What Is The Story?

Young-bridesmaid Weddings are often occasions for mixed emotions. This photograph was taken after a wedding in Somerset, England. The photographer informed me this attractive young bridesmaid did not know he was taking her photograph, and he doesn’t know the reason for her mood.

Some photographs capture a human mood so well that we long to know the story, but here the mystery can never be solved. We can only guess. This occasion was clearly not going well for her at this moment, and I find it hard to look at this photograph without wondering why. Why has she gone off by herself? Why is she downcast? Does her age factor in? What is her relationship to the bride?

In trying to understand her mood, we may go back into our own history, or the history of people we know. We may try to remember if there was an occasion when in the midst of a celebration, we found ourselves wanting to be alone because we did not share the celebratory mood. The photographer has frozen one such moment for us, and we invite our readers to speculate on her mood. What do you imagine the story to be?

[Photograph used by permission of Flickr user .Hessam.]

Glamour With A Twist: Martinis

About eight years ago, just as the Sex and the City-fueled cosmo craze was starting to quiet down, I went on my first date with my now-husband. We went to a cool (for Baltimore) restaurant that boasted of an extensive “martini menu.”

Pickle juice martini After seating us, the hostess handed each of us a tall, skinny paper menu listing all of the bar’s martini options. As she walked away and we started reading, we both started laughing – the drinks had about as much in common with martinis as Manolos do with Old Navy flip flops. Yes, they are both shoes. But that’s about it.

Our favorite was nothing more than Southern Comfort and lime juice, shaken with ice and served in a martini glass. A pretty far cry from 007’s regular cocktail.

Since that night, bars’ and restaurants’ desire to put absolutely anything, regardless of ingredients, in a martini glass seems to have died down a bit. But the definition of “martini” has definitely loosened up since the cocktail’s beginnings. Originally a simple combination of gin and vermouth, vodka martinis gained popularity in the 1960s and James Bond himself took some liberties with the recipe when he requested a combination of vodka, gin, and Kina Lillet (now called a Vesper) in Casino Royale.

Reckless as he may be, though, it’s awfully hard to imagine Bond ever ordering an appletini or anything involving chocolate liqueur. A flirtini for the special agent? Somehow I doubt it.

In business school speak, what does this free-for-all expansion mean for the core martini brand? So far, it doesn’t seem to have suffered that much. The traditional martini – gin or vodka – maintains its glamorous image despite its many unworthy imitators.

But why? Is it the drink’s history? Its Bond associations? Its pristine clarity? Or is it because drinking a martini without ending up on the floor demonstrates a certain type of strength – alcohol tolerance – that’s associated with the glamorous men and women of earlier eras?

All of the above, most likely. And let’s hope that’s all enough to keep defending the martini from its imitators. Special Agent Bond will thank us.

[Photo: A gin and pickle juice (yes, pickle juice) martini that I couldn't quite finish last week.]

Dear Publicist: Real Housewives Of New Jersey Are NOT Models Of Glamour


I received the following unironic pitch from a publicist who shall remain nameless:

New York is out, and New Jersey is in—or so the viewers seem to say. Bravo has hit ratings gold with its latest reality show Real Housewives of New Jersey, garnering more than 3.5 million viewers for the show’s season finale—the highest-rated finale in the Housewives franchise history. The popularity of the show has sparked a national interest in New Jersey, and has succeeded in re-branding the state as a place in America that can be undoubtedly filled with glitz and glamour.

From the opulent mansions to the housewives’ toned, tanned bodies, this latest installment of Housewives has made Jersey hot again. And with help from [client's name omitted], a New Jersey-based plastic surgeon, anyone can get a Housewives body. Dr. [omitted] offers a full selection of services, from the minimally-invasive Jersey Mini Tummy Tuck to breast augmentation to thigh lifts.

I would love to set up a time for you to speak with [client] to further discuss his New Jersey-based services, as well as other trends in plastic surgery. I look forward to hearing from you.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think the popularity of Real Housewives is based on a longing to be like them. Alessandra Stanley's description, “a buzzkill for viewers hooked on the free-floating vulgarity,” is more apt. These women are ridiculous, not glamorous. A plastic surgeon who thinks they’re role models is a plastic surgeon to stay away from.

Real Housewives of New Jersey drinking game here.

