Saturday, February 4, 2012

Subzero provocative attire

My first jaunts abroad were to destinations that culturally dictated a wee bit of decorum in the sartorial department. In Cambodia, it was downright inappropriate for women to wear tops more revealing than a t-shirt, and most local women would wear button up long or three quarter length sleeves. In Bali, this was a bit more relaxed, but for the most part it was tourists (myself included) who danced the line between gauche and disrespectful- tank tops, bikinis, crappy beach sarongs for everyone! In case decorum didn't dictate a modicum of modesty, vestiges of colonialism finished the job: in both Cambodia and Bali it was common to see women wearing cotton gloves, long sleeve sweatshirts with the hood up, long pants and socks with sandals on motobikes, all in the name of cultivating as pale an appearance as possible. Slather on a little bleaching agents, wrap up in your cotton hoodie, and your ready for an 80F degree day of fun!

Moscow has inverted this approach. Despite the fact that it hasn't gotten over -14F for the past week, every day I have seen at least a few women in miniskirts and countless in high heeled- I'm talking four inch stiletto- boots, and, points for ingenuity: one in shorts with tights at school (although let it be said that we rocked this look during winter of fifth grade at Kings Mills Ohio Elementary School). Given that it's approx. a million degrees below freezing from October to March, and that women's social capital seems to be tightly intertwined with their physical appearance (yes, even more so than in the US), Moscovites have innovated a number of ways to look hot even in Arctic weather. A-Line cut parkas, slinky fur lined leather jackets, voluptuous mink and rabbit and lamb coats abound.

For me, in the US the onset of winter is like a sigh of relief- sweaters! leggings! Ugg-ly comfortable boots! No more trying to look adorably emaciated in tank tops and cotton skirts. Hooray! Bring on the 2% milk and full fat yogurt!

No so for our foxy fur-bedecked cousins to the east. Indeed, the name of the game seems to be how to dress as provocatively as possible without courting hypothermia on the way to class, club or crappy-yet-awesome dive bar (try Kruska in Red Square...trying to find a link- stay tuned).

While at first blush this may seem very different to modus operandi a la US, I actually think the style of dressing here is reflective of something that translates trans-nationally. I've had a few of the Russian students I've become friendly with mention to me that it's not uncommon for women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds living in areas outside of Moscow will come to Moscow in part to try to meet wealthier men in addition to attempting to gain more prosperous employment. The less clothes=more prospects equation is part of the game- more on my personal adventures with this phenomenon in upcoming posts. (As I have yet to venture to a club late night, I have yet to see this for myself, but apparently in some of the more popular clubs it's women who get turned away and men who are coveted by the club promoters: there's a surplus of young, beautiful women trying to meet well-established men, and not enough folks to foot the bill.) Is this not so dissimilar to the US? Perhaps women don't peg their entire future on their ability to land a well-to-do gentleman friend, but, speaking for myself at the very least, my economic prospects have improved dramatically since losing 100+ pounds.

I promise you, I am no smarter now that I wear a size 6 than I was when I was a size 20. In the first year that I was in a right sized body, my salary increased- I bullshit you not- $22,000. I did not get a raise; I was in sales, and all of a sudden I had male clients who were delighted to meet with me. Let's meet in your office, I say. Oh no! Let's do lunch at a cafe to talk about my advertising plans! After all, what could be more lovely than having a nice lunch in a very public cafe with your favorite young saleswoman wearing a cute Nanette Lapore sundress? It's not my intention to sound arrogant, but the facts of the matter are that once I was thin, my sales increased over 25% in one year, I was offered four jobs in one month (three by men) when I made the decision to move companies, and I frequently had the door held open for me, had compliments from men at bars, shops and cafes, and, notably, one marriage proposal from a complete total creeper client (whom my fiance told off when said creeper called my cell phone one weekend. Thanks babe).
$22K more valuable:
Is this not so different from what's happening here? In DC, it's cold for about 26 seconds compared to Moscow, so we can get away with looking like walking Eddie Bauer ads during Snowmageddon. When I first arrived, I was amazed that women here would go out so scantly clad- how could they stand the weather??? It's not like living here attenuates the effects of the cold- my Moscow pals are just as reticent as I to go out in this weather. But reflecting on this a bit more, if 8 months of the year are going to be spent in subzero weather AND the treatment you receive from others is tied closely to how, um, appealingly you are dressed, it's somewhat a matter of survival to suit up in stilettos and skirts.

Isn't it comforting to know that women's value is conflated with their appearances everywhere? It really is a small world after all!

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