Courtesy of The New York Times
Fashion Triumph: Deflecting the Male Gaze
By IRINA ALEKSANDER
LEANDRA MEDINE, a fashion blogger who lives with her parents on the Upper East Side, was thumbing through the hangers in her bedroom closet on a recent Monday morning, pulling out the sort of items that she calls “sartorial contraceptives”: a blouse with erect shoulder pads from Zara; a floral, curtainlike blazer by Zimmermann; high-waisted lime green trousers by Opening Ceremony; drop-crotch utility pants; an ostrich-feather miniskirt; a cape.
Since April, Ms. Medine, 21, has been publishing photos of herself wearing these pieces on her blog, the Man Repeller, as well as shots of similarly challenging recent runway looks: fashions that, though promoted by designers and adored by women, most likely confuse — or worse, repulse — the average straight man. These include turbans, harem pants, jewelry that looks like a torture instrument, jumpsuits, ponchos, furry garments resembling large unidentified animals, boyfriend jeans, clogs and formal sweatpants.
Glossy magazines have taken notice. Lucky has asked Ms. Medine to guest-blog. Harper’s Bazaar assigned Ms. Medine a feature in its December issue titled, “Can You Be in Fashion and Still Get a Man?” And women in New York who have become fans of her blog have begun using it as a verb, as in, “I am totally man-repelling today.”
“I’m really happy that people understand that man-repelling is a good thing,” Ms. Medine said, seated on a velvet blue sofa in her parents’ living room. “I was afraid people would think I was mocking fashion, and it’s like, ‘No, I swear, I’m wearing feathered sleeves as I write this!’ ”
Growing up, Ms. Medine attended Ramaz, the private Jewish Orthodox prep school, where she had to wear a uniform. Now a senior at the New School majoring in journalism, she said she always wanted to start a fashion blog, but “didn’t want to be just another personal style blogger wearing a sequined minidress on the High Line.” Last year, inspiration struck while visiting Topshop with her friend Rachel Strugatz, an online editor at Women’s Wear Daily. “We were laughing at how everything was so man-repelling: acid-washed harem pants and enormous shoulder pads, and I just said, ‘That’s it! That’s the blog,’ ” Ms. Medine said.
As for whether she’s dating anyone, Ms. Medine declined to comment. “I think men like things tight and simple,” she said. “It’s not even about slutty, tiny dresses from Bebe because that’s not very becoming of a woman either. But to guys, harem pants don’t exactly shape the body, shoulder pads are unusual because you look like a linebacker and sequins are a cry for attention.”
On this day Ms. Medine, a brunette with big brown eyes and a tanned complexion, was dressed in skinny brown jeans and an oversized gray sweater with fringes and braided fabric along the arms. “I wore this sweater on a date once, and he was like, ‘Can’t you just wear a regular jacket?’ ” she said. “I guess it looks a bit like a throw pillow.”
Around her neck were pretty pendants layered with biker chains; her father owns a wholesale jewelry business. “I get it from my dad too,” Ms. Medine said, meaning negative feedback. “When I wear the Opening Ceremony bow wedges, he says, ‘Your feet look like trucks!” But if you go to the Jane and you’re wearing enormous harem pants and a turban, people are like, ‘Oh, that girl is really cool.’ ”
Although designers like Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera loyally cater to the classic female silhouette, Ms. Medine contends that now more than ever before, designers are pushing boundaries in ways that might turn off the average man. “This past Chanel collection had all those outrageous grizzly suits, and even Jason Wu had turbans running down his runways,” she said.
Ms. Medine attributed this to the attention that bloggers pay to fashion personalities. “So much of the inspiration for designers has been that someone like Anna Dello Russo” — the fashion director of Vogue Nippon who replicates looks from the runway — “has been pushing limits so much,” she said.
Ms. Medine’s mother, Laura, popped in wearing easily comprehensible leggings and a blue sweater. “Oh, that’s my Mommy!” Ms. Medine said.
“I think she tapped into something here,” said the blogger’s mother, who was leaving for a yoga class. “She is relating fashion to feminism. She is saying women dress for themselves.”
“We used to shop together and she bought snakeskin pants once,” Ms. Medine recalled fondly. “She said, ‘Dad is going to make me return them.’ ”
“I really used to dress for my girlfriends,” Mrs. Medine said. “And my husband would say, ‘What is that? And I would say, ‘What do you know!’ ”
There is a bit of Cindy Sherman in what Ms. Medine is doing: proudly obstructing the male gaze by disguising her body with androgynous or intimidating silhouettes. And perhaps there is someone out there who will be able to discern it as wearable art.
“I do think there are men who would see a girl wearing this stuff and think, ‘She has so much confidence and she still looks great despite the fact that I don’t know where her crotch starts in those pants,’ ” she said. “You can still tell when a girl is pretty. The men who really get repelled by what you’re wearing are a little shallow, and you probably don’t want to date them anyway.”