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Jewish World Review May 18, 2001/ 25 Iyar, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Clothes make the woman -- BRACE yourself for tis prom season. I write not to complain of the limousines, hotel room orgies, or the environmentally unsound methods used by modern teens to invite each other to a mating ritual with theme. This generation, taught to revere Mother Earth and permitted only one school holiday called by its real name (Earth Day), blankets yards and homes with all things paper as their means of an invite even as Oregonians starve whilst sitting in trees to end logging and Charmin.

Prom attire has proven to be the proverbial straw snapping my sartorial halter. Women's clothing these days generally gives me pause. "What of human dignity?" I cry. Prom night is bad taste writ large. I blame Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and JonBenet Ramsey. These icons strut in alluring clothing at young ages. To say young women today dress like ladies of the evening is unfair to the ladies of the evening who have better taste and no hypocrisy on their goals.

Pleading the case for modesty falls on deaf ears and apparently blind parents. Gender theorists aside, young men have raging hormones and the discernment of javelina. Parents permit their daughters to wear dresses that require either Frederick's of Hollywood undergarments or nothing between them and their B'dazzle dresses around high school males who find Pippi Longstocking a veritable temptress. Prom night sees strapless dresses, backless dresses, tight dresses, low-cut dresses, and, according to last week's Wall Street Journal, bare midriffs courtesy a bathing suit top and full-length skirt with a waist dipped sufficiently low to reveal the navel and local piercings there.

If the modesty appeal is in vain, the notion that clothes should flatter what's good, not emphasize what's wrong might fly. There are three people who look nice in a two-piece prom dress that exposes the belly. Two of them no longer qualify because they have regained their weight from their Survivor experiences and Gandhi never did proms.

Proms evidence women's enslavement to fashion despite the fact that haute couture makes most women look dumpy. Only Laura Petrie, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy could pull off Capri pants. The rest of us look like baseball players sans the striped tube socks that would conceal nature's lower leg flaws. Yet Capri pants are a wardrobe staple for most women. Martha Stewart wore them to a White House State Dinner. We can all breathe a sign of relief that Hillary didn't follow her lead.

Ironically, at the same time today's fashion grows smaller and reveals more, shows grow taller and heavier. Young women add teetering as an attention getter to their half-clothed auras. I followed with eyes of pity a young lady who had just sung in church as she made her way back to her seat. She clumped onward in shoes with soles surely manufactured at a Michelin plant. I wondered, "What of elegance?" Her snug top that barely made it to the top of a too-tight skirt only added to the adventure in tacky. Jerry Lewis in his white socks, black shoes and bow ties had more savvy.

There comes a point in every woman's life when she realizes that she has passed the age of fads. Lycra is nestled beneath all forms of clothing, including swimsuits, to contain ripples and other tread marks of age. A woman knows she has crossed into fashion classics from fashion fads when her bathing suit is never seen in its entirety in public. It remains covered in some fashion via skirt or shirt. The goal is distraction from troubled body parts, which now outnumber non-troubled parts.

When the female surrenders and allows the youth of America to be style-conscious, it is generally a time of grieving for Father Time dictates fashion. Youth surrenders to gravity and clingy clothes are abandoned as various body deposits appear those precise locations fashion emphasizes.

However, I proclaim my gratitude for the fashionmongers of Generation Y for they have made this transition to fuddy duddy a smooth one. I am grateful for my pumps. They have a sensible one-inch heel and no treads and make walking effortless. I love the allure of a covered belly. I enjoy a loose-fitting blouse that leaves something to the imagination. There's nothing like the mystique of a blazer or the mystery of a covered navel. More is better. Maybe we could appeal to the teens to carry their blanket coverage theme for inviting each other to prom over to their clothing choices. There's a difference between fashion and flattering. Allure doesn't spring from exposure. Elegance doesn't come from hip.

One need not reveal the latter to achieve the former.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings