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.

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.