Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World

As I’ve mentioned before, I love the Planet Money podcast. For those people who haven’t listened (i.e. the uncounted masses cooler than I am), this is a podcast dedicated to breaking down ungainly economic problems and theories into bits even my brain can contemplate. Whether it’s doll-houses standing in for Collateralized Debt Obligations or using one man’s battle to store mangos to explain how nearly impossible it will be for the economy of Haiti to change, I spend twenty minutes listening to one of their podcasts and something opaque becomes lucid. I am, in a word, wiser. Today, I’m going to use the Planet Money model to try to explain why so many stars go to awards shows in terrible dresses. Because it’s me, you won’t be wiser. Then again, it’s fashion; it would be weird to be wise about fashion. And then I will make a prediction, because after writing about something twice in a row, I am led to understand that I'm now An Expert, and Experts make Predictions.

Let’s say you have to go someplace formal; a relative’s wedding. You don’t have a formal dress. You need a formal dress.

(This is all going to assume you’re female or have very understanding relatives.)

Your priorities are probably something like “I want this to flatter me, be appropriate, fit well enough so I don’t appear to be smuggling yams and cost less than adding a new bathroom to the house.”You go to the store. You might even go to a few stores. Let’s be honest, you go to a ton of stores. But in the end, we’re assuming you found a dress meeting nearly all the specs. You looked attractive and appropriate. So when the awards shows roar into life every January, you look in confusion at the television and think, “These women have access to every dress in the world and they’re shaped like JV cheerleaders. Why do they look so godawful?”

Go back to the formal wedding. Perhaps your sister told you her daughter’s wedding was going heavy on pink and green so you might want to pick those colors to look nice in the family pictures. So as you’re drifting around the store, you’re automatically thinking about the previous priorities, but in Palm Beach colors. Now, you’re a starlet getting ready for the People’s Winner Shining Lifetime Achievement Style Awards. First, there are your priorities:

  1. I want to be beautiful so everyone at the show looks at me and gives me jobs. Many jobs. Being beautiful is paying me a fair amount but staying beautiful is costing me twice as much. Many, many jobs.

  2. I want the dress to be so striking that many photographs of me end up in magazines all over the world, causing people to demand to see me in many movies. I want people in Bangalore and Tunisia to know me and want to see me as The Girlfriend in a Michael Bay movie.

  3. I want to be sexy but ladylike. Kind of Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Bardot combined, and I don’t care if that’s impossible.

Also in the dressing room is her stylist, the person being paid a great deal of money by the starlet to get her into the perfect dress. Here is the stylist’s priorities:

  1. I want her to be beautiful, but striking. Really unusual. Have you been to Los Angeles? Everyone is beautiful; my barista this morning could have launched a thousand ships. Starlet here has to have something different going on, otherwise the photographers will just assume she’s the call-girl the producer hired for the evening.

  2. I want her look to scream “I WAS DRESSED BY THIS PARTICULAR STYLIST!!!” because I just bought the most incredible mid-century house in Bel-Air with the tiniest touch of systemic wood-rot and I need all the other starlets to notice all the attention she’s getting and use their seven brain cells to decide that what got her the attention was how I dressed her. So what if my girls are known for five-inch wedges this spring and Princess here can’t walk in wedges? She can lean on that boyfriend of hers, the one pouting in the corner because Armani won’t design him a special tuxedo.

  3. Bridget Bardot means she wants cleavage and Audrey Hepburn means she wants eyeliner. Done and done. I’ll listen to everything she says and then suggest the same five designers with whom I have the best relationship and, possibly, a fairly profitable kick-back system. I mentioned the wood-rot is systemic, right?

And there’s the publicist, and her priorities:

  1. Pictures of the starlet in magazines.

  2. Pictures of the starlet in magazines.

  3. Pictures of the starlet in magazines wearing the designer she also happens to represent.

And, of course, the designer:

  1. Pretty dresses are nice and incredibly boring. I yawn to tears at the thought of something fitted at the natural waist, in a flattering color, with a side slit. Those dresses sell themselves and even the moronic editors at the weekly rags know they’re boring. Unless my girl dies directly after the show, no one will ever run a picture of the pretty dress. And if my name isn’t getting into the rags, those lovely people in all those states I’ve never actually entered won’t know to buy my perfume and handbags. The profit on perfume and handbags holds up my empire and allow me to continue to renovate my chateau in the South of France which has forty bedrooms, one bathroom and a touch of systemic stone-rot.

  2. I love a dress which allows me to yammer. Pretty dresses speak for themselves. A dress which was influenced by my winter in Marrakesh and my subsequent stay at Betty Ford, with a bustle which alludes to my brief stint as a Folies Bergere dancer? There’s no end to the publicity there.

