Can we ever have equality if men don’t wear dresses?
Orna Mulcahy: More often than not women apply iron to men’s complex collars and cuffs
Eva Longoria at the Cannes Film Festival is among those asking women to walk the red carpet in black clothes in protest at Hollywood sexual harassment. Photograph: Samir Hussein/WireImage
What a long Christmas that was. It seemed to go on for weeks, and now there’s an invite for Nollaig na mBan on January 6th, the traditional end of Christmas knees-up for women who get to relax and have a night to themselves. Relax? I’ve done little else over the holidays other than lie around watching Netflix, occasionally picking up Eleanor Oliphant and putting her down again quite quickly and heading out to the shops for more milk and sliced pan. I don’t need another night out to decompress, or any more drink or conversations about The Crown or what 15 year olds really get up to when we’re not looking.
I just want the house to get back to normal.
Venturing out on December 30th, I saw a couple ramming their still fresh and bushy Christmas tree into the back of the car, presumably before heading off to dump it somewhere. No waiting until the 6th to dismantle the decorations for them. Maybe nobody does that any more, and then there are those flighty young ones who let their fairy lights twinkle all year round. I cracked on January 1st and within 20 minutes the tree was rolling around in the back garden. Once it was gone, we made the exciting discovery that the dog had been peeing behind it, up against the good curtains, all Christmas.
A lot Febreeze-ing and vacuuming followed. Then the lights were packed away along with the tinsel garlands that go up the banisters and the David Norris-lookalike Santa on a bicycle. I didn’t have to pack up the Victorian village arrangement this year because I hadn’t been able to face putting it up in the first place.
Once all that was done, there was the ironing.
There was a huge heap of it waiting, basically the whole holiday in reverse with my elasticated-waist New Year’s Eve party trousers on the top and the tablecloth and napkins from Christmas Day at the very bottom. In between, a peat bog of family life, all faintly smelling of onions.
First, the endless tiny wispy things that teenage girls fling into the wash without ever worrying if they will run or be destroyed; then the fleecy pyjamas, the pillow cases; the Lurex jumper I thought was going to be a festive triumph but which turned out to have something funny about the neckline. The iron hissed in a satisfying way and an hour slipped by, then two.
Sheets, towels, trousers and T-shirts were steamed into submission while I pondered Life and whether the queen had ever held an iron in her life, or did brown twin sets and Rigby & Peller bras simply appear every day without her having to worry about how they got there?
Pleasant and all as it was, my feminist hackles rose at the sheer number of men’s shirts in the pile, unfairly so as the owner of the shirts had done most of the cooking and tidying over Christmas. But still, why is it that men still wear shirts to work, while most working women have reduced their wardrobe down to mainly dark, predominantly easi-care items that can be scrunched up and hoiked on again without any steam and fold action? Yet men still go about wearing these tricky things with button-down collars and cuffs and pockets, all of which need effort and concentration to get right. Don’t kill me in the comments now but it’s often the case that there is a woman behind the ironing pile, whether it’s the Moldovan cleaning lady or the ladies down at the local laundry or indeed wife or mother. Will there ever be true equality until we ditch the white (collar) shirt and all basically wear the same interchangeable easy-to-manage clothes?
There is a slow move towards gender-neutral clothing. Fashion designers have begun producing collections that can be worn by everyone (think collarless shirts, loose cut trousers, braces and boiler suits). Meanwhile, John Lewis announced last autumn that it would no longer divide up its babywear by gender, and H&M and Zara have both created non-gendered ranges.
“You don’t look at food and say it’s going to be eaten by a man or a woman, so why should it be any different for clothes?” London designer Tanmay Saxena, founder of LaneFortyfive, said in a recent article on the subject. The clothing Saxena designs is mostly bespoke tailoring, including shirts and waistcoats; about 60 per cent of his customers are women. The clothes are the same styles for men and women, in the same fabrics. Colours are predominantly dark, with grey and black being safe bets for everyone.
There’s a nice bit of irony in that fact that Eva Longoria, who never lifted a finger, never mind an iron, when she played the spoiled one in Desperate Housewives, is now touting black as the colour to wear as a statement in post-Weinstein Hollywood. She’s one of the stars behind Time’s Up, an initiative supported by 300 female Hollywood actors, directors, writers and executives who’ve set up a war chest to help women fight off sexual harassment. She, and the organisers of this Golden Globe awards, are asking women walking the red carpet to go dark for the night. “This is a moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment,” she told the Guardian earlier this week. “For years, we’ve sold these awards shows as women, with our gowns and colours and our beautiful faces and our glamour. This time the industry can’t expect us to go up and twirl around.”
It will be interesting to see the results. After all, we’re always being told that there is nothing so sexy as a little black dress. If only the men could be persuaded to wear them.