Saturday, December 08, 2012

The very surface of shallow

After a day some of which was spent driving with my parents watching (I had said I'd drive! And it went OK, thanks to my husband's ever-patient instruction!), followed by some more driving, I'm maybe a tiny bit drained (the non-driving bit was relaxing, but the driving might have cancelled it out), my brain is such mush.

-Yesterday I was doing some [insert music here] shopping, and a woman working at ABC Carpet, a store I didn't even realize sold makeup, somehow made eye contact with me and asked if I was familiar with some brand. I said no, even though I'm thinking, I totally read about this on "Into The Gloss" and was intrigued. But I marched on.

-Katie Roiphe likes shoes, and in the SATC sense. Ack, it is possible to love shoes but not those shoes, i.e. the upscale-interpretation-of-stripper-pump variety. (These would do, although back on planet earth, I'm quite happy with these, which just arrived.) There's no picture of the shoes Roiphe lusts after, just a stock photo, suggesting Payless from the 1990s. I don't know if Roiphe was wrong to want whichever shoes if I can't see the shoes. That seems essential.

-Speaking of which, Essentials, the thing next to Sephora but more down-market and old-New-York, appears to have closed. I feel slightly responsible, as my twice-yearly conditioner purchases might have made me their main customer. I am, however, keeping a certain Japanese grocery store in business.

-Speaking of successfully-managed poufy hair, armed with the knowledge that I can tame anything with Tsubaki Oil, I went to the salon and asked for this, but with bangs as I generally want them, what with already having bangs. And got it! And no arguments re: thinning, layering - we were totally on the same page. Hairdressers of Central NJ, you have redeemed yourselves. Although to be on the safe side, I got this particular stylist's card. What I can't figure out: why a halfway decent haircut in NYC is $90-plus, but in Princeton they start at $50. With restaurants, it's very much the other way around. I am not, however, losing sleep over this.


PG said...

The question in the URL, expensive_shoes_why_do_women_keep_buying_them, always seems dumb to me unless as part of an overall "expensive stuff that is of little greater utility than less-expensive stuff" point. As apparel goes, shoes and handbags have the benefit of always fitting, even if you gain or lose a cup size or inches on your rear. They also are more share-able, if you have women in your life with whom you are on such terms. Most expensive shoes are of a type that can be worn in pretty much any season. If you're spending any more money on clothing than Peter Singer (who really does dress like crap), shoes are a good place for it.

As for what men spend money on: in apparel, watches are still popular and ungodly expensive. I've never lusted after a handbag or shoes as expensive as the watches that some guys with whom I spent Thanksgiving were staring at. In general, things with moving parts and/or using electricity, and the accessories thereof, seem to be sucking up plenty of men's disposable income. I don't really envision Susan Sontag buying a 60+ inch flat screen TV, much less spending hours deciding which TV to buy, either.

Before the Xbox and similar, I have been informed by Prohibition documentaries that in Rebecca West's day, men were spending lots of money on liquor, and we as a nation were suffering for it. I don't know, is liquor seen as a reasonable purchase toward one's work if one is, for example, a writer and presumed to be in the Fitzgerald/ Hemingway/ Faulkner mode?

Short version: it seems typical of Roiphe to think that women's wastefulness of money (and yes, in a world where not every child has a mosquito net, it's all wasteful) is somehow worse than men's.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

It's an annoying double-standard, and exists even when actual spending (and thus Peter Singer-ish arguments) doesn't enter into it. If a woman is interested in fashion, she's shallow, but a man who cares about sports is a Serious Person showing his human side, or we respect sports as a metaphor, or something.

But my copious anecdotal evidence is telling me that while there are some very, very frugal men who aren't so much trying not to spend as not interested in stuff, there are fewer such women. Not none, I know some, but not many. Part of it simply has to do with what's required for a woman to look presentable - hair, makeup, etc. It just hasn't been my experience that for every woman interested in clothes-and-shoes, there's a man buying a ridiculous watch.

PG said...

But my copious anecdotal evidence is telling me that while there are some very, very frugal men who aren't so much trying not to spend as not interested in stuff, there are fewer such women. ... It just hasn't been my experience that for every woman interested in clothes-and-shoes, there's a man buying a ridiculous watch.

