Department of the lowest common denominator

And now for something completely different. The incomparable Madame Arcati draws our attention to a company called “Dapper Dicks”, which makes… well, there’s no way to say this politely… clothing for the penis.

I kid you not. You know when you see people out walking those wee dogs with beady eyes, and at this time of year the dog often has a coat on it? This is the same idea. There is a one-piece garment, in a coat or jacket style, that you can wrap around your member, as well as a rinky dinky little hat that you can stick on top of John Thomas if you so desire. And a mere snip at $45 a go! How did we ever survive without these ingenious inventions?

But before you commit yourself to a job lot of XXLs, it may be as well to mosey on over to the Dapper Dicks website to get a look at what range they have on offer. It may not surprise you to know that, if you’re looking to outfit your knob tastefully in a sober grey suit or maybe a nice brown Harris tweed with blue twill, you will be disappointed. I’m sorry to say that the Dapper Dicks wardrobe does tend towards the garish.

We start off with a Mafia-style pinstripe, and from then on… you have medical scrubs (tip of the hat to George Clooney), a pirate, a cowboy, a fireman and a GI. You may have noticed a theme developing here, but there is still some way to go – by my reckoning, a Sailor, an Indian, a Cop, a Construction Worker and a Leatherman – before Dapper Dicks can boast a full lineup of Village People.

Who exactly is the target market here, I wonder? As a fun novelty item, I can see it. As a bedroom enhancement, one suspects it might be more likely to rouse the Other Half to uncontrollable laughter than uncontrollable lust. Maybe, to appreciate the concept, you need quite a silly sense to humour to begin with.

On the other hand, I can see it taking off big time with male strippers. If you come on stage dressed as a fireman, stripping off to reveal a junior fireman downstairs would be a neat embellishment for your act. And if the ladies love a man in uniform, a cock in uniform might be worth a punt – at least it would make a change from the boring old posing pouch.

The funniest thing of all about Dapper Dicks, mind, is the warning that “Dapper wear must be removed prior to intercourse.” From the point of view of health and safety, not to mention lurid litigation, some people just need to be told.

One final thought: for their next outfit, it would be a hoot if Dapper Dicks could do a replica Chelsea strip. I’ll want commission for that, mind you.

The Daily Mail goes and supports a feminist cause… well, sort of..

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It really is amazing what you read in the Daily Mail. Interesting, too, in that the paper is both a bastion of moral conservatism and has an enormous female readership. This often leads to a very peculiar take on gender politics.

Yesterday, for instance, saw this big splash:

You could call it a full frontal assault. A group of women are threatening to storm the annual meeting of Marks & Spencer to protest about the store’s policy of charging more for bigger bras.

Underwear in hand, their intention is to confront boss Sir Stuart Rose over what they see as unfair discrimination against larger-than-average ladies.

The row began after M&S started charging an extra £2 for bigger bras on the basis that they require more engineering and materials.

Well, that’s a strong argument in capitalist terms. It doesn’t satisfy the women concerned, though:

A ‘Busts 4 Justice’ campaign was set up on Facebook and quickly garnered support from thousands of bigger-breasted women. Now they have bought shares in M&S to allow them access to the AGM.

The anger of the group has been fired by the leak of an internal email making clear the chain will not bow to pressure to end the ‘big boob surcharge’. It seems the company takes the view that it cannot afford to make the price cut.

And so we see our conservative paper becoming positively militant on the matter of redistribution of underwire. They’re at it again today, with TV’s Ulrika Jonsson weighing in on the subject. Actually, this is perfect for the Mail. They love their campaigns. This is an issue with an immediate appeal to their core readership of middle-class women. And, while one might suggest that for an attractive and supportive undergarment you might be better off heading for the Bravissimo catalogue, M&S looms large in Daily Mail country.

And, what’s more, the arbiter of moral decency is required to illustrate this important story with a double-page spread of buxom young women in their skivvies. Not only that, but they stick this in the middle of the women’s interest section in a way that even the Sun might baulk at.

Yes, a high moral tone, once established, can let you off the hook for all sorts of racy material. Suits you, madam!

