As fashion changes its colours, silhouettes and inspirations for another season, designers have looked to the glamorous side of the forties; with the elegance of the war decade referenced at Gucci, Lanvin, Donna Karan and Louis Vuitton for Fall 2011/2012.
Miuccia Prada took her inspiration one step further at Miu Miu, sending out beautifully polished models reminiscent of Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce; in bold shouldered coats and jackets, with matte red lips and combs in their hair. It is a look that requires one to be "fully dressed", all nipped in waists, furs, gloves, pearls and shrugs, tailored pencil skirts and emphasised shoulders - distinctly uneffortless and requiring a commitment to dressing up. Not something that will sit well with a lot New Zealand women.
Like most things in our country's psyche, our approach to dressing and grooming is notoriously low-key. Elegant and polished are not words often used to describe our national aesthetic - we tend to be either quirky and ironic a la Karen Walker or Lonely Hearts, or smarty pants in black layers. There are exceptions of course, with some designers pushing the local chic and feminine agenda - Kate Sylvester, Helen Cherry, Ingrid Starnes and Juliette Hogan - but there is still a distinctly unpolished air to it.
Sylvester's woman always has an undone air about her, and even Hogan's signature well-mannered, ladylike muse has mussed up her hair and smudged her eyeliner over the past couple of seasons. We much prefer to look modestly "undone"; tend to pour scorn on the woman who is rumoured to get her hair done each week, and cynically scoff at another who walks in with impeccable hair and makeup ("she must have a lot of time on her hands..."). But surely rather than vanity, being groomed is simply a reflection of taking pride in your appearance? And isn't consciously looking "undone" just as vain as being polished? As designer and writer Luella Bartley once explained to Lula magazine, imperfection often requires just as much effort as being groomed. "I like a bit of reality, scruffy hair, bitten nails, last night's make-up. Elegantly dishevelled - people can think you're not making the effort but that's the art of it. It may actually be vainer than being totally groomed, but probably more fun."
So what makes a polished woman? And is it time for New Zealand women to begin embracing it? I want to say yes, although I sit here with chipped nail polish and frizzy hair.
Making an effort is required, sure, and good posture counts for a lot too - see Prada's fantastic campaign for their latest Resort collection, featuring models with rod-straight backs and silk scarves with everything. But particularly, it is about an attention to detail and moving on from the attitude of "oh that'll do". The polished woman puts together a 'look'; from her makeup to her socks. She looks after her suede shoes. She is friendly with her local tailor, and is a loyal customer at the drycleaner - her hems are always altered to fit, and her clothes are never creased. She never allows longer than six weeks go by without a visit to her hairdresser (who she has been seeing for a very long time). And no matter how busy she is, she always finds the time to get her nails and eyebrows "done" (or if she's not rolling around in piles of cash, she'll do it herself). Kate Middleton's slavish-like devotion to sheer stockings seems fitting here, as does her penchant for things that match - something that polished women everywhere embrace. Marie-Ann Billens, General Manager of Estee Lauder NZ, symbolises this when explaining the best fashion advice she has ever received. "My mother has always insisted that one never wore suits as separates - one piece may then get cleaned more and then the items will never look as good together. I know all the fashion advice is on mixing and getting as many looks as you can from a limited number of pieces, but I have never yet been able to separate a suit, thanks to her." A sign of a true polished woman.