It may not be a watch, but I'm a little skeptical that there's much more overall actual asceticism among men than among women. So for example, for The Big Bang Theory type guys, they may not be spending much on clothes or haircuts or accessories, but they are still plenty participatory in consumerism; they buy electronics, videogames, costumes, collectibles, etc. Just as there's no greater virtue in caring about sports than about fashion, there's no greater virtue in buying a $2000 60 inch flat screen for the Super Bowl than in buying $1000 flats for a Christmas party.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"So for example, for The Big Bang Theory type guys, they may not be spending much on clothes or haircuts or accessories, but they are still plenty participatory in consumerism; they buy electronics, videogames, costumes, collectibles, etc."

On that show, sure, but my real-life experience says otherwise. These guys aren't (necessarily) buying giant flat-screens, gadgets, etc. The comic-book, sci-fi, role-play-costumes thing, from what I can tell, is something on the show to make it relatable (i.e. what reads as "geeky" to a general audience), but not much of a craze among the real-life version of that milieu. I guess what I'm saying is, while I'm the first to say, or agree, that the flat-screen is as silly as the flats, and while I agree with you that many of the male-coded indulgences (yachts, cars, planes come to mind) cost far more than the female-coded ones, I really do think there are more hyper-frugal men than women. Not that women are more materialistic, just that it's more of a statement for a woman to wear no makeup, etc.

Britta said...

This might differ away from East coast/South, where I think there's more pressure to look feminine in a certain way. There are definitely parts of the US/social circles where minimal grooming of either gender is required, or where $8 eyeliner and $3 lip gloss suffices as makeup. Also, while women's haircuts are more expensive, women have the option of growing out hair, while men have to get it cut every few weeks/months. I haven't got a professional cut in two years, and I have my roommate trim the split ends. It's not the most stylish haircut ever, but it's passable and past the shoulders there's not really much of a shape to worry about and I can put it up when I want to.

On frugality in general, while men might own fewer clothes, my experience is that each item of clothing is more expensive. E.g., a woman can spend $100 at H&M and get 10 things, while a man gets 3 things. We think of the woman as a clothes horse and not the man, but they've spent the same amount of money. Being extremely "frugal" myself, I've really noticed how difficult it is to find specifically gendered men's presents in the sub $30 range, but I have no trouble finding women's stuff in the same price range. Also, the men I know are whiskey snobs and semi-alcoholics, meaning that they spend way more going out drinking than the women I know. 6 drinks at a bar is way more expensive than 1-2 drinks, and it's much more socially acceptable and common for a woman to drink very little or nurse a drink than it is for a man. Also, I think women are far more likely to comparison shop or be price conscious on staples like food and toiletries. It might not seem like much for each item, but saving a little on dozens of groceries every week adds up.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I like the idea of looking at the expenses that aren't as obvious - drinks especially. While it doesn't go for all otherwise frugal men, men who are frugal except for drink, or food-and-drink, aren't so unusual. And women probably are socialized to have a higher tolerance for shopping, and thus bargain-hunting, perhaps on account of placing a lower value on their/our time!

But in terms of low-maintenance women... it's not that none exist, or that there aren't regional differences. But so many counterarguments are springing to mind: 1) the 'natural' look (so popular in Europe), i.e. women who'd never be caught dead wearing visible makeup, but who spend up a storm on moisturizers, shampoos, etc., whereas few men do this 2) black/ethnic hair and the gender disparity in what's necessary to look "presentable" (and this holds even if one is embracing a "natural" texture - non-chemically-treated doesn't mean lots of work/product isn't going into it, 3) gray hair, and how it's far more socially-acceptable for men to leave it alone. All of which is to say, while there are truly hygiene-only women out there, and while it's possible to overestimate what the average woman feels she "needs" to do to go out in public... it's still tough to picture that "minimal grooming" is really the rule for women except in tiny pockets - of the Pacific Northwest? of academia?

PG said...

On that show, sure, but my real-life experience says otherwise.

