stiletto climax of just getting the damn things on.

So, while of course you can be a feminist and wear high heels, it would be quite nice if they could be made a little less impractical and a lot more comfortable. Matters are not helped by the market appeal of It bags, which you’re supposed to hang stiffly on the crook of your arm – despite the fact that they get heavier each season, and now rival blinged-up baby elephants whose brass addenda just add to the likelihood of one losing one’s balance. As the aforementioned Nora Ephron pointed out, a bag like this ‘immobilises half your body’ – a body which should be free to do all manner of other things, like dancing, running, collapsing on the floor in fits of laughter, and hiding from your friends in large super- markets while getting them to announce that ‘Mummy’s waiting by the customer service desk’ over the tannoy.

But then, that’s fashion: totally useless when it comes to everyday life, even when it comes to getting off (and we’re not counting those vibrating knickers that connect to your iPod). If you took serious notes, you could easily end up shivering in the corner of Mahiki with a cheap version of Lady Gaga’s ‘meat dress’ attached to your huddled frame with a tired roll of tit tape, wondering why no one wants to join you on the dance floor. The truth is, shedding ragged bits of bacon rind into a hot guy’s champagne probably isn’t going to get you a second date with him (or your girlfriends). Nor is accidentally sending a sausage flying off your necklace during a particularly enthusiastic fist-pump. So why do the powers-that-be in the fashion world keep insisting that what’s totally incompatible with the reality of anyone’s life (not to mention potentially regrettable) is also totally cool? And if fashion is so fun then how come it causes us so much grief?

Not that we haven’t been victim to funny flights of fashion fancy ourselves. You, like us, might find your way to a pair of disco knickers one day, reclining seductively in a prominent display. ‘These seem, in context, to be items of actual clothing,’ you might then think to yourself ‘I could saunter off to the changing rooms and give them a cheeky try.’ But have you ever tried on a pair of disco knickers? Holly has, and her mother’s rather candid response – ‘I like them. I mean, I like the fact that they’d look great if you had longer legs, a tan, and no fat on your thighs’ – was pretty much par for the course (and marginally nicer than the follow-up, a few months later: ‘I was beautiful at your age. I looked just like your cousin’). Disco knickers are almost guaranteed to look bad, and that’s because they are basically Pampers Easy-Ups with sequins stuck on, implying that the fashionistas of this world have found it necessary to prepare you for an imminent second babyhood. Alongside the re-emerging trend for playsuits, you could be forgiven for believing that there’s an industry-wide regression conspiracy going on. Hold on to your disco nappies, because shit is about to get creepy.

Buy the Vagenda book here

11 thoughts on “Weekend Treat: The Top Ten Most Frustrating Things About Fashion (A Vagenda Book Extract)

  1. That made me LOL at least 3 times and that’s saying something these days. Cannae wait for my copy to arrive! *waits impatiently*

  2. I find this article refreshingly honest. As a husband and a father I appreciate the message of this article and I hope as a father and husband I can convey to the women in my life my acceptance of them with no strings or social pressures attached. I would be interested in a article about how a man can stand against the negative body image that the media attaches to women. I feel as a man I have been groomed to criticize women based on there level of fastion of fitness and I think it’s about time the media just cut it out.
    Thanks you for the blog and book, I will be buying the book for sure.

  3. This is brilliant. The use of the word ‘nude’ especially winds me up. The soul-crushing insensitivity seems to stem from overprivilege and a need to be ‘edgy’ that overrides all ethical considerations – it’s what happens when too many people live in the same little bubble of luxury. Oh, and I’m a fashion blogger, so they aren’t fooling anyone.

  4. That was tons of fun reading! :D
    All true, and thank God (or my own intelligence) I stopped taking fashion seriously.
    We need a giant filter just to stay normal, these days.

  5. I kept thinking back to the subtitle about normal sized arses. What is the normal arse size? I suspect mine is not within this class, but I can still relate to a lot of these points and enjoyed the article.

  6. I agree with some of the things said in this article, and it’s quite entertaining, but I find your use of the word “Twiglet” problematic, like compared to your “normal” ass? Please can we all stop hating on skinny bitches. All bitches are beautiful.

  7. Lots of fun. I don’t go within miles of fashion (I have a guilty fascination with true-life mags, but not fashion/celebs etc), and it still drives me mad that most years I go and look for sensible shoes and they’re outnumbered ten-to-one by strappy-heels-and-pointy-toes that do nothing to support feet.

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