Style Watch: Dressing Down

Style Watch: Dressing Down

After the first five days, looking at the Conrad Black trial through awards-show glasses becomes difficult. I simply can’t read anything more into a single-breasted suit. Some would say that is the beauty of such apparel; it shuts up all smart talk. It could stop even the beating gums of Joan and Melissa, who have played such a big part in establishing the current practice of public commentary on what people wear. Such is the constancy of Conrad Black’s image that you can see him without having to look at him. That could be considered another victory for the ideal of the 19th-century dandy, who aimed not to be looked at, as if his dress were beyond notice.

As if in return for her variety of wardrobe options, woman endures scrutiny as a matter of course. Hence, in The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown’s account of “a popular courtroom game; checking out the babes,” as if he were sitting in on auditions for the models on Deal or No Deal. Hence, me, down at the reference library looking up, via the antique technologies of microfilm and microfiche, Barbara Amiel’s fashion history.

Apt was a piece by Doug [now George] Fetherling that appeared in Canadian magazine in 1977. It spoke of Amiel as “one of the most striking women in Metropolitan Toronto,” recalled how at school she supported herself as a fashion model (though “I was the wrong shape. They had to tape my bust”), and reported that she spends “no more than $2,500 a year on clothes.”

Last year, writing about The Devil Wears Prada, Amiel herself acknowledged that she once forked over 12 grand for a Saint Laurent trench coat. She took it back the same day, but for at least an hour she was game.

These days, predictably, eyes are out to gauge how Amiel is dressing down for her husband’s trial—the opinion common to analyses of her outfits in The Guardian, National Post and Toronto Sun.

And why wouldn’t she? You’d have to be a real turnip head not to. Besides, just in time for the trial, women’s fashion has been turning away from embellishment toward the inconspicuous. Womenswear is adhering to menswear principles: simple shapes carefully tailored from cloth that matters.

So it has been five days of jackets and trousers, not only on Conrad Black, but also on his wife and daughter. Only small differences are to be noted. Amiel’s jackets have been longer than Alana Black’s; the longer jacket, as it happens, is among the latest in international runway developments. Alana’s pants have been tighter, though perhaps not exactly “exiguous,” a word her father used in reference to trousers in a piece about skirts he wrote for The Daily Telegraph in 1992. Perceiving a trend in longer lengths as the work of “maladjusted factions,” he defended short skirts “around, including somewhat about, the knee.”

To this point in Chicago, there have been no knees. Except for a red shirt here, a green glove there, everything’s been modest and neutral. According to the Globe’s Christie Blatchford, you have to turn to the jury for “the improbably cheerful colours (royal blue, baby blue, lime green, coral, turquoise) of this continent’s big-box malls.”

Over at CTV, on her new show The Verdict, Paula Todd came across all earnest interviewing Joanna Walters, a British journalist on board the elevator in which Amiel lost her cool. Todd asked Walters if she in her career as a journalist had ever seen anything like it. Todd concluded by saying that ladies don’t resort to such vulgarities. Ladies? Vulgarities? What year are we in? Has anybody checked the price of handbags lately?

Image courtesy ADRIAN WYLD/CP (Globe and Mail)