I don't know many guys who are actually PhDs in physics (somehow I know more women in science academia), but the general "nerd/ geek" type as represented by people participating in that subculture are definitely consuming plenty. It's plausible to me that the actual PhDs (who, I'm told, are mostly foreigners these days anyway) may not be big into that subculture, but of less academically-accomplished guys I know who have some sense of identification with something like The Big Bang Theory, their buying habits aren't so far off from those of the characters.

gray hair, and how it's far more socially-acceptable for men to leave it alone.

Is that still true for our generation? I agree that Ye Olde Barbershop would not dream of telling customers to dye (or blowdry, or gel) their hair, but salons seem as prone to up-selling their male customers as female ones.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


But I wasn't saying comic-book stores have no customers. Just that a subset of men who really don't spend beyond essentials does exist, and that the real-life equivalent of that group is one place to find it. Anyway, not all of the "BBT" guys are American, and there are some Americans in the sciences.

For our generation? We haven't gone totally gray yet, or at all! The one friend of mine who went gray early did dye it, but that seems another issue - it's different to be gray at 22 than 52.

Britta said...

Well, growing up around Scandinavians & former hippies (overlapping but slightly separate groups) in the PNW, going to a liberal arts college, and now being in academia might skew my perception on what is required for women. I was taught how to put on eyeliner by my boss at age 24, during my brief foray into the world of upscale wedding retail. Even there, in Portland's Yuppiest neighborhood, dress code was no jeans, eyeliner & lip gloss.

But anyways, I absolutely don't deny that women, and 'ethnic' women in particular, must work harder to get to the same place white men are (Iris Marion Young writes that the default is white, male, N. European, slender, heterosexual, and the more one deviates, the more one has to work to be 'respectable'). I do think though, that drawing a line between what is necessary to get ahead in one's career, what one feels comfortable doing, what one does to feel pretty to oneself and what one does to feel pretty for others are very hard to separate out. For example, shaving armpit hair might not be necessary to get ahead in a conservative field where one's armpits will never be revealed, like banking, however my guess is most female bankers shave their armpits and would claim its a necessity. A brazillian wax is never necessary outside of sex work to be take seriously as a career, yet thousands of women do so. One could claim shaving armpits and waxing pubes are necessary in the NY elite dating world, and a female banker generally wants to marry a man who only wants a completely groomed woman. One could claim one needs to shave one's armpits because it feels uncomfortable to have armpit hair, even if no one ever sees it. Once we start going this route, the line between 'needs to' and 'doing it for the patriarchy' and 'wants to' all start to blend together.*

It also gets into the question of 'pretty privilege,' which is how much does prettiness factor into conventional success, and so how much energy should be spent into looking pretty as opposed to focusing efforts on career or other things, at least in fields outside those which rely on looks.

*I also recognize places like Investment Banks are basically overgrown frat houses, with sexist requirements left over from the 50s. I would not be surprised if female investment bankers have to look like Barbie, regardless of their talent, to get ahead in certain places, and I think this sort of thing is best addressed by class action lawsuits over telling women to make a stand. However, I would like to think places like this are more the exception than the norm.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I thought Scandinavian (or just German?) women used beauty products, but only skincare, not makeup, and with lots of 'health'/'natural' logos, etc.? And what about Swedish women's blondness of dubious origin, as first reported on, yes, Into The Gloss? Although I could see how the hippie angle would cancel that out.

Britta said...

Well, it's not that women in Scandinavia aren't vain, but there's only so much organic birch moisturizer you can rub on your skin, and while the lotions are pricey, they don't come close to high end fancy creams like Le Mer. I think a good analogy is REI--the stuff is expensive and despite the claims of people who shop there (inc. me!) mostly unnecessary for daily life, but not compared to designer stuff. So, wearing an $80 microfiber shirt to the grocery store is a little ridiculous, but not on the same scale of ridiculousness as wearing an $800 shirt is. Also, if the standard is looking make-up free, the low end is actually being makeup free, and the high end is spending a lot to look make-up free. In contrast, in Italy, where looking made-up is required, the low-end is to buy cheap makeup or only be slightly made up (my boyfriend's hippie, communist, feminist-activist mom still wears full eye makeup, foundation, and lipstick, and she still looks 'naked' compared to all her communist, feminist, non-hippie friends, who probably take about 45 mins to get ready in the morning).

