Crocs and Socks

The Washington Post’s fashion correspondent, Robin Givhan, took some flak from feminist bloggers in the past for her coverage of Nancy Pelosi and Condaleezza Rice.

Givhan’s beat is to write about clothing and fashion (although not necessarily both at once), and I get the impression that although she gets a kick out of covering the latest catwalk shows in Milan, she’s not interested in only writing about haute couture*. One of the topics she frequently takes on is to analyze the social significance of clothing — and because she’s a DC based writer, she analyzes the social significance of clothing vis-a-vis power. It’s extremely difficult to write about the social significance of what powerful women are wearing, because for a very long time, there weren’t any powerful women, only women in supporting roles to powerful men. Because one of the jobs of those women was to be decorative, it was perfectly acceptable to write about their clothes. So when you write about the clothes of powerful women, you have to be careful not to imply that you think the women should have a decorative function.

Givhan succeeds at this in no small part because she is equally as likely to deconstruct the fashion choices of powerful men.

Hence today’s article on Bush’s choice to pair socks with crocs.

Givhan’s major focus is on the shoes.

The shoes can look cute on children. But all those adults walking around in Crocs, going on about how comfortable they are, look like overgrown children. They are like the workday Peter Pans who carry backpacks in the city. Not grown-up leather backpacks, but the kind made of nylon with water bottles stuck inside a web of bungee cords and a canister of Bear Be Gone hanging off the side. They have mistaken their walk to the office for a climb to the summit of the Grand Tetons.

Why, oh why, must people assimilate perfectly reasonable, functional and cheeky sports attire into street clothes? Why couldn’t they keep their Crocs on the boat or in the garden?

Oddly, she barely touches on the socks, merely commenting that crocs were originally designed as boat shoes, so socks are superfluous, and that “[t]he combination makes one think of an old man on his way to the beach.”

In the UK, socks and sandals are a fairly potent signifier. They are worn by people who in Australia would be called dags. The critical core of the stereotype is that the socks-and-sandal wearer is socially inept, unaware of the norms of sartorial behavior (which is quite different to a stance of being aware but not caring, which is to be admired). The closest US equivalent signifier that I can manage to bring to mind is the pocket protector, and even that has achieved some level of geek chic — although I suspect these folks are trying to bring something similar to the s&s brigade:

Is that a great photo or what?

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*Even when she is writing about the rarefied air of Snooty Fashion Week, she manages to keep her feet on the ground. She looks to runway shows as predictors of what will translate to accessible RTW collections and thinks in terms of how ordinary women will react to their translation to street wear. She’s also been critical of the CFDA’s “voluntary” health plan to combat eating disorders in the modelling industry.

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4 Responses to “Crocs and Socks”

  1. Casual Friday IV « Smart Tart Says:

    […] Is Teh Tacky. Via The Coracle, the Washington Post has ridiculed President Bush’s recent footwear choice (Crocs with […]

  2. Paul Sullivan Says:

    I’m diabetic and hence suffer from neuropathy in my feet. Crocs are recommended for this condition and so I wear them a lot, yes (horror of horrors) even in the street sometimes.

    It’s a pity that some people have nothing better to think about than fashion and what other people look like.

  3. annaphor Says:

    By “some people”, do you mean me, or Givhan?

    I think you’ve rather missed the point. I never said you shouldn’t wear Crocs — go for your life. The post is about analysis of the social significance of clothing — a topic which has the potential to shed light on the inner workings of social identity and group membership. And the cross-cultural differences in the interpretation of that significance.

  4. Givhan gets it wrong « The Coracle Says:

    […] about the sartorial choices of the inside-the-beltway aristocracy; she’s criticized Cheney, poked fun at Bush, praised Sharpton, and cataloged Abramoff’s meltdown. She took some flack from feminists for […]

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