Is Man-Repelling Fashion A Feminist Statement?

"She is relating fashion to feminism. She is saying women dress for themselves," says the mother of the young blogger behind The Man Repeller. Well, sorta.

I like The Man Repeller. It's smart, fun, opinionated and approachable: a good fashion blog, and an impressively developed voice for a young writer still in school and living at home. It's a good concept, and Leandra Medine knows her stuff. In some ways, the parallels to filmmaker Lena Dunham are there: both women are privileged and do work based on that circustance, because it's authentic to who they are. And yet, the work is good, and it is both reductive and unfair to dismiss them with the label of "unexamined privilege."

But still, the privilege is there, it's an inextricable part of the work. Medine is able to talk about high-fashion, yes; she also wears high-fashion. The NY Times' photographer finds her dressed in YSL and Opening Ceremony. Does style depend on money? Of course not: for that matter, neither does fashion, which Ms. Medine occasionally simulates with fun DIY projects. But it would be disingenuous to pretend that you can talk about a raerified world like high fashion — especially in the context of such a young woman — without delving into larger questions of context.

All of which makes the "feminist" question a hard one. The Man Repeller, you see, is a blog that gently lampoons the high-fashion trends that are so inexplicable to the average straight man. It's fertile ground: in the era of the dropped crotch and the Gaga shoulder, we've rarely seen more silhouettes less designed to enhance a woman's obvious sexuality. It's an old joke, but an enduring one, and the contrast of high-fashion dicta and man-on-the-street horror played for laughs in the context of the interview.

Around her neck were pretty pendants layered with biker chains; her father owns a wholesale jewelry business. "I get it from my dad too," Ms. Medine said, meaning negative feedback. "When I wear the Opening Ceremony bow wedges, he says, ‘Your feet look like trucks!" But if you go to the Jane and you're wearing enormous harem pants and a turban, people are like, ‘Oh, that girl is really cool.' "

The Jane, for the uninitiated, is a highly exclusive New York lounge.

But high fashion — which is, after all, at the crux of Medine's blog — has long been about dressing for other fashionistas; if anything, it's the hallmark that sets Fashion with a capital F about from simply wearing clothes. So for the Times to say that "there is a bit of Cindy Sherman in what Ms. Medine is doing: proudly obstructing the male gaze by disguising her body with androgynous or intimidating silhouettes" seems a bit much. People have always done this; they just haven't explicitly mentioned the men. Which wouldn't seem to nullify their role in our consciousness; quite the reverse.

And frankly, while we're all for dressing to please oneself (itself something one can debate in the context of a popular blog), Medine's own words wouldn't seem to support the feminist performance-art hypothesis:

I do think there are men who would see a girl wearing this stuff and think, ‘She has so much confidence and she still looks great despite the fact that I don't know where her crotch starts in those pants,' " she said. "You can still tell when a girl is pretty. The men who really get repelled by what you're wearing are a little shallow, and you probably don't want to date them anyway.


Fashion Triumph: Deflecting The Male Gaze
[NY Times]