Givhan is always good when ‘something new is afoot’

Whether one dresses fashionably or not, whether one knows what is fashionable or not, it’s always a good idea to read a Pulitzer-winning fashion writer. Few have done better than the Post‘s Robin Givhan in connecting fashion, both on the runway and in the big moments of our time, to the greater cultural mood and its meaning.

In February, Givhan’s criticism of a too-smooth Ralph Lauren show was so good I sent it to a few fellow managers on our digital product team. How might we be as true and real as possible in our product, even at the cost of imperfection?

Lauren sold customers on this glossy American promise. But so many things that once seemed so right and perfect and true have been revealed to be imperfect, rotten or fundamentally broken. Below the surface, the beautiful things are just not quite right: The once mesmerizing sweep of Hollywood, the shattered fantasy of fashion photography, the impugned standard bearers of media, beleaguered democracy.

Glossy doesn’t just seem ill-timed; it raises suspicions. It leaves one feeling unsettled. It leaves one asking: What fresh lie is this?

This week, Givhan went to a similar place, probing real-ness and self-truth in our modern hall of mirrors and influence, as she wrote about Meghan Markle’s dress. The column builds beautifully, gathering evidence to assemble into…

Markle, who is biracial, has been referred to as an American princess and a black princess, although she does not hold that title in her own right. The diversity she brings to the British royal family is historic and important. But there remains something disconcerting in 2018 about the obsessive enchantment with princesses and Prince Charming, tiaras, carriage rides and a life of happily-ever-after that is, in part, defined by giving up a career one enjoyed and ceasing to have public opinions. It can be a suffocating fantasy because it is one premised on relinquishing control and independence. It’s a fantasy that is less about the relationship between two loving individuals than it is a bargain between an institution and a symbol of femininity, the state and the silent bride.

The dress, in its simplicity, suggests that something new is afoot — or at least a desire for something new. It’s a modern dress. But it’s more than that. It’s a dress that in the glow of the global spotlight, amid the dreamy-eyed commentary, refuses the spun sugar fantasy and suggests reality has the potential to be just as marvelous. Perhaps even better.

You can explore the rest of Givhan’s recent archive here. (Her recent Tom Wolfe piece is terrific.) I agree with some takes and not others. You’ll likely feel the same — it’s criticism, after all. But she makes her connections and case in such powerful ways.

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