JUNE 2022 IN

When Sexy Is Out of Fashion

Economists and demographers know what the consequences of the new abortion bans will be on marriage and birth rates. Based on that, it is easy enough to guess what the effect on fashion will be. Sexy looks will no longer be in style, or not to the same extent as before.

To see how this comes about, you only need to look at the purpose of abortion bans, which is to keep workers from getting into a comfort zone in which they feel like they have control over their lives. Keeping workers off balance keeps them from coming into their natural power. The intention and the theory is that power remains concentrated with the investor class. The theory may not hold for long, but the immediate effects will be seen according to what we have seen before.

To see the effect that an abortion ban will have, you only need to look at the effect of a common economic phenomenon that also keeps workers off balance. In a recession, lower rates of employment cause workers to where you are or cultural influences, is that people are less likely to seek out romance, marriage, and children. Marriage and birth rates plummeted in the last two U.S. recessions, and this is the pattern that is expected and is almost always seen when times are tough for workers.

An abortion ban is no different. When the safety backstop of abortion is taken away, any involvement in opposite-sex romance carries with it all the financial risks of having a child, and those risks are large enough to potentially condemn an ordinary working couple to half a lifetime on the edge of poverty. When this becomes a reasonably likely outcome, romance loses some of its luster. For the most part, people still want romance but will not make the same compromises to reach for it. And this is not even considering the risk that a woman could die when abortion is not available.

Unlike a recession, an abortion ban is meant to be permanent. And the situation may get worse, as the same politicians behind the abortion bans are also working on plans to ban most forms of birth control.

When romance becomes this treacherous, “Don’t tempt me” is a healthy and rational response. Styles, presentations, and messages that are directly sexy lose appeal in these conditions. Sexy fashion, if it may lead to romance, suddenly represent a kind of temptation. Marriage is the more direct form of the same temptation. Either could take away a worker’s chances of getting on a stable financial footing after 10 or 20 years of hard work. When you look at what it takes for the average American worker to pay off student loans and a home mortgage, that is a lot to put at risk. If workers are leery of taking on this increased risk, it is fully understandable.

Abortion bans are about to come into effect across about a third of the United States, but the impact will not stop at political boundaries. I am already seeing the shift in attitudes in Pennsylvania, a state that most political analysts would say is safe from the prospect of an abortion ban. Regardless of the political details, the unconscious assumption is that if it can happen there, it can happen here too. You don’t feel safe until your own hospital closes — insecurity comes along in advance of the actual conditions. In any case, style does not know boundaries, and the style effects will spread all over the world.

This will not be a huge change in clothing fashions, but a subtle shift from sexy to utilitarian when it comes to clothing. Lace may see the biggest change. It is impossible to make a case for the functional merits of lace, so it may all but vanish — even from wedding dresses. Workhorse fabrics like denim will be resurgent. More people will give up on fashion entirely and wear the clothing they already have or seek out what they can get in secondhand stores.

I don’t think we will see people suddenly covering up, but the warm-weather clothing will be more utilitarian. Maybe the miniskirt will be cotton instead of imitation leather. Dancers will be going to clubs wearing exercise clothing — there more to move than to impress. Many people will be surprised to discover that is possible to show a lot of skin without being particularly sexy, and once that is seen, it cannot be unseen. A lifetime of mental associations about what is sexy could fall apart in a relatively short time.

Advertising messages that rely on sex appeal will have to be rewritten to appeal to the newly cautious consumer. What will marketing become when the old axiom that sex sells no longer holds? For that matter, what products will people still be buying when ordinary consumers are no longer so interested in impressing the opposite sex? I doubt the world is ready for the shift that is on its way.

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