As a member of the upscale digerati (translation: "some goober with a Web site"), I occasionally get inexplicable mailings, and recently a copy of the Spirit of the West catalog, from those wonderful folks at Coldwater Creek, found its way to my desk.

Now it should be pointed out up front that I am not part of Coldwater Creek's targeted audience for this catalog. For one thing, except in the minds of a few bewildered chatters, I am not female. (While I have occasionally donned drag in the past, I generally had some good and sensible reasons for doing so, such as trying to win a prize for Best Costume.) What's worse, I am not wealthy my pride and joy is my Target Guest Card and even if I could wear this stuff, I couldn't possibly afford it. So while Coldwater Creek does offer men's wear in other catalogs (for people smaller than I, no doubt), I'm probably not going to be on their Preferred Mailing List for anything more than the occasional one-shot.

But, that said, I still found this catalog fascinating. There are no models; the outfits are draped over what appears to be nothing, a shock to the system for those who may occasionally fantasize about having an invisible girlfriend. The real eyeopener, though, comes in the accompanying text. A sample:

Corner office, top floor. A just reward for all those long hours and late night. No one will be surprised, then, when the first suit you wear behind the big desk breaks with tradition. Not the least bit uptight or buttoned down. A sophisticated merger of quiet authority and feminine sensibilities. Both beautiful pieces are American-made of rich aubergine Tencel in a herringbone weave as impressive as your management style. And they're completely washable.

I can't see my supervisor in this purple really isn't her color, and it's a tad too broad at the shoulders for her but if this imagery is powerful enough to create mental pictures for the likes of me, your average fortysomething straight-ish male with not a whole lot of grounding in feminine fashion, what must it be doing for Coldwater Creek's customers? Obviously, it's keeping them coming back. (I brought up the subject with one woman in our office, and I got the impression that if she ever got a raise to, say, $50k a year, she'd probably buy everything in the book.)

And one other thought crossed my mind. This is a three-piece suit, sort of: a wrap jacket, a "mock" wrap skirt and a tank top. Men also wear three-piece suits, but a tank top is never the third piece. More to the point, men's suits aren't pitched as possessing, for instance, "quiet authority". The dreary sameness of those suits leads inevitably to loud, boisterous neckties, which in the Eighties became "power ties". It figures. For men, power just sort of dangles in one's face; for women, it's more diffuse but more evenly distributed. All of a sudden, gender dysphoria seems a lot less incomprehensible.

The Vent

24 August 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill