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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It's time for Jeremy Corbyn's supporters to take on the unions

The union support for expanding Heathrow reflects a certain conservatism. 

The government’s announcement that it will go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow seems to have unlocked an array of demons. It has also created some unlikely alliances. Zac Goldsmith, the pro-Brexit mayoral candidate whose campaign was widely condemned as racist, is seeking to re-invent himself as an environmental champion, campaigning alongside fellow Heathrow MP John McDonnell. And the Richmond byelection which he is triggering could yet become a test case for Labour’s progressive alliance enthusiasts.

But perhaps the most significant position is that of the major unions. To the shock of many less seasoned activists on the left, Unite, the largest trade union in the UK and a consistent supporter of Corbyn’s leadership, has loudly called on the government to “be bold and build” the new runway, even now urging it to accelerate the process. Far from being a revelation, Unite’s position on Heathrow is longstanding – and it points to the lasting power and influence of an establishment trade unionism.

In August, the TUC co-ordinated a joint statement from five unions, urging the government to go ahead with the third runway. Like the rest of the unions’ lobbying efforts, it was coordinated with other pro-expansion stakeholders like the CBI, and it could just as easily have been authored by the business lobby. Heathrow expansion will, it says, “deliver at least £147bn to UK GDP and 70,000 new jobs”. “Trade unions and their members”, said Frances O’Grady, “stand ready to work to help the government successfully deliver this next major national infrastructure project”.

The logic that drives unions to support projects like Heathrow expansion – and which drives the GMB union to support fracking and Trident renewal – is grounded in a model of trade unionism which focuses not on transforming the workplace, but on the narrowly-defined interests of workers – job creation, economic growth and a larger share of the pie. It views the trade union movement not as merely antagonistic to employers, but as a responsible lobbying partner for business and industry, and as a means of mediating workers’ demands in a way that is steady and acceptable to the state and the economic system. This model, and the politics that accompanied it, is why, historically, trade unions were a conservative influence on Labour’s internal politics.

Nothing could be more at odds with the political, environmental and economic realities of the 21st century. It is not in the interests of workers or ordinary people to live on a planet which is slowly becoming uninhabitable. To avoid catastrophic global warming, we need to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground – that probably means shrinking the aviation industry, not expanding Heathrow’s passenger capacity by 70 per cent. All of this is implicitly recognised by Jeremy Corbyn’s environmental and industrial strategy, which aims to create a million new jobs and build a million new homes while switching to renewables and democratising the energy industry.

The gap between Corbyn’s policies and the policies of many major trade unions tells us something deeper about the challenges facing the left. If Corbynism is an unfinished revolution in the Labour Party machine, it is one which has barely started in the wider labour movement.

The gradual leftward shift in many unions’ political allegiances has broadened the alliance around Corbyn and given him strength in numbers and resources, but it is often as much about internal union politics as it is a deep conviction for what Corbyn represents. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis did back Corbyn’s re-election following a ballot of members, but is hardly a left-winger, and the union’s votes on Labour’s NEC are not safely aligned to the left.

The political radicalisation of the unions has been matched, if anything, by a decline in coordinated industrial action. The national strategy that fuelled the anti-austerity movement in 2011 and 2012 is only a memory. The democratic and organising culture in many unions, too, remains bureaucratic and opaque. Trade unions have played a key role in Corbyn’s coalition, but without a significant shift in their internal culture and a shift away from their role as respectable partners of industry, they could easily scupper the project as well. 

The expansion of Heathrow airport is a step backwards for the future of the planet and the interests of ordinary people – and yet, if it happens at all, it will have been made possible by the concerted efforts of key trade unions. This is not an aberration but a reminder that, despite their rhetorical flourishes in support of Corbyn, Britain’s trade unions are also in need of change. Any project that aims to transform the Labour party and wider society must also aim to transform the whole of the labour movement – from the shop floor to the corridors of power.