But whether one believes it’s a marker of outdated patriarchal coercion or a choice to be made by the devout woman herself, what seems clear is that this kind of dressing has until recently been seen as miles away from what a modern secular woman would want to wear. This contradiction might be best embodied in the story of the lifestyle magazine Kinfolk — a publication that led the charge in advancing the kind of woodsy-hipster design-and-fashion aesthetic that has grown popular in America’s most liberal enclaves, from Silver Lake to Fort Greene, but that also has its roots in the Mormon upbringing of its founders, who established it in 2011 while attending Brigham Young University-Hawaii. The humble, homespun spirit usually associated with retiring, self-enclosed communities of believers has been imported, not unlike the covered-up dressing trend, to an arena that feels largely alien to it, but that embraces its tenets — the handcrafted, the natural, the rustic — at least inasmuch as they can be marketed as a kind of soothing artisanal salve to the alienations of late-capitalist life. Demure fashion circa 2017 — with secular and sister-wife undertones — from Céline, Rachel Comey, the Row, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Creatures of Comfort, Vaquera and Vetements. Credit From left: Don Ashby/Firstview; Gus Powell/courtesy of Rachel Comey; Courtesy of the Row; Neil Rasmus/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock; Creatures of Comfort Sequoia Dress in Army Weathercloth (2017); Courtesy of Vaquera, photo by Michael Hauptman; Courtesy of Vetements/Demna Gvasalia SPEAKING TO some nonreligious women who tend to dress modestly, however, goes a way toward clarifying the style’s utility and function, as well as some of its inherent ambiguities. Thirty-two-year-old Hannah Hoffman , who runs her own eponymous gallery in Los Angeles, says she prefers figure-enshrouding outfits, mostly from Céline , to any other look. This is a matter of being both mobile and versatile — with her low heels and wide-cut pants, Hoffman told me, she can always jump up to grab an artwork or walk clients through her space — but the roots of her choices go deeper. “Everyone who’s involved on the commercial side of the art world is transacting on desire, for an object but also for an experience,” she said. “So you have to walk a very particular line in order to not dilute it, or misrepresent it, so people won’t get confused about what you’re selling them.” As a young woman helming her own business, this is a line that Hoffman feels she has to be careful not to cross, and she told me that rather than a more conventionally feminine aura, she prefers to project a “rigor and intellectual thoughtfulness” with her clothing choices. Commenting on the body-conscious silhouette prevalent among assistant-level gallery girls when she was starting in the art world in the mid-2000s, Hoffman noted how the power of a certain breed of male gallery owner had often seemed to her to be transacted through exactly such specters of young female sexuality, “and that’s not something you want to do.” Still, sometimes she wonders why she is the one who has to police the boundaries of appropriateness: Why is it, she said, that “if you wear a short skirt and a collector hits on you, it’s your fault?” There is something dispiriting (though perhaps not surprising, considering, for one, who America elected for president) about the ongoing need to consider such questions — after at least three waves of feminism have asserted a woman’s right to self-determination over her own body, and, by extension, her clothing choices. Haven’t we realized by now that women not only shouldn’t be held responsible for men’s misreading of their cues, but that, moreover, they might come to see their bodies and sexuality as a source of power to be reveled in rather than guarded?
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