To celebrate two decades of Martha Stewart Weddings, Martha did what Martha does best and threw a decedent, flawless, platinum-themed fête at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Every detail was impeccable from the Jazz band welcoming guests at the entrance to the Bobbi Brown make-up bar and endless tables of gourmet nibbles and confections. Flowers exploded on every surface and shades of platinum glittered throughout the venue. Celebrities mingled with some of the top bridal fashion designers while a French quartet sang dance tunes.
I was told that I would be attending this glamorous affair two hours before we had to get into the cab. While everyone else in the office shimmied into their platinum and white ensembles and heels, I was stuck wearing what I had thrown on that morning, a floral printed dress and tights under a grey cashmere turtleneck. I was also forced to carry my oversized handbag when everyone else switched over to petite clutches. There was nothing I could do but swipe on some Tom Ford lipstick and hope for the best. Nevertheless, off I went with in a cab with the Executive Editor and Beauty Director
We were one of the first at the venue and were able to see the space and all the details before the crowds arrived. There was a sea of flowers across the sumptuous Art Deco landing and the reception room featured a 3D sugar printer, platinum FlashTats, a photo booth, and an Instagram photo printer. The space also showcased some of Martha’s favorite wedding vendors such as Charm City Cakes, Sugarfina and Wedding Paper Divas.
Nestled on a platinum colored sofa and trying to hide my beat up Chelsea boots from sight, I watched as guests began to trickle in. The early arrivals, like us, had come straight from the office and had to get party ready under the fluorescent lights of the cramped East bathroom. Most Martha Stewart employees opted for sophisticated pants, a top with sparkly embellishments, a pair of black heels and some eye-catching jewelry. The Editor-in-Chief, Elizabeth Graves wore a crisp white blouse with white silk trousers. Minimal makeup and strappy silver sandals she wore to her own wedding 8 years ago completed her understated look. Martha herself wore chic black pants and layers of cream silk. Her impossibly luminous skin was her best accessory. I regarded this crowd of Martha Stewart employees with mixed feelings of admiration and envy. Dressed so simply in solid colors, with no brand logos or overt flashiness, they appeared effortlessly chic and tasteful. They were signaling that they felt comfortable and belonged at this party and did not need a flashy dress to signal wealth or social capital.
This group of employees were quietly signaling taste, as Pierre Bourdieu discusses in his book “Distinction.” He says that there is a hierarchy of tastes and based on their tastes, people are classified within this hierarchy. The onlooker is also classified by the distinctions they are able to make, like knowing the difference between YSL and Zara. Someone with good taste would be able to understand the silent codes signaled by an all white outfit such as the one Martha was wearing. Details in the top may signal YSL and only someone with taste would recognize them, while someone without taste may mistake the top for Zara.
The main doors opened and guests filed into an even more spectacular space. The walls were lined with buffets of every food imaginable: meatballs from The Meatball Shop, mini pizzas, gourmet burgers, hot dogs, fresh sushi and much more. The dessert bar was equally astounding and bountiful. A Deborah Lippmann manicure bar was there for guests to get a sparkling platinum manicure and the Bobbi Brown makeup bar provided celbrity worthy make-overs on the spot.
While nibbling on a steamed dumpling, I noticed that the party people had begun to arrive. Almost an hour and a half after the start time on the invitation, guests in floor length gowns, pin curls and false eyelashes swanned into the room. They very clearly had not just come from an office and had had the skilled assistance of a Glam Squad. While I watched one glamorous woman in a floor length gown dripping in crystals pose in front of the bird topiaries, a co-worker told me that she was definitely headed to “The Knot’s” party afterwards. I quickly figured out that coincidentally “The Knot,” another bridal magazine, was throwing an even bigger, even more glamorous and exclusive event that same night. Every VIP partygoer who looked exceptionally red-carpet-ready, dressed to the nine’s in their gowns and tuxedos very clearly exhibited that they were not only going to one exclusive party that night, but two. The woman in the crystal gown reveled in the spotlight as photographers clamored to take her photograph. Suddenly, my sweater and boots combo felt even more underdressed. Then there were the celebrities. Former Bachelorette Andie Dorfman wore a skin tight black sequin dress and sky high heels. She posed with Martha for a photo and was quickly ushered into a car waiting to take her to the next party.
Authors Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Bubolz Eicher lay out in their essay “The Language of Personal Adornment” motivations for adornment such as differentiation from other, distinguishing powerful from weak, rich from poor, making a statement of social worth and indication economic status. By choosing to wear a red carpet gown to an event where most are simply dressed in dress pants, the wearer is making an overt statement of their wealth, status and ability to get in to exclusive parties. They are intentionally standing out in the crowd and signaling they’re social importance. This occurrence is very context dependent, as Fred Davis discusses in “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion’s meaning depends heavily on the context in which is occurs because fashion objects are undercoded, meaning the object itself has no meaning on its own. A floor length crystal encrusted gown on its own does not automatically signify the wearers ability to get in to exclusive press parties, but the fact that it was worn on that night at that party does. Davis says, “what some combination of clothes or a certain style emphasis “means” will vary tremendously depending upon the identity of the wearer, the occasion, the place, the company and mood.” (151). Different people will also perceive the gown-wearer differently. Because I knew about the other black-tie party that night, I was able to understand that that gowns signified access to exclusive parties. Another party-goer may have just thought that the gown-wearer decided to get extremely dressed up for the Martha Stewart party to exhibit their personal wealth and social status.
Fashion at the Platinum Anniversary party was used to signal both belonging and standing out. Martha Stewart Employees exhibited that they belonged in a group with each other by dressing simply in solid colors, clean lines and dress pants. This was also one reason I felt uncomfortable, while I was a Martha Stewart employee, my dress did not signal that. I was unable to imitate the other employees, therefore I stood out in a different way. My colorful floral dress and chunky sweater were the opposite of what the group was wearing. The flashier gown-wearers loudly signaled their elite-ness, their standing out and access to an even more exclusive party.
By Hilary Presley
Bourdieu, Pierre. “A Social Critique of Judgement of Taste.” Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. 190-209. Print.
Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.
Roach, Mary Ellen, and Joanne Bubolz Eicher. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. 109-20. Print.