Resistance is futile: the sparkles of Christmas fashion are coming to get you

The only way to fight back against the yuletide bling epidemic is to include the male half of the population in it too.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again, ladies. With Christmas a mere month away, you’ll notice something happening in magazineland - and it definitely bears a striking resemblance to tinsel. Betwixt the Christmas Gift Guides in all their unimaginative - not to mention stubbornly sexist -  glory (who wants oven gloves for Christmas? Not your mum. Seriously) and the ads for psychic hotlines, the fashion pages are suddenly starting to look awfully… bling. Look at them directly and you could go blind - which would be a shame considering how, according to Grazia, it’s prime time to "get your party look nailed", a goal which naturally requires five whole weeks, a bumper edition of the latest three Conde Nasties, and the cold, focused meticulousness of a serial killer.

Fashion magazines love a good Christmas party because it gives them another "scenario" to work with, and having an outfit formula for every conceivable eventuality in a gal’s life is how they like to roll. Except it rarely is every conceivable eventuality: while magazines have been telling you what to wear on a first date or a jaunt to London Fashion Week or a holiday to Ibiza for years, they rarely tell you what to wear for everyday life, especially for those little troughs such as signing on, walking in on your boyfriend sleeping with someone else, attending your dad’s awkward fourth wedding or giving evidence in court, ie scenarios in which an appropriate outfit is actually important. It’s OK though, babes, because at least you’re sorted for your Christmas office party. Nothing says "regretful shag waiting to happen" like the word "sequins", although, to be fair, at least the things are wipe-clean.

Just why women are expected to truss themselves up like walking baubles for most of December remains something of a mystery to us. Granted, unless you’re an extra in a ruthlessly middle class and tediously tasteful John Lewis advert, the festive period always necessitates a certain surrendering of elegance. This may lead some of you to question whether or not the tyranny of bling is actually a feminist issue at all, and not one of aesthetics. And yet, if the blokes aren’t doing it (and Italians don’t count), then there’s definitely something to bitch about on our part. The maxim "diamonds are a boy’s best friend" has been little heard outside of the Liberace homestead, after all.

Just as the end of November signals the end to your sanity (if the tinsel jumpsuits don’t do it, then the approaching proximity of your inevitably dysfunctional relatives surely will), the annual date has now passed when it was commonplace to raise an eyebrow at a skirt that incorporates fairy lights. That sort of thing is basically expected from now until New Year, and bling is officially everywhere. While bedazzled ensembles were once limited to Las Vegas showgirls, now we’re being told to buy outfits that would make the line-up on Dancing on Ice look positively funereal. But having endured the body-glitter obsessed nineties and lived to tell the tale, all this glitz is just proving too much. Whatever happened to the little black dress? To understated chic? Or even to slinging on a loose-fitting jumper, stuffing your face with mince pies, and saying to hell with angel-shaped earrings as you kick back with your seventeenth glass of Sainsbury’s Basics Cava? Presumably all of these "normal person" ideas got fed to Paris Hilton’s chihuahua sometime back in the noughties, because there’s nothing to see here.

Just who is to blame remains unclear. Is it hip hop (that usual suspect in the society blame game)? Marilyn Monroe? Harvey Winston? TOWIE? The fact is, at some point in the not too distant past, shadowy (for they are always shadowy) product developers and marketers must have decided that women were in need of more sparkly shit, stat. We’ve moved on from what our Grandmas called "paste jewellery" to iPhone covers, dog leads, sex toys (ouch) and even vaginas, all of which are surfaces we’re told are markedly improved (and rendered a thousand times more "girly") by the presence of cubic zirconium. That so many women were openly resistant to the glittery tat pervading our society seems to have had little impact on the pace of the production, to the point where many of us are now stoically resigned to the sparkle. 

Because the problem is, despite bling’s apparent popularity, any woman who’s ever been on a shopping trip will tell a different story. How many times has she homed in on what looks like the perfect item, only to utter a disappointed "oh…" when some vile embellishment is revealed beneath the shop’s fluorescent lighting? Just as our female predecessors would sigh and say "oh well, perhaps I can just cut the shoulder pads out", modern women everywhere are picking at the additional diamanté pockets on their jeans and hoping that the fucking things will just drop off. It’s hard enough finding a nicely cut t-shirt without having to worry about guerrilla glitter. Nevertheless, high street designers across the country seem set in the mentality that you just aren’t celebrating properly unless your dress looks like it’s been spaffed on by Daniel Swarovski. And unfortunately, girls, resistance is futile.

The only solution must surely be to bring the dazzle, razzle, and vajazzle to the male half of the population, thus uniting them in our suffering. Perhaps only once the menz are bulk-bought designer moisturiser "with added Christmas shimmer" and confronted with the very real possibility of a pejazzle (or better still, a sexy pair of discoballs) can we coordinate an effective resistance. Until then, the only thing we can do is choose not to shop at Lipsy. Unless you’re attending a Christmas fancy dress party in the guise of Elton John at this year’s Jubilee Concert (in which case, fair play to you), then there really is no need for that rainbow sequined suit jacket with the superfluous golden zip. It comes with a one way ticket to the Help the Aged shop, as do those disco knickers that Grazia told you to buy. As usual, women’s magazines are mocking us - and as usual, we will strive our hardest not succumb. So you won’t see us stocking up on recommendations from the latest "yuletide fashion" pages this week. Not even for Christmas.

Seriously, why does everything have to sparkle at this time of year? Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Getty
Show Hide image

There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.