Sunday, June 7, 2009

Backlash, by Susan Faludi

At first, this book gave me a bit of a headache. It's a barrage of facts and proper names, each segueing quickly into a conclusion, some undeniable based on whatever the fact is, some quite debatable. But now, nearly 200 pages in, I just started giggling, then really laughing out loud, as Faludi's take on the women's underwear industry.

It appears that in the late 80s (I was around then, but not casting such an exacting eye on politics and trends, being more into Anne of Green Gables at the time.) there was a big marketing blitz about 'the new femininity,' trying to get women to spend money on a lot of poofy dresses and whatnot instead of economizing on pantsuits and jeans. This crossed over into lingerie -- it was around the same time that Victoria's Secret went national, and women were told that teddies and garter belts were back. But, perhaps the Victoria's Secret trend more than met the eye.

From the book:
>>> On a late afternoon in the summer of 1988, row after row of silk teddies hang, untouched, at the original Victoria's Secret shop in Palo Alto's Stanford Shopping Center. The shelves are stuffed with floral-scented teddy bears in tiny wedding gowns. At $18 to $34 each, these cuddly brides aren't exactly big sellers; dust has collected on their veils. But over at the bargains table, where basic cotton underwear is on sale, "four for $16," it looks like a cyclone has touched down.

"Oh God, the panty table is a mess," groans head "proprietress" Becky Johnson. As she straightens up for what she says must be the tenth time that day, two women walk in the door and charge the bargain panty table. "The prices on these panties are wonderful," Bonnie Pearlman says, holding up a basic brief to her friend. "But will they shrink?" she wonders, pulling the elastic back and forth. Asked if the are here for the Victorian lingerie, they both shake their heads. Pearlman says, "I look for what fits well." Suzanne Ellis, another customer, surveys the racks of gossamer teddies and rolls her eyes. "I've had a few of these things given to me," she says. "It was like, 'Uh, gee, thanks.' I mean, I really don't need to sit on snaps all day."<<<

Faludi finds out that while men account for 30-40 percent of Victoria's Secret shoppers, they also account for about half the chain's revenues, no doubt with good intentions of buying a romantic gift. If anyone's been brainwashed into thinking that women "want" to be more feminine, it may not be women. I love the image of all that pink crap and lace and perfume everywhere and women huddled around the panty table snapping elastic grunting, "D'ya think this one'll hold up?"

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