When I was 14 years old, a trend infiltrated my social sphere: the 90s gothic trend. Black was its hue and metal studs, the ticket ‘in’ to this exclusive fashion: on bracelets, belts, chokers, backpacks – who cared, the spikier and pokier, the better.
Fake piercings suddenly emerged too – from the nose and the lip to… the eyelid, practically. It was all about heavy eyeliner and jet-black lipsticks, chains dangling from trouser pockets and ripped black tights, cross pendants and clumpy Doc Martens. And terrible, terrible, headachy music.
Frankly, it terrified me. And for that reason, I steered clear of the fad entirely.
That was my choice. Yes, I felt social pressure to join in; to become one of ‘the goths’ who wore their sombre faces 24/7, reflecting how very hard it was to be a #FirstWorldTeenager. Nonetheless, I snubbed the ‘peer pressure’ – continued with my sensible midi skirts – and remained un-studded and un-chained throughout my school years. It wasn’t about self-assuredness or originality. Really, I just didn’t want to walk around in chains.
Skip forward a few years, and Sex and the City landed: the colourful, sparkling fantasy of romance, style and fast-paced urban living. That was a trend I did want to follow. So I wore the stilettos and the short skirts, the loud colours and the faux fur overcoats. I drank cocktails at hotel bars and snuck my way into A-list after parties and the launch of West End nightclubs. I wanted so much to be part of the buzzing, sexy, city life, like that experienced by Carrie et al.
But I was always aware that it was ‘a trend’ I was following. All my friends were. We acknowledged we were wannabe Carries or Charlottes, Mirandas or Samanthas, and that was very amusing to us. We never felt pressured into being one or other – we merely enjoyed the pretence. I guess it made us feel glamorous and grown up. It was our coming of age.
That said, not everyone joined in. Many of my peers thought it was ridiculous – ridiculous phase, ridiculous sitcom. Each to their own, of course.
It is for this reason, I really don’t agree with recent comments made by Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon (Miranda Hobbs) to The Radio Times. In the interview, Cynthia says she blames the HBO series for pressuring women into dressing in a certain way – the high-heeled, SATC way. She says that Carrie Bradshaw actress Sarah Jessica Parker is often berated by her husband, Matthew Broderick, for the fashion trends she helped set. Apparently he is known to motion to women on the street, dressed like ‘Carries’, and pointedly tell his wife: ‘YOU did that!’.
‘I wish that women would understand – or understand more – that it’s a fictional TV show,’ Cynthia explains. ‘No one should be expected to walk around looking like that in life – other than on the red carpet!’
I can see Cynthia’s point. There’s pure disbelief there, that a TV show should be taken so seriously that it ends up impacting almost an entire generation of women.
However, I’d like to argue that, no, the fact so many women chose to dress up Sex and the City-style is not the show’s fault. And that’s not because I’m a fan of the show myself; it’s because to blame women’s fashion choices on a TV programme is to suggest that women are not capable of making fashion choices for themselves. It’s to say us women are not aware of when we’re being influenced, and that we cannot make up our own minds as to whether we choose to or not to (literally) follow suit.
To agree with Cynthia, is to say that women are unconscious consumers. We just mindlessly following anything we feel remotely ‘pressured’ by…
IMHO, that’s rubbish – as I hope I have illustrated above. I didn’t dress up as a goth at 14 because I didn’t want to – peer pressure, be damned! In my 20s however, I did try to mimic SATC style (with the best that Topshop/H&M/Warehouse/Shellys and Office had to offer) because I very much did want to.
In both instances, it was about choice. And I will happily stand up for the fashion choices I made. Which means it makes me frustrated to hear that someone – Cynthia Nixon no less! – has claimed I was kowtowing to ‘pressure’. Truly, I wasn’t. I just really, really liked the trend.
As the recent parliamentary debate over the enforced unreasonable dress codes imposed on some women in the workplace has shown, sometimes women don’t have a choice as to what they can wear. But following the SATC trend was a choice (for most of us) and it especially was for me. And if it turns out in years to come, I look back and reflect it was a ‘What Were You Thinking?!’ one at that, I’m sure I’ll find a way to get over it.