MODERN LIVING

THE RETURN OF MODESTY

Marjorie Harris January 1 1970
MODERN LIVING

THE RETURN OF MODESTY

Marjorie Harris January 1 1970

THE RETURN OF MODESTY

MODERN LIVING

THE TROUBLE WITH NUDITY was that it showed all that skin. The nude you see at bedtime, either you or your spouse, is hardly as unblemished, as perfectly lit, as beautifully proportioned as what you saw in the magazines, all airbrushed and hairless and graceful. In the flesh, nudity just didn’t work. As a result, Canada and the world are

pulling out of a two-year period of proliferating nakedness, and returning to what wisdom might have told us all along was more alluring — and sexier — than nudity: modesty. Public acceptance of nudity began with fashion. First the miniskirt exposed the bottom half of the body. Then in 1966, Rudi Gernreich, as a witty social comment, a challenge to an inhibited society, exposed the other half in his topless bathing suits and dresses. He didn’t count on his joke launching a revolution in dress. Two years later designers were showing see-through items in all their collections. Exposed breasts, stomachs and backs were fashionable. What fashion began, first movies and then the stage carried to the ultimate extremes. By 1969 nudity was everywhere. Clubs all over Canada

and the United States featured topless go-go dancers, topless female rock bands, topless waitresses and, in California, shoeshine girls. Los Angeles and San Francisco pioneered with topless and bottomless dancing girls and waitresses. By the year’s end they were changing policy, not because morality squads had clamped down, but because there were not enough customers.

In Canada, it’s been the same sort of story. Burlesque has been running continuously in some parts of the country since the 1930s. But it’s been a rule that if a girl moves she has to wear pasties. Last June, the Victory Burlesque in Toronto decided to challenge this. They removed the pasties on the moving girls and waited for the police to descend on them. Nothing happened. Nobody cared. Last year a theatrical group in Toronto put on Futz, a play about a farmer with an unnatural love for his pig. At one point a woman bares her breast onstage. As critic Robert Fulford pointed out: “The fact that the woman bared her breasts had nothing to do with the excitement surrounding Futz It was the arrival of the police that was more important.” /

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Marjorie Harris

THE NEW WOMAN S NOTA NUDE WOMAN

Fashion historian James Laver says that in times of female emancipation women have a tendency to dress more modestly than during other eras. Last year we saw the spread of newly militant feminism, and whether this left a direct impression on Canadian designers is hard to say. This winter’s maxicoat-overtunic-over-trousers might indicate that he has a good point.

The modest look we’ll see in the spring, however, has a good deal more sensuality. Textures are supple, finishes such as the wet look of ciré are extremely sensual. And garments are cut so that underpinnings are unnecessary if you like that sort of freedom. So seXy is the new modesty that our young ladies need protection. Top: weightlifter Earl Mackie looks over a battle jacket and pants by Pat McDonagh for The Re-Establishment, $50; and below left, a crepe pantsuit, again by Pat McDonagh, $45. At far right: football player Vance Davies with a trouser suit and maxicoat by John Warden, $235.

Opposite page: Park Jong Soo, one of world’s leading Tae Kwon-Do experts (that’s the Korean art of self-defense), fends off any complaints about Pat McDonagh’s crochet knit jumpsuit, $35, and dress, $22. Previous pages: dress by Marilyn Brooks, $30, at all Unicorn stores.

his month the musical Hair arrives in Canada. Since things have a tendency to show up rather late here, attitudes toward this production have changed already. Hair started off as an expression of the tribal urges of young people, glorifying their values and their music. When it opens in Toronto this month it will be as a part of the middle-class yearning for a more spontaneous, joyful existence than these young people seem to have achieved.

The kids probably won’t go to see it. By now it’s much too Establishment. But they’d give anything to be in it, as the hundreds who showed up for the October auditions proved. The community Hair portrays exists as the musical does — only while it’s being performed. It provides an identity and the short nude scene is a minor matter to them. Young people just aren't that uptight about the exposure of their bodies.

Nude movies, of course, are still in production — more so, in fact, than ever before. In 1967, according to a recent Playboy survey, 80 direct - exploitation movies — movies for the skin trade — hit North America, produced either here or abroad. Last year: 200. But in movies made for ordinary people, nudity has simply become acceptable. It’s no longer sensational enough to sell tickets, and directors can use sex or nudity precisely the way they can use any other visual device, to further their story lines or develop characterization.

Still, nudity as entertainment may last another season before it self-destructs. But nudity as style has almost had it. Designers have lest interest. So have their clients. For men of the wow-look-atthose-breasts persuasion, seeing Playboy fantasies unfolded at parties has been just a bit too much. As one friend of mine told me in what I didn’t realize until now was an interview for this article: “I’m sick of transparent clothes. I don’t know where to look — at her face, or the floor.

I can’t stare at her breasts until I get to the other side of the room.”

Unless everyone accepts a state of undress spontaneously, with a lack of selfconsciousness, dressing down makes most people uncomfortable. Drama critics in New York and London, where a number of nude plays are running, complain not so much about the use of nudity, as

about the fact that the actors look . . . well, even as you and I, pale and lumpy. Designer Pierre Cardin said during his recent visit to Canada, “If you weren’t ashamed of your body, you’d walk around nude when you felt like it. But fashion is religion, and religions say we must clothe ourselves. Fashion is also social life. Besides, if you had to hide everything that’s ugly, you’d hide everything.”

Which is the point — or at least part of it. The more of themselves that women expose, the less erotic pleasure men seem to find. Anyone who isn’t a voyeur has a saturation point for seeing through seethrough blouses. “What’s great about breasts and even more private areas is when they’re concealed,” one young man says. “But concealed in a beautiful way, when there’s just a hint of their beauty. When it all hangs out, the mystery is dissipated, there’s nothing left to speculate about. That’s if it’s in a public place. Alone, well that’s a different thing.”

How do women feel? When men appear nude in film and on the stage, women have had a chance for the first time to stare and analyze them as men have been doing with the female form for some time. So, alas, it becomes just that — a form to analyze. And the analysis of form just isn’t very sexy. For the New Feminists, whose militance, however strident, has bespoken much truth, the see-through fad has been as much of an abomination as beauty contests or the mindlessness of Playboy bunnies. Nudity, for them, was just another example of the female being exploited for her body alone, and they will, as I do, applaud its demise. □