Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Defense of a Scandalous Fashion

Every now and then from the vasty brilliance of a great mind some inane, foolish, or just plain wrong opinion will emerge, reminding us all that even the most brilliant of men are still human. Aristotle and infanticide. St. Thomas Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception. C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. You can certainly come up with your own examples.

When I was a little bit younger this used to worry me. After all, if great philosophers and theologians could make mistakes, how much more likely was it that I was wrong in some of my most cherished opinions? Then I told myself what the heck, and decided that as long as I'd mulled a thing over and was pretty sure I was right I might as well say what I thought. Everybody else does it, jah?

But every now and then I find myself so out of step with other usually reasonable people that I find myself reassessing an opinion. If C.S. Lewis and Aristotle could be wrong, why not me? Every great thinker has a blind spot, a prejudice, a beam to which their enemies’ follies are but motes. These past few weeks have helped me to uncover mine: Bare Shoulders.

Don't try this at home.

Let me be clear (in despite of the lovely, confusing, but not wholly virtuous Deborah Kerr): I speak not of completely bare shoulders, or even of mostly bare shoulders, that suspenseful gravity-defying look that seems to work well on screen but strikes me as a wee bit too daring for real life. No, I speak of the little half-moon of bare shoulder that occurs when a girl (or guy; we must be fair) wears a sleeveless shirt. Just to be clear, we'll call it "sleevelessness". Apparently, according to some traditionally religious people, it is borderline inadvisable to go sleeveless in general, and pretty much a no-no to go sleeveless in church. To be sure, I’ve encountered this other places as well. Costco, for instance, won’t let its food sample servers go sleeveless. (Before anyone gushes over how family-friendly that makes them, let me tell you that it has zero to do with modesty and everything to do with the USDA.) My beloved alma mater, which trumpets a list of rules that warms my heart (e.g., single-sex dorms, curfew, and a no-movies-except-on-weekends policy) had one rule that always irked me: no sleeveless tops in class or chapel.

What, may I ask, is so terrifying about the top of a female arm? If there something dragonish about a lady who wears a modest Laura Ashley sundress and a big straw hat to Mass? Will I be tempting my coworkers if I forget to put that sweater back over my sleevelessness before heading for the water cooler? Seriously? It’s not as if there’s anything particularly feminine about shoulders. Men have them too, last time I checked—metaphorically less available, to be sure, but anatomically quite in place. Are shoulders blazingly attractive in women? More so than, say, hands or eyes? (Hey—maybe that’s the real reason behind Miss Hepburn’s gloves and glasses!)

But then again—no sleeves ...

Of course, there is the counterexample of the midriff. I understand why modest women want to cover that even in beachwear, while men are allowed more exposure. For one thing, visually speaking, covering only a woman’s distinctively feminine parts actually draws more attention to those very parts. But I fail to see how baring part of the shoulder draws attention to anything except ... part of the shoulder. My gracious, what a big biceps you have … ? Nope. Don’t see it. A bit of shoulder peeking out from a white chapel veil is shocking because it’s rare, not because it’s wrong; sultry because it’s scandalous, not scandalous because it’s sultry.

So, until the day when it is demonstrated otherwise to me, I will continue to hold to the bear shoulder as an innocent, natural display of a body part that—unlike, say, the tongue—never did anyone much harm. And I will continue to bare my shoulders proudly. After all, there’s not much the First Lady and I have in common, and I’ll take what I can get.


  1. Haha, I think I agree with you in general. Is this a fashion blog now?

  2. I decline to answer on the grounds that it might embarrass me.