Over the Edge

Browsing through the June issue of InStyle, I became increasingly annoyed. I've lauded this magazine in the past for its comparatively reasonable approach. Call it real-world fashion for real, live women. But it seems the "too hip for pretty" attitude I find so unappealing in Vogue has crept into this more accessible, friendlier publication.

Scattered through the issue were at least six editorial snippets describing how a look was pulled back from the fashion precipice. Teetering on the unacceptable verge of "too pretty," the outfit in question was rescued through strategic application of a color, accessory, or unorthodox combination that provided that all-important "edge."

Apparently, pretty on its own is acceptable up to a point, beyond which it becomes unseemly, even embarrassing, and must be tempered with a shot of that particular brand of cool known as edge.

Here are a few examples:

1. In a photo layout featuring actress Solange Knowles, the introductory text reads "[Knowles] samples a sophisticated beat -- proving you can still look elegant and modern without sacrificing one iota of edge." - pg. 260, June 2013 InStyle

2.  In The Look We're Loving, pg. 78, a partially exposed midriff and deep cut-in shoulders are insufficient. Further intervention is needed:

The caption explains how "[Saldana] gives some edge to [the dress] by wearing it with these sexy black cross-strap ... sandals."

3. My personal favorite. In the Beauty Talk section, pg. 167, Ginnifer Goodwin explains the benefit of her "postmodern pixie" haircut. "If I want to wear a girlie outfit," the actress says, "my hair gives the look some edginess. I never have to worry about its looking too 'pretty.'"

This made me laugh out loud and make an unattractive snorting sound. Don't know about you, but I can't remember ever fretting over how to make my hair less pretty. 

To be fair, let's assume the problem here is imprecise language. Do the editors and actresses really mean "pretty," or are they trying to say they want to avoid looking "precious" or "cloyingly sweet." Because that would make sense. After all, what grown woman wants to look like a schoolgirl?

Which brings me to the most perplexing aspect of this "too pretty" phenomenon: the downright creepy mixed message. At the same time we're supposed to be staving off pretty with our edgy sword, we're being offered, without irony, these:

peter pan dress at Fab
 skull dress at Feeluxury

Chanel RTW 2013

Scroll down Pinterest or flip through any current fashion magazine to see endless variations on the theme. A stupifying array of too-short, out-of-proportion dresses with puffed sleeves, peter pan collars, ruffles, bows, and other preschool-worthy details.

It all looks so familiar. I think I remember sporting similar outfits, of equally precious proportions. Let me see. Yes, indeed. Here I am: 

The only difference between my dress and the grownup versions? You got it, edge. But does an illusion bodice or skull-printed overskirt really make these infantile, mis-proportioned designs appropriate for anyone over age 8? And do sky-high stilettos make them less, or more, disturbing?

I'd say this trend is simply another way of putting women in our place. We win the vote, they create beauty pageants. We rally for equal pay and run for president, they suggest we wear toddler clothes. 

I'm not falling for it. Not only will I not dress the way I did when I was 4, or 24, I will not be told that pretty is something to avoid. Anyone who knows me knows that beauty is something I long for and aspire to, in all things, inside and out.

Go ahead and wear your kindergartner's dresses, if you really want to. And feel free to be as hip, cool, ungirlie or unkempt as you like. As for me and all this so-called edge? I'm over it.


Liza Dolensky

Excellent commentary and very well said. Pretty is pretty! It’s a good thing. Men look at a woman and imagine her undressed anyway so women are really either dressing for themselves or for other women. If a woman is overly worried about being too this or too that then I have to conclude that they are dressing for the approval of other women and have left their own opinion (and self worth and integrity) behind.
Have we really come a long way, baby?

Liza Dolensky

I think the word edgy is being used as a way of stating unconventional, a little something different or surprising that represents a particular person. I think many women are afraid of looking ‘pretty’ because it is seen as being less or weak or perhaps controlled and kept.

I think the rebellion of the sixties against the establishment still lingers with our youth who perhaps have caught the ‘bug’ from their Baby Boomer Generation parents. Who knows?

It does seem to me that a lot is spinning out of control with no defined path to follow. Be yourself! If it feels good, do it! And so on, and so on.

It does strike me as a way of getting attention. Notice me!

In regards to the little girl dressing….well, I am not even going to go there. I find it so wrong on many different levels. But what I will say is this, one way or another women are going to be made into a man’s play thing. Even if it does cross a line. And some women will do whatever it takes for the attention. Like children negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Liza Dolensky

This rules and I am forwarding to all my friends!?

Liza Dolensky

Your observation that the closer women get to equality, the more infantilized fashions appear is really interesting. The dismaying part is how many women fall for it. This conversation deserves lots of participation. We’ll keep sending mixed messages until we get our own minds clear….

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