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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 5, 2004
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Robert J. Lewis
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Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Robert Rotondo
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Emanuel Pordes
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Mady Bourdage
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Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein

21st century dress



For most of August and September, I was on the set for the filming of Bill Paxton's The Greatest Game Ever Played, shot in Canada’s greatest city, Montreal. The movie concentrates on the miracle that introduced golf to America: the 1913 PGA won by 20-year-old amateur-wunderkind Francis Ouimet.

A typical filming day would begin in the pastel hues of dawn with the arrival of between 100 and 300 extras. I had ample opportunity to indulge in prolonged appreciation of the female contingent as it appeared dressed to Kill Bill. Squeezed into mini skirts or jeans that tapered the legs and sculpted the buttocks, I couldn’t help but notice the not so subtle arching panty lines and the beguiling contours of lawless butts basking in the freedom provided by the G-string. Sleeveless tops revealed summer-bronzed shoulders and arms, while smooth, nose-friendly midriffs completed portraits that qualified for late night Internet viewing. As I watched these Godivas disappear into their dressing rooms, I speculated there was enough flesh and first-rate figure here to burst the seed of even the most recently relieved male.

But a strange thing or two happened on the way to the Forum. When these women emerged from their wardrobe change, arrayed and accessorized in 1913 fashion, I hardly recognized them. Gone was the flesh, gone was the form, all but vanished beneath folds of draped fabric that began at the throat and cascaded to the ankles, bound and cinched by wired and boned corsets. Nothing was left to chance. The entire female anatomy -- from elegantly gloved hands and forearms to the last strand of hair meticulously pinned and tucked under lavishly decorated period hats -- lay swathed and obscured.

But even more disconcerting was that the women I found attractive before they went in for their change were not the same as those that attracted me as they exited. I immediately suspected the reasons for this would disclose at least as much about men as women. For if it’s the same person in both instances, the only difference being the dress code, why was it that a woman attired for the year 2004 -- but not blessed with top-model looks and therefore doomed to fall below the typically undiscerning male’s radar screen -- could become suddenly so alluring in 1913 dress?

As the women egressed, constricted by clothes that would have elicited a favorable nod from the Society of Egyptian Mummy Makers, we males suddenly found ourselves with only the face to gawk at, all else left to our imagination, the fact of which obliged us to redirect our desire to the facial expressions, which in turn compelled us to concede something we already know -- well sort of -- that the face of any person conveys more about his or her character than any body part or combination of. For when all is said and flaunted, it’s the face -- the way the eyes look back at us, the turn of the lips when we speak -- that registers our attitudes and politics, our anger and laughter, and decency or lack of it. Which explains how a woman of ordinary physical appearance decked out for 2004 could abruptly transform into a desirable woman when dressed for the year 1913: the face-friendly Edwardian dress code makes it easier for her to catch the notice of the easily distracted male. But when dressed according to the fashion dictates of 2004, this same woman must lose out because the face -- no matter how positively revealing -- cannot compete in an environment overrun with skin, whose first effect on every male is to reduce him to the dimensions of his favorite appendage.

If all of the above is approximately true, men will make more mistakes in their choice of partners today than in 1913 because modern feminine dress codes conspire to divert even the best-intentioned man from bothering to identify and connect with the essential woman, which at least at partially explains the 1913 divorce rate of only 9%. By analogy, in all countries and cultures where a woman's face, and not her sexuality, is emphasized, we should expect to find lower divorce rates.

But don’t get me wrong here: I am not one to put on gender airs nor am I waxing nostalgic for the mores of 1913. At the end of the filming day, even happier than the women liberated from their constricting 1913 dress, were we men, barely able to control our drool as one sexually charged goddess after another exploded out of the dressing room into the X-rated fantasy of each and every one of us. Which is to say, when female sexuality is on permanent exhibit, men are not particularly interested in the truth or substance of the woman as it registers on her face.

What drives men to erect bridges and skyscrapers and conquer lands known and unknown is profoundly related to the physio-sexual effects of women. In other words, if you want to move the man -- make him do the things that make him great -- you aim low, not high. And trust me on this one, it may have taken women thousands of years of fashion evolution to get it right, but (TAKE I), they have now got the "how-to-catch-the-notice of and control-the man" routine down pat. (CHECK THE GATE).


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