A caveat is my family is mostly Norwegian (though I am partly Swedish), and so extrapolation from Norwegian women is closer than from US or Italian women, but I think there are some differences. I would say there's extra pressure on Swedish women to be hot and blonde in a way that's not quite the case for other N. Europeans, since "Swedish" is apparently synonymous for "hot" in a way "Norwegian" or "Dutch" isn't. As much as Swedish women scoff at the stereotype and point out that plenty of Swedes have dark coloring and in no way resemble the Swedish bikini club, no one wants to break the stereotype by being actually ugly.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I'm not sure I'd make a distinction between visible and invisible primping when it comes to vanity, expenditure, etc. It really isn't just moisturizer - there are so, so many things sold as skincare 'essentials,' I don't know about Norwegian women's approach to this, of course, just that makeup can mean lipstick, while no makeup can be toner, serum, special face-wash, special eye-cream, all manner of anti-aging products, etc. I guess I'm not really following your point re: La Mer. Yes, there are super-high-end skin-care products, and all the way down to Vaseline. But I don't know of any country, or even milieu, where La Mer would be the norm. I mean, maybe Scandinavian women spend less on skincare-and-makeup-combined than other women, but I'm not sure a) if that's what you're claiming, and b) what the evidence is. Far, far too tired to Google this.

Anyway, I think what you wrote above re: the further one gets from thin white man, etc., plays into the discussion of Scandinavian women as low-maintenance. If you already have - or if someone of your ethnicity is assumed to naturally have - blond hair, etc., you get the benefit not only of whichever admired features, but also of appearing to lack vanity. If I were not half-asleep, I'd finish this thought properly, but in terms of Italian women... when is visible makeup vanity (wanting to be beautiful one's self, to be more beautiful than others, to attract a mate), and when is it about signifying membership to a broader culture?

Britta said...


I did some preliminary googling, and it appears this is a case where Sweden really is different from the other Nordic countries. According to a 2007 market research report, when controlled for purchasing power parity, Swedish expenditures on cosmetics (inc. skincare/suncare, haircare, makeup, fragrance, and toiletries) is 7th in the EU, Norway's is 13th, Finland's is 18th, and Denmark's is 19th. Likewise, % of consumption spent on cosmetics climbed in Sweden between 2000-2006 from under 0.9% to almost 1.1%, higher than France and Italy, whose expenditures dropped from 1.16 & 1.06% to about 1.03% . Spain & "new Europe" all spend a significantly higher percentage on makeup (between 1.3-1.5%, with some variation), the low countries are at about 1%, and Germany & the other Nordic countries are a bit below 0.9%. Ireland's was the lowest, at 0.7%, and had dropped quite a bit from 0.84% in 2000, which might be an early effect of the financial crisis.

But anyways, it does appear that Swedish women (and men) have started to spend increasingly more on their appearance in the past decade, particularly in the realm of skincare and haircare, and their spending is looking more like that of France & Italy rather than their Nordic neighbors.

Britta said...

But anyways, separate from any particular spending habits, I would say there's a difference between looking pretty and looking respectable (though it might be a fuzzy line). With the latter, beauty/grooming regimes are an actual necessity to keep one's job, e.g., black women having to relax hair to conform with dress codes against 'natural' hair, straightening and hiding gray hairs if you're a TV anchor or an image conscious profession, or even wearing enough makeup to show you've put in an effort demanded in many white collar professions. I would say looking pretty isn't strictly necessary for career enhancement, although it may have indirect benefit. In most professions, looking one's age instead of 10 years younger isn't really a career killer, and having dark blond hair isn't considered unkempt, but most women spend money and effort trying to look younger, and most women with dark blond bleach or highlight their hair.

Getting back to beauty, I think, in places where looking 'natural' is what's valued, it's easier to look 'respectable' without putting in much effort, even though most women would rather spend a lot more time and effort in order to look pretty. In other words, no one knows if you use organic eye cream every night, so you can skip it if you don't care about eye wrinkles, but you can't skip eyeliner or hair straightening without people noticing and judging.