Equality of the Sexes Ends With Fashion

Klein's column appears Sunday

If, in fact, our society is moving toward greater equality between the sexes with more and more people believing that women and men should have equal opportunities for advancement and personal growth, then what I'd like to know is: Where's John Travolta?

Oh, don't pretend that you have no idea what I'm talking about. It's obviously a conspiracy, a running joke against the women of America.

Does anybody really expect a modern and intelligent woman to squeeze into hip-hugging bell bottoms and clingy midriff tops, not to mention those platform shoes that look like something from the Cirque du Soleil, and then part her long straight hair flat down the middle like every single girl in my high school graduating class did, and then actually walk outside the confines of her own home?

I think not.

Unless, of course, the world were to turn suddenly egalitarian, whereby in a spontaneous protest against fashion inequity all of the guys at the office would show up in white three-piece polyester suits, with an open-collar shirt to allow the wind to blow through their chest hairs and to show off at least one nifty gold chain.

I'm not holding my breath.

I mean, are the "new" '70s-inspired spring fashions a gag, or part of a backlash, or am I just getting old? (Don't answer that).

You'll notice that men are having no part in this foolishness. They never do. Men always look the same.

The T-shirt stretched over a well-rounded gut with the accompanying low-riding, no-butt jeans remains a very popular look.

Oh, there have been a few slight variations in male fashion over the years. But I think they burned all the evidence of leisure suits in a spectacular late-night bonfire a while back.

And aside from Prince, how many men do you know who owned a Nehru jacket?

All my husband got from his own very brief walk on the wild side was a leather vest. He still has it, although in 10 years of marriage I've never seen him put it on.

I figure he must be saving it for the skin. If he ever does decide to join the men's movement and beat a drum in a sweat lodge he could cut it up for a loincloth, yet another male fashion statement that never goes out of style.

I, on the other hand, have owned all sorts of "fun" outfits. That's what they used to call the things back then, fun . But I didn't get it at the time. I thought fun meant, you know, neat .

Now, of course, I realize the joke was on me and that the fashion industry types were laughing so hard and slapping their knees so often that they could hardly make it to the bank. Yet they managed somehow.

I've since wised up.

Remember how, in junior high, the teachers used to make you kneel on the ground to measure the length of your skirt and thereby ascertain whether you were: a) dressed for academic success b) a borderline tart or, c) heading home right now, young lady! That is, if a madame didn't recruit you for a brothel first?

Well, as a grown-up, I've devised my own measure of what does, and does not "work." Anything that requires the instructions of a salesclerk before you can try it on--"Let's see, does this strap go across my chest or between my legs?"--might as well have the label Fashion Victim sewn in the back.

And whenever a trusted friend says something like "That really doesn't look like you," I take a clue. Well, who does it look like? Run if they say Cher.

My husband has often pointed to his own wardrobe as a model of sorts. You've got your shirts, long sleeved, cotton with a buttoned down collar, and your khaki pants. He wears the same style shoes that, I swear, they used to wear in the eighth grade.

For Christmas, he asked for some "rep ties," although nobody could figure out what that meant (I've since learned that they are striped and about as exciting as Al Gore) and so nobody bought him any, rationalizing that it was for his own good.

But now I've come to appreciate this masculine look in a way that I hadn't before.

The sameness, the dullness, is liberating really, like eating TV dinners every night because frankly, you've got better things to do than worry about something as trivial as food.

Naturally, this fashion philosophy leads men to exude an aura of self-confidence and power much more easily than, say, a co-worker who shows up at the office in an Empire-waisted dress.

Not that I'm making any commitments here, but it's definitely something to consider.

See, once you've got your wardrobe simplified, that gives you more time to concentrate on your hair.

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