The boyfriend can be pretty much ignored. He’ll continue to pout about his tuxedo but people who’ve been in that room assure me that just when you think you’ve nearly got the Starlet settled on the right dress, he’ll pipe up that it makes her calves look thick, and everyone shakes the fashion Etch-a-Sketch and starts all over again.

So, you see now. The only thing everyone agrees upon is that the Starlet must get noticed. She must be noticed because she’s wearing the color of the year (Greige? Hi! So good to see you!), or because the dress causes even the most jaded eye to stop and gape in wonder. And then everyone in the room screams “Beautiful!” only they aren’t using it the way you usually do.

And now, my prediction. Somewhere on the west side of Los Angeles, a young and somewhat gullible actress is being assured by a dressing-roomful of people that this (GRIEGE) dress is the perfect one for the Oscars.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love love LOVE your work... I agree: griege is an e-griege-ous error!


6:56 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

You are ooohhhh so right. And, just as you promised, you have explained a mysterious subject in a way that makes all perfectly clear.

And that dress! You just KNOW someone will show up in that dress at the Oscars...and everyone will bow to Quinn in her wisdom.

Because, honey, you nailed that one. I call that wise, no matter what the subject.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Grace said...

Thank you. Maybe I'll be able to comprehend what I see on the red carpet this year. Actually, I'm just happy I no longer have a girl in high school who might want a prom dress like she saw at the Oscars. When my oldest was a senior, a package approximately 8" square and 2" thick arrived at the house. It contained my girl's prom dress, which she had seen at the Golden Globes and talked her grandmother into ordering for her.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Riin said...

I guess I've seen uglier dresses, but how do you sit in that thing?

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

So funny, because it's so true! I think that's why people have gone to those shows in swans (hopefully faux, dear God) and in dresses made of credit cards.

I wrote an article published on Yahoo! Movies this week on my acting career so far (the title included "in progress"), and I was so sad I have no award show stories. Even as I realize how sad and pathetic it is. hehe

9:18 PM  
Blogger Kathryn in NZ said...

Like Riin said: how does one sit in that origami doily?
Thanks Quinn - your equation also works for rhythmic gymnastics leotards...

11:55 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

I, too, adore Planet Money!

I'm on stage for a community theater awards program every March and my goals when dress shopping are:

1. I must look fabulous enough that strangers stop me to compliment the dress (This actually has happened. Made my lifetime.).

2. In order to look that fabulous while standing on a stage for three hours the dress must not be painful in anyway.

3. I must be able to buy the dress at Loehmann's for not much money in about a half hour on my way to rehearsal for whatever show I am in that time.

The fact that I -- a non-fabulous, middle-aged woman -- achieve these goals most years is an annual miracle.

Enjoy the awards!

6:26 AM  
Blogger Kathryn said...

Ah. What to wear right before starting a new career as a barista, because the prior barista is now a starlet with more sense than to wear that thing.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Scarlet said...

Have you ever thought of applying for an editorial position at Vogue? I really think they'd dig you.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Scarlet said...

Have you ever thought of applying for an editorial position at Vogue? Because I really think they'd dig you.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Char said...

that dress scares me on so many levels that i cannot process it all. why am i reminded of a player piano that exploded, leaving only the rolls wrapped around that poor girl.

and me - alas, no stylish, no designer, not even an agenda. just me trying to find the one thing that makes me look professional but gets me out the door before 8:00 a.m. for work.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There comes a time where short-term memory loss comes in handy, such as this weekend, when I realized that I had exactly one week to find a dress for an event my daughter will be on stage for on Sunday. One peek in my closet and I found the perfect black wrap dress which I forgot I even owned. A new wardrobe CAN be yours if you can just forgot what you bought last season.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous elseinwmsb said...

I don't think I could forget buying that number considering that it would take up a good bit of space in the closet and, by the way, is the color greige???????

5:03 PM  
Blogger LP said...

"Being beautiful is paying me a fair amount but staying beautiful is costing me twice as much."

One of my favorite QC Quotes, ever.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture of this dress is actually from the lastest "Instyle" magazine, worn by the stunning Rosamund Pike. The women makes this greige doily look amazing!

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, a decent stylist and publicist would know that that dress would simply beg comparison to when Rihanna wore the 2009 version.


Rosamund Pike:

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although this was a really intelligent and witty post, I can't help but think what would happen if the actress was actually interested in fashion--like Diane Kruger. Then it would be more like wearing the gorgeous, slightly off-kilter, haute couture dress from the spring runway show that would set fashion bloggers atwitter (no pun intended). Also, I wonder what this would be like if you actually worshipped in knowing right when you saw Hailee Steinfeld at the SAG awards that she was wearing Prada Spring 2011.

7:50 AM  
Blogger surrealised said...

is greige the color? like a merge of grey and beige?

7:10 AM  

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