Sunday, August 23, 2009

THE FASHIONISTA IS DEAD ] Welcome the era of the housewife


Written originally for the Women's Month issue of Free Press, a spinoff from one of my blog entries as editrixiagomez, this essay came out in the current issue of Uno Magazine.

You have to give it to Anna Wintour for knowing how to negotiate the complexities of capturing the mood of the times in a venue like the Vogue cover. Look ma, no numbers! No insufferably mundane declaration of 348 Pages of Sparkling New Clothes! Even the announcement of the Spring Fashion Special, almost a whisper at the bottom right corner, seems a little embarrassed for itself. In one of the two big fashion issues of the year, rather than pop the champagne for the barrage of the season’s new fashions, the editor Anna made a cover girl out of Michelle Obama, “The First Lady The World’s Been Waiting For,” wearing a shift dress, quietly seated on a beige sofa, surrounded by an equally beige curtain and beige lamp. Sobriety is the new chic, the cover seems to say, and even the First Lady's smile suggests she's a little tentative about doing this glamour thing. On the inside pages, she looks more relaxed in Annie Leibovitz’s photos, wearing subdued wifey little separates as a pencil skirt and a cardigan. The opening spread’s photograph perfectly echoes the writer Andre Leon Talley’s observation: "Curled up in the corner of a huge taupe velvet sofa, wearing knee-high boots as she nestles into the cushions, she almost seems like any other mom recently relocated to a city because of her husband's new job."

The fashionista is dead. It's the era of the housewife.

Of course, we’re not forgetting O-mama was Princeton-schooled and graduated from Harvard Law and looks like she can outscore any of the Williams sisters at the tennis court any day. But her public image will always first and foremost be the wind beneath Barack’s wings, reading to Malia and Sasha before they sleep, and pleasuring her husband after a long day’s work (hopefully not simultaneously. At least not in the same room). She is the icon of the moment and she is joined by an illustrious cast: some of the most popular women in the world who are proud carriers of the housekeeper badge.

Not a day passes when you don’t get a glance of Angelina Jolie on television, exiting yet another airport terminal, clutching one or two from her United Colors of Benetton brood, confidently announcing that she may be the biggest star in the universe but no Oscar win could come close to changing diapers while on holiday in the South of France. Or while visiting another orphanage in Zimbabwe.

Which brings us to Salma Hayek who most recently volunteered her left boob to a thirsty, nutrition-challenged African infant. She should lend her right one to any of the eight newborns of Nadya Suleman, certainly the most celebrated mom on tabloid television, already a mother of six before she gave birth to octuplets in January. With the size of Salma’s breasts, she could easily cover at least two Sulemans at a time.

Closer to home, Gretchen Barretto and her Bvlgaris have retreated to a quieter life while her sister Claudine is on headline news. She may not be appearing in the cineplexes and doesn’t even have a teleserye in the can, but the former Folded and Hung image model is in the limelight lately, in tears, desperately begging for a new law that will protect her two kids from kidnappers after her Sabina was almost snatched by a “fan” in her pre-school. Previous to this, she only managed to make her presence felt to the outside world by endorsing not a Secosana bag but an artificial food flavoring. There she is brandishing a huge bandehado of Adobong Ilongga she claims she herself cooked to members of the press--with Raymart, Sabina and Santino immediately behind her. And there she is again in another mommy magazine cover wearing the colors of Knorr’s Real Sarap All-in-One Seasoning Mix. The fashionista has become what the ad’s creative team have conveniently coined a “realista”—whatever that means.

The mom is indeed back in fashion. Manila Bulletin just put out a new mothering mag called HIPP. And we all know that the biggest blockbuster movie this year will be a mommy film: Ate Vi’s return to the big screen playing, whatelse, a mom, this time to a child with AIDS in the most important Star Cinema project in years.

How did we get to this, one might be compelled to ask. That in a matter of one fashion season women the world over have killed their cravings for the moment’s It bag and Balenciaga sandal? How did they go from obsessing about Carrie Bradshaw obsessing about Jimmy Choos to watching Tina Fey in 30 Rock obsess about chew toys for her yet-to-be adopted child. Now we all want to be Tina: smart, sassy, “America’s New Sweetheart” according to the January Vanity Fair, and in real-life, an always-beaming mother of one.

Blame it on the recession, of course. As we speak, hundreds of thousands of moms are going back to the home after losing their jobs due to corporate downsizing. After years of working the balancing act of a successful career and a happy home life, the reality of an economic depression has led them no choice but to tread the road back to life inside the picket fence.

Even Celine Lopez, Manila’s most famous fashionista is writing about such homely things as growing up in a politico family and, very recently, the introvert’s party scene, facebook. Just last week she was in Cebu for the design expo buying not a new cocktail dress or jewelry but furniture. Yes, she’s not a housewife but if you’ve given up the alcohol and the partying, as she has, then you may as well be. I sat down for drinks with her famous girl friend lately, the stylist Jenni Epperson. She spoke to me about missing those notorious party hardy days at Embassy, how fabulous those days were when the “freaks” were spilling their designer duds with their eleventh Cosmopolitan (and who knows what else). Yet there is a calm in her demeanor, a sincere sentiment peeking, when she starts talking about her daughter and how she’s become even taller now than her fashionista mom. Jenni doesn’t go out anymore. Although I still see her photo in some society page once in a while, appearing almost makeup-less, wearing trench dresses (goodbye zebra prints!). Or a roomy black shirt that allows for her healthy little extra weight—-as in the night of the Mark Nicdao show at Greenbelt 5. Of course I heard a couple of bitchy quips whispered behind her back—-mostly about the shirt and the unapologetic extra pounds.

But that’s the price you pay for changing your priorities, for going from fab to flab. When you’ve given up the spotlight for the less glamorous things. Gwyneth Paltrow should know. Formerly the biggest fashion icon in Hollywood, queen of the red carpet and the Vogue cover, she has traded designer clothes for baby strollers and began a career that echoes that of Martha Stewart’s. While raising an Apple and a Moses, she is at home blogging, writing about making meatballs, appropriating a personal uniform and asking her friends what books they read. Soon enough, the haters started crawling towards her with their claws. What right has she, they ask, to dispense advice about motherhood?

But isn’t that a mom thing to do? Moms like to share stuff, advice, discoveries, the best deals. They’re the designated doctors of the house, the Mother Confessor, the principal advisor. Every mom does what Gwyneth does. Its just that Gwyneth is famous and blonde and beautiful and friends with Madonna.

Without needing to take to the streets and burn a bra, women are finding themselves the rulers of this era, the icons of this age of going back to the basics. Us men couldn’t possibly join this bandwagon. We can’t even take care of ourselves. So we do it in other ways. Willie Revillame, early this year, coughed up close to half a million pesos supposedly from his own pocket to sponsor the plane fare back to Manila of 32 women OFWs being abused by their employers in Dubai.

A move not even our own president could afford to do, although she is a woman herself, let’s be clear about that. Because she’s more of a goon now the way the media and her critics have portrayed her (not that she’s entirely undeserving). Now here’s an idea: maybe, like the homecoming OFWs, it might do her well to return to being a housewife. Mike Arroyo will probably be the better for it. God knows the rest of us will be the better for it.


  1. i wonder what betty freidan would have thought of your fabulously-written essay. you've captured the zeitgeist of the postmodern Gen X parent.

  2. whoa. salamat harhar. sino si betty friedan.