Anti-Glamour: Modest And Unprovocative

In Japan, where schoolgirls spend long hours in their uniforms, there have been whole fashion styles based on school clothing. The single most provocative outfit that I have seen on an American university campus was worn by a young Japanese coed, her long hair tied innocently to each side of her head in ponytails. Her white shirt bared her midriff, and was tied in front so as to reveal a vivid red bra. Her pleated plaid skirt was very short and slung so low on her hips so that a matching red thong was revealed above her skirt in front and back. Knee-high white socks and platform high heels completed the look, one  guaranteed to capture the attention of every male she encountered. (This interesting post warns other Japanese girls that wearing Japanese “schoolgirl” styles such garu and kogal, which are considered provocative but acceptable in Japan, can cause you to be mistaken for a prostitute in other countries, such as the United States.)

2783469223_899aefc861 The couple pictured at left prove that even basic school uniforms can be made glamorous: notice the accessories, her skirt length, his pants cut, the stylish haircuts, loosened ties, and rolled up sleeves. Perhaps most humans have some innate desire to adorn themselves. If so, the patriarchal founders of austere religions may have correctly assumed that they could only suppress the desire of attractive women to display themselves proudly and advantageously if they could somehow convince them that doing so offended some kind of higher spiritual order.

That concept is certainly going to be a tough sell in modern urban centers like Tokyo. Not surprisingly, many of the suppliers listed in the Modest Clothing Directory are family businesses in rural communities. And here the title of the 1919 World-War-I song comes to mind: “How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?).” Unless you partially shelter young women from contact with urban centers and modern media (or else deny them a choice of clothing), few young women are likely to choose prairie dresses or burqas over some form of more up-to-date apparel, even if they live in a small town. Yet, paradoxically, if you do need a prairie dress (even if just so your daughter can play Little House on the Prairie), the oh-so-modern internet allows you to find places like Our Grandma’s Closet, where a retired grandmother offers custom-made prairie dresses and donates her profits to charity.

["The Eyes Can See" by Tinou Bao, photostream here, under the Flickr Creative Common License. Young Japanese couple © glassbubblegum and used by permission. Her Flickr photostream is here.]

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Naomi Wolf And The Phenomenology Of Angelina Jolie

Unlike Junod’s earlier piece, Wolf’s article on Jolie is not a standard celebrity profile. There is no interview, no encounter between the author and the object of her affection. Jolie remains an ideal, and the article is explicitly about the “life narrative” Jolie has “crafted,” the “persona that [took] her to global icon.” It declares itself an essay about artifice and image. What makes the piece so compelling is Wolf's palpable yearning to believe.  In the guise of analyzing Jolie’s image, she succumbs, forgetting that glamour is an illusion.

Naomi wolf beauty myth autograph

Certainly she never reminds herself, or her readers, how much Jolie’s life depends on unusual gifts and extraordinary wealth, and she never addresses the tradeoffs involved in living with all those tabloid headlines. Instead, Angelina Jolie's life functions as proof that the desires that inform Wolf's own oeuvre are all attainable: to be effortlessly beautiful and thin (The Beauty Myth), to participate in high-level public debates (Fire with Fire), to indulge sexual desire without condemnation or consequence (Promiscuities), to become a mother without hassle or pain (Misconceptions).

Most revealing is the way Wolf, a divorced mother of two, projects her own desires onto Jolie’s (short-lived) status as single mom. She completely ignores the standard tabloid narrative, an anti-feminist storyline casting Jolie as the womanly mother figure against Jennifer Aniston, the careerist punished for her insufficiently feminine ambition. Instead, Wolf reads Jolie’s story as the triumph of the Single Mom as Ideal.

Then there is the plane. Women are so used to being dependent on others (certainly on men) for where they go, metaphorically, and how they get there. Flying a private plane is the classic metaphor for choosing your own direction; usually, that is a guy thing to do, yet there was Jolie, with her aviator glasses on, taking flying lessons so she could blow the mind of her four-year-old son. That is the ultimate in single-mom chic: Even before she had reconstructed a nuclear (or postnuclear) family with a dad at the head of it, she was reframing single motherhood from a state of lack or insufficiency to a glamorous, unfettered lifestyle choice. Paradoxically, having done so, she makes the choice of a man to help her raise her kids seem like one option among many for a self-directed woman rather than either a completion of a woman or a capitulation.

