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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Is TTIP a threat or an opportunity?

TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US - we should keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Barack Obama made it abundantly clear during his visit to the UK that if Britain left the European Union then it would be quite some time before we would be able to negotiate a trade deal with the United States. All the more reason to examine carefully what the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will mean for the UK. For Labour this is especially important because a number of trade unionists and Party members have expressed concerns about what TTIP could mean.

The economic worth of such a partnership between the European Union and the US has been questioned and it has been frequently stated that TTIP could give multinational companies unprecedented influence and undermine the British NHS.

With regard to the economic benefits of TTIP there are few that would argue that there are no economic gains to be achieved through the partnership. The question is to what extent economic growth will be stimulated. On the positive side the European Commission has argued that an agreement could bring economic gains of between €68 billion to €119 billion per year to the EU (0.3% to 0.5% of GDP) and €50 billion to €95 billion (0.2% to 0.4% of GDP) to the US. For Britain, this means that an agreement could add up to £10 billion annually to the UK economy.

On the negative side, a study commissioned by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament has maintained that TTIP would bring only “limited economic gains”. These gains have to be weighed, it was argued, against the “downside risks”. Those risks have been identified as coming from the alignment of standards in areas such as consumer safety, environmental protection and public health.

These are important concerns and they should not be quickly dismissed. They are made all the more important because the existence of already low tariffs between the EU and the US make the negotiations to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade all the more significant.

There are a number of areas of concern. These include food standards and the regulation of GM crops and the worry that the EU’s focus on applying the environmental precautionary principle might be weakened. The European Commission, which has a responsibility for negotiating TTIP on behalf of the EU, is however acutely aware of these concerns and is mindful of its legal responsibility to uphold, and not to in any way weaken, the agreed legal standards to which the EU adheres. A concern has been expressed that irrespective of what European law may say, TTIP could undermine those standards. This I find difficult to accept because the ‘rule of law’ is absolutely central to the negotiations and the adoption of the final agreement.

But the EU is mindful of this concern and has brought forward measures which have sought to address these fears. The latest proposals from the Commission clearly set out that it is the right of individual governments to take measures to achieve public policy objectives on the level that they deem appropriate. As the Commission’s proposal states, the Agreement shall not affect the right of the parties to regulate within their own territories in order to achieve policy objectives including “the protection of public health, safety, environmental or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity”.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there should not be vigilance, but equally I believe it would be wrong to assume the theoretical problems would inevitably become reality.

The main area of concern which has been expressed in Britain about TTIP relates to the NHS and the role of the private sector. Under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions investors would be able to bring proceedings against a foreign government that is party to the treaty. This would be done in tribunals outside the domestic legal system. If a Government is found to be in breach of its treaty obligations the investor who has been harmed could receive monetary compensation or other forms of redress.

The concern is that the ISDS arrangements will undermine the ability of democratically elected governments to act on behalf of their citizens. Some have maintained that measures to open up the NHS to competition could be made irreversible if US companies had to be compensated when there is a change of policy from a future Labour Government.

In response to these concerns the European Commission has proposed an Investor Court System. This would be based on judgements being made by publicly appointed and experienced judges and that cases would only be brought forward if they were precisely defined. Specifically, it is proposed that cases would be limited to targeted discrimination on the basis of gender, race or religion, or nationality, expropriation without compensation or the denial of justice.

Why, you might ask, is there a need at all for a trans-national Investor Court System? The reason in part lies in the parlous state of the judicial systems in some of the relatively recent EU accession countries in Eastern Europe. To be frank, it is sadly the case that there are significant shortcomings in the judiciary of some countries and the rule of law is, in these cases, more apparent than real. It is therefore not unreasonable for investors to have an international framework and structure which will give them confidence to invest. It should also be noted that there is nothing proposed in TTIP which contradicts anything which is already in UK law.

We need to remember too that this is not only about US investment in Europe, it is also about European investment in the US. No US-wide law prohibits discrimination against foreign investors, and international law, such as free trade and investment agreements like TTIP, cannot be invoked in US courts. The Investor Court System would therefore benefit European companies, especially Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. 

It is of course impossible to come to a definitive conclusion about these provisions because the negotiations are ongoing. But it would surely be unwise to assume that the final agreement would inevitably be problematic.

This is especially true regarding the NHS. Last year Unite the Union commissioned Michael Bowsher QC to provide an opinion. His opinion was that “TTIP does pose a threat to a future government wishing to take back control of health services”. The opinion does not express a view on whether TTIP will “force” the privatisation of the health service (as some have claimed) and Bowsher admits that much of the debate is “conducted at a rather speculative level” and he has been unable to produce any tangible evidence to support his contention about future problems. On the other hand, it is the case that there is nothing in the proposed agreement which would alter existing arrangements for compensation. There are of course many legal opinions which underpin the view that existing legal arrangements would continue. While I accept that it is theoretically possible for the Bowsher scenario to occur, it is nevertheless extremely improbable. That is not to say that there ought not to be watertight safeguards in the agreement, but let us not elevate the extremely improbable to the highly likely.

A frequently heard criticism of TTIP is that the negotiations between the US and the EU are being conducted in ‘secret’.  Greenpeace, for example, has strongly sought to make this a central part of their campaign.  Although the Commission publishes EU position papers and negotiating proposals soon after they are tabled, it is impossible to see how complex negotiations of this kind can be practically conducted in public.  However, I believe that the draft agreement should be made public well before the final decisions are taken.

Once the negotiations have been concluded, the draft agreement will be presented to the European Council and the European Parliament, both of which have to agree the text. The European Council is, of course, made up of representatives of the governments of the EU and the European Parliament is democratically elected. Both Houses of the British Parliament will also debate the draft and there will need to be parliamentary approval of the agreement.

Transparency and democratic scrutiny are two things which there cannot be too much of. But, in practical terms, it is difficult to see how there could be more of either without making it nigh on impossible to secure such a complex agreement. Unite, of which I am a member, and others are quite right to express their concerns about TTIP, but let’s not exaggerate the potential difficulties and let’s not assume that the worst case scenario will always come about. TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US, and we should therefore at least keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Wayne David is the Labour MP for Caerphilly and is Shadow Minister for Political Reform and Justice. He is a former Shadow Europe Minister and was a junior minister in the last Labour government.