When I was a teenager, I used to love reading the weekend papers and magazine supplements. In the Good Weekend, I loved Maggie Alderson’s musings on style and Stephanie Dowrick’s philosophy; in the Sunday Telegraph it was Melissa Hoyer and the illicit thrill of Ruth Ostrow (whose sex column was always good school bus fodder).
Back then, Hoyer wrote an advice column of sorts as part of her fashion page, responding to readers’ sartorial quandaries. Meeting her at an event on Wednesday night, it all came flooding back.
Me: “OMG, I loved you column! When I was 16, I was going to write in to asking for advice. I wanted to know how I could dress differently to stop attracting creepy old men and start attracting guys my own age instead.”
Melissa Hoyer: “Er, I don’t think I would have been able to help you with that one.”
Sixteen-year-old girls unfortunately being something of a magnet for creepy older men. And “creepy old men” constituting to me at 16 pretty much anyone who had graduated from high school.
As I’ve written on more public records before, my late high school “style” was ostensibly built on that of Cameron Diaz: short skirts and dresses, moderately high heels, cardigans and neck scarves.
If I’d been doing it 10 years later, they might have called me a victim of “raunch culture”, but as I wrote in the aforelinked article, I wasn’t doing it to be “sexy”. The only kind of sexual attention I was interested in at that point was the “safe”, innocuous, loving kind now captured best by Justin Bieber. What I wanted to be (among many other things, of course) was beautiful, with a sense of style on par with those featured in Who (or People) magazine’s annual best dressed list.
At the time, I had come to the conclusion that the reason I was attracting more attention from men who were 18 or 20+, right through to 40 or so, than guys my own age (the ones I was actually interested in) was because I dressed in manner that was too “adult”. I wanted to write to Hoyer because I was searching for a way to reconcile my desire to dress in clothes that I felt an aesthetic affinity with, with my desire not be designated an “adult” - an identity I was far from ready to take on at 16 - or a piece of meat because of it.
It was a question that was about far more than fashion, though - and I suspect that’s the reason Hoyer told me she wouldn’t have been able to answer it (although I like to think she would have been touched had I ever sent it off). At its heart, it was a question from a girl/young woman trying to come to terms with and navigate her own objectification.