When Cathy Horyn wrote a piece in the NYT called “Irony and the Old Lady” she was complaining about women who seem to deliberately wear silly clothes after the age of 50. The complaint was picked up in The Cut, which posed the question “Can Women Over 50 Pull Off Ironic Fashion?”
I think the real question should be: Why don’t these writers know what irony is? Is everybody Alanis Morissette all of a sudden?
Ms. Horyn seems to mean over-the-top when she alludes to ironic fashion. She cites Anna Piaggi, who is way, way over the top. But is Piaggi being ironic? She is, if she finds her own look ridiculous and isn’t letting on. But if she dresses to please herself and to make the statement that More is More, that’s not being ironic!
Then, Ms. Horyn considers socks-with-heels, and vintage straw hats. She doesn’t like them, but why does she find them ironic? Maybe she thinks ironic means, stuff she doesn’t like.
The examples of older women dressing ironically in The Cut include Cher, who just has bad taste, and Diane Keaton, whose style is extremely eccentric. Where’s the irony?! Then the author gives us Vivienne Westwood, who looks glamorous and punky as always, and decides, Yes! She can pull it off. Again, Vivienne has a distinctive style, but where’s the irony?
A long time ago, I thought it was funny to wear t shirts advertising bands I hated. Then one day I explained to my husband that I was wearing some hideous floral printed jeans because a friend gave them to me and they were SO OBVIOUSLY something I would never wear. Haha, get it? Neither did my husband. He pointed out that I was simply having a joke with myself that no one else was in on. Oops! I was being too ironic for my own good, at that point.
Last night I watched Ghost World for the millionth time, and even though I’ve come to accept the ending as inevitable instead of heart-breaking, I was struck anew by how much I identify with Enid. Still.
Enid’s outfits are all ironic. Each item looks carefully picked for its irony factor. She works hard at it, too. Remember when she goes to the trouble of dying her hair green, but nobody gets her ironic reference to “original 1977 punk” fashion? Poor Enid. “Everybody’s stupid!” is her stance toward the world, especially when they don’t appreciate her studied irony.
If what you’re wearing says “You probably think I mean this but I don’t!” then you are being ironic. If you just look like you don’t know how awful you look (Betsey Johnson, Cher, Madonna at the Met) then you are a victim of bad judgment. Period, godammit.
For an essay on the meaning of irony, go here.