Update 8.5.09: I see from today’s paper that M&S have admitted defeat. You cross Daily Mail Woman at your peril.

In defence of bush

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After Galloway’s off-colour remarks on Kylie, maybe it’s unwise for me to turn this blog’s attention to ladies’ front bottoms, but I couldn’t resist Madam Miaow on the HBO series Rome, wherein the female cast (all size zero, natch) have Brazilian waxes of dubious historical accuracy. This is, I suppose, where the ancient Romans’ aversion to pubic hair seems to fit in with modern fashions.

(Incidentally, I refer any readers who haven’t yet seen it to Marc Mulholland’s account of his life in Militant, with its immortal – and quite true – story of Militant’s Ballymena branch putting up posters advertising a “pubic meeting”.)

Louise is correct that the current shaving/waxing mania owes a great deal to the porn industry. In fact, Ariel Levy goes on about this at some length in Female Chauvinist Pigs – I’m sceptical about the whole “raunch culture” thesis, but she is onto something in terms of the pornographication of popular culture, and this obsession on the part of women (and increasingly men) with removing every last follicle of body hair can be taken as a direct consequence of that.

But it was not ever thus, as in the heyday of 1970s porn where women looked like real women, with tummies, cellulite and, yes, big hairy bushes. In fact, a woman like Kay Parker, who had obviously never been near a waxing strip in her life, could be seen in the porn industry as the epitome of sexiness. I’m not sure it would be correct to say that porn was less misogynistic in the old days, but I do think it’s relatively healthier to portray women who look like actual women as opposed to holding up surgically enhanced women who look like blow-up dolls as the standard.

This, of course, has a lot to do with the difference in fashions between the 1970s and today. Don’t even bother with 1970s porn – if you look at legitimate exploitation movies of the same period, you find the same thing. Over in the blaxploitation genre, the wonderfully glamorous Pam Grier’s frequent nude scenes drew attention not just to her spectacular figure, but also to her, ahem, other afro. The late Russ Meyer used to say that one of his biggest battles with the censors, among many, was over Kitten Natividad’s bush, which was just too bushy for the stuffed shirts at the MPAA to cope with.

Today, this all seems like a far-off age. That’s why I found it cheering while watching The Door in the Floor – not a very cheerful film in general – when Mimi Rogers’ brave full-frontal scene came around, to note that Mimi was sporting a neatly trimmed triangular bush. Given that the point of the scene was to show the body of a middle-aged woman who hadn’t been nipped and tucked into oblivion, a trendy wax job would probably have spoiled the effect.

Things change, and not always for the better. The waxing mania seems to be very much a North American fashion, spilling over into Britlandia, while the continental Europeans are less prone to this kind of silliness. Obviously women will do what they want in terms of their appearance, but I can’t help thinking there is something not quite right with a culture that prefers the plastic to the natural.

Divis women revolt over pyjama ban

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To cheers all around, I’ll take a brief break from Respect to deal with the latest row shaking West Belfast. As recounted on the front page of the current Andytown News, residents at the Ardmoulin Mews flats are up in arms at an attempt by the complex’s warden to ban women from wearing pyjamas in communal areas.

This of course is the infamous “Lower Falls tracksuit”, which is however by no means restricted to West Belfast. It’s now become quite the done thing for working-class women to turn their comfy nightwear into casual daywear. In fact, hardly a morning passes when you don’t see women doing their shopping, or leaving their kids off at school, in their pyjamas. And sometimes furry slippers too. So it is little wonder that the Ardmoulin Mews ladies are furious at some pettifogging bureaucratic restriction on their comfy clothing.

Forgive my cynicism, but I think there’s the basis here for a populist campaign. Taking the success of Save Our Barracks as a template, do I hear Save Our PJs?

A small victory for public morality

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Sunrise management wishes to apologise for the ridiculous amount of cheesecake on these pages over the last week. We will endeavour to get this under control, lest this blog turn into Carry On Comrade. (We can’t have Confessions of a Militant, as Tommy Sheridan owns the rights.) But we promise that this time the illustration is actually journalistically justified.