This much-mocked paragraph takes aviator glamour — which is, in fact, a long-standing element of Jolie’s appeal (see the magnificent photos Annie Leibovitz did for Vogue) — and turns it into a story about what Naomi Wolf wants. A plane becomes a symbol not of general human freedom, mastery, and escape but of “single-mom chic.” Jolie rescues the aviatrix archetype from the inconveniently married-and-childless Amelia Earhart. (In the same issue, Bazaar does feature 12 pages of Earhart-inspired fashion photography by Peter Lindbergh.) And Wolf rescues Jolie’s kick-ass physicality, including the real-life flying and motorcycle riding, from its action-movie appeal to men.


“Jolie’s image is not just a mirror of one woman but also a looking glass for female fantasy life writ large,” Wolf concludes her article. Glamour is most powerful when it encompasses multiple longings, in this case, not “female fantasy life” but “females’ fantasy lives,” both universal and particular. That Wolf can project so many of her own yearnings onto Jolie demonstrates why the actress is such an icon.

The mirror is an inapt metaphor, however. A mirror reflects an accurate (if reversed) image of reality, while glamour always presents a blurred picture, concealing much of the truth. The yearning audience is thus allowed to fill in the details. As Jezebel’s Sadie Stein sagely notes, despite Jolie’s  tabloid omnipresence her glamour depends on mystery.

Brangelina are totally enigmatic; we don’t know anything about them except the Harlequin-worthy synopsis. People like them because they can project whatever they want onto them. Maybe moms fantasize about Angie reading to her kids at night, then having hot sex with Brad. Those who want to turn their lives around probably are inspired by this scion of movie star and model who’s fearlessly pursued a course of growing up. Doubtless somebody somewhere has taken up flying as a result. Hopefully a few have turned to good works. (Ideally no one, anywhere, will allow Angelina Jolie to have any impact on her decision to adopt or not.) Some woman involved with a married dude may stay with him that much longer because of her tabloid happy-ending. Some people will see The Last Kiss and think it’s profound. And Naomi Wolf will look at Angelina Jolie and project her own fantasies: a feminist icon whom women love because they think the right way.

Glamour is an objective illusion, but it reveals subjective truths. The Harper’s Bazaar profile may tell us nothing true about Angelina Jolie, but it’s an x-ray into the soul of Naomi Wolf.

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[Beauty Myth autograph photo by Flickr user liberalmind1012 under Creative Commons license.]

DG Contest: Pamper Yourself With Sothys For Summer

ProSpa Aroma Retail Prod Congratulations to reader Alana M., who was the first to email me that What Not to Wear's Carmindy is the makeup artist who told DG that plumeria is her favorite flower. Alana will receive Pure Silk Moisturizing Shave Cream by Barbasol in six scents, along with Nouriva Repair Moisturizing Cream. Our thanks to  Alexis Fabricant at The Lane Communications Group and her two glamorous clients.

DG giveaways keep getting better and better. Thanks to Sarah Burgett at KMR Communications, we have yet another multi-product gift, this time from the luxury French skin-care company Sothys. The Aroma-Sothys relaxation line features a three-step program designed to benefit the skin and relax the mind--and one lucky DG reader will receive all three:

Step 1: Refresh and cleanse with an indulgent bath, using
Aroma-Sothys Energizing Bath Essences Tablets. These effervescent, playful, and revitalizing bath pebbles will enrich your bath with their tonic and energizing fragrance. Retail price: $26

Step 2: Pamper and awaken the senses with the beneficial virtues of essential oils, using Aroma-Sothys Energizing Essential Oils Elixir. These concentrated essential oils promise to restore and tone the skin’s natural essence. Retail price: $26

Step 3: Seal and protect to keep your skin moist and glowing all summer long, using Sothys Aroma-Sothys Massage Elixir. Massaging your body with a cocktail of ginger, nutmeg, orange, marula, and mandarin essential oils, this elixir leaves your skin with a satin-like gloss and perfume finish. Retail price: $38

Doesn’t that sound appealing? To win, be the first reader to email me at virginia-at-deepglamour.net with the answer to this question: What part of the world does marula oil come from? Please include your mailing address.

Contest open to U.S. residents only and only to readers who have not won a DG contest in the past three months. Prize will be shipped directly from KRM Communications. 

Taking The Fun Out Of Driving: Who Wants A Silent Car?

Check out the mid-century architectural background for this Volkswagen ad. Along with the iconic Beetle, with its anti-establishment hippie cool, the houses create nostalgia for lost car culture. The ad thus delivers a message about a utilitarian feature—even better gas mileage with a diesel—wrapped in a more memorable emotional contrast: between the fun, playful, powerful, and, yes, noisy Jetta and the boring, dutiful, middle-aged hybrid, which sounds a lot like Darth Vader.