Long-time readers will recall Belfast Telegraph columnist Gail Walker’s crusade against saucy schoolgirls, in particular pupils of Methodist College who had a tendency to walk around town in short skirts. We can report that Gail has secured a victory. As related on yesterday’s Talk Back and carried in today’s Tele, the start of the new school term is seeing a major uniform crackdown by Methody management. The knee-length skirt, we were told, will be rigorously enforced. Sheer stockings will also be banned, although I’m not sure why, as Methody girls seem to prefer the bare-legs-and-spray-tan look. The school will even be providing the girls with a helpful diagram so they know exactly what is acceptable.

All well and good, but as this blog has pointed out, the trend goes well beyond Methody. It is rife in certain schools – mostly middle-class schools, oddly, and more specifically Protestant grammar schools. Catholic schools and working-class Protestant secondaries seem more able to keep a lid on things. St Louise’s may have a reputation as the St Trinian’s of Belfast, but that’s down to boisterous behaviour, not risqué dress.

So I fully expect Gail to broaden out her campaign. With Methody having buckled under, now would be the time to get stuck into Victoria, Bloomfield, Regent and the other schools where a large percentage of the girls insist on wearing skirts up to their arses. Norn Iron’s public morality deserves no less.

Sinn Féin: the polyester years

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RSF commemorations are rum affairs. Largely I think that’s due to the age profile of the crowd, who are usually about 50% old age pensioners and 50% teenagers, with very little in between. But you also get a taste of the old-style republican oratory that is by now nearly extinct, having been elbowed out by Gerryspeak, and the odd glimpse of old-style republican fashion.

Back in the 1970s, the observer at Provisional Ard Fheiseanna would have noticed that the tie reigned supreme. Occasionally there would be a suit, but not too many, as in those days you only had the one suit. Rather you would find corduroy slacks in abundance, and tweed sports coats with leather patches on the elbows. It fit in with the sociology of the movement, with its strong representation of schoolteachers and small farmers, but wasn’t something specific to the Provos. You would see similar dress sense prevailing at Official Ard Fheiseanna, which were a lot more urban and proletarian in their makeup, and at Communist Party Congresses, where most of those in attendance were Belfast Prods with a background in the engineering industry. If there was a sociological element, it was in the broad sense that these movements all had their base among the respectable working class, shading into the lower middle class.

Anyway, a lot of the southern cadre got the shock of their lives around about ’76 or ’77 when the Gerryites started coming down from Belfast in force. There was scarcely a sports coat to be seen amongst them. Gerry himself, and his close acolytes like Morrison and Gibney, affected both the dress and the speech of trendy OU lecturers, while the Belfast rank and file for many years preferred leather jackets and Mexican moustaches. But, wondrous to relate, the jeans and jumpers of the new leaders were supposed to be an index of radicalism. These days, of course, suits are de rigueur for your PSF elected representative, although the humble councillor is more likely to wear Primark than Armani. But, like the late Frankie Howerd, there are a lot of folks who can wear suits but don’t wear them well.

The casual dress craze probably bore some relation to the British far left. My own early memories of going to Britlandia to see the left are hazy on ideology – I didn’t know anything about Stalinism or Trotskyism – but I can clearly recall that Monty Johnstone wore a suit, while Chris Harman wore the unspeakable combination of sheepskin coat and sandals. (Monty was also a much more engaging conversationalist than Chris; I did once own a sheepskin coat, but never combined it with sandals.) Monty, of course, was far from typical of the CPGB membership, but even so, your working-class radical was usually much more respectable in dress than your downwardly-mobile petty bourgeois.

These days, what with dress becoming more casual all round, the idea that political radicals would wear ties seems almost to come from a bygone age. Go into a lefty shindig like the SWP’s Marxism and you’ll find that the men, at least, are dressed like normal working-class men, if a little scruffier and a little less inclined to sportswear and chav jewellery. These days it’s the women who stand out, as leftist women have a tendency to dress like 1983-vintage feminists, while your average working-class woman wouldn’t consider going out without her fake tan, heels and push-up bra. It’s a little strange that, while male fashions have converged with time, female ones tend to have diverged.