Fashion and feminism are a tricky pairing — while the former largely purports itself to be in service of the latter these days, that position can be weakened by certain old-school and backward-thinking behaviors that the industry still phones in. Valentine’s Day highlights this conflict well, as editorial sites clamor to create timely content that somehow satisfies a more “woke” audience, while also playing to traditional tropes. This year, the results were pretty confused, as evidenced by a sampling of sites’ Valentine’s Day content.
“The inherent issue with Valentine’s Day is one that comes with every holiday that’s not real — it’s a capitalist holiday created to sell things. Obviously, the fashion industry is focused on selling things, too, so it makes perfect sense that you would combine those things,” said Kate Dries, the deputy editor of Jezebel, a women’s site focused on feminism, sex and celebrities. “The problem comes when you try to pivot a brand that has long identified itself with selling things [to be] more authentic to the human experience — there’s always going to be tension there.”
Some websites are walking the line better than others, for which attempts to tackle the holiday can feel forced or out of touch. “Maybe I’m cynical and jaded, but I rarely see these [fashion/lifestyle] brands do it well unless it comes from a place where the editorial oversight is really trying to embrace a new vision. They were founded on this idea that women need guidance, and they need to be talked to in a certain way,” said Dries. “For us, Valentine’s Day is a joke, so we tend to take it pretty lightly — how do you take it seriously, when it’s not?”
In that same spirit, we’re grading some of the top fashion sites on their Valentine’s Day content, based on the overall message it conveys, the consistency of that message across posts, and how fresh or cliche it is.
The Cut: A
New York Magazine’s The Cut has always done a good job of merging fashion with women’s issues. Its Valentine’s Day content is equally successful: “12 reasons Valentine’s Day is actually the best” argues in favor of the cheesy Hallmark holiday (no matter your relationship status), without condescending or caving to sad-single-lady references. Its reasons for backing the holiday include potentially wearing “the lingerie that collects dust in your drawers the rest of the year” (accurate) and “the panicked faces of men who forgot to get flowers” (also accurate). Its requisite lingerie gift guide features styles that are meant to be wearable year-round (a Calvin Klein sports bra is included), and thus is more practical than most. “How to forget about Valentine’s Day with a home spa,” a shoppable guide that at first seems one-note, insists: “February 14 is a great day to craft your own home spa while cash-burning couples en masse gnaw through rubbery steaks and bitter chocolates. You don’t even need to be single to do this!”
With its onslaught of content geared toward the holiday, Refinery29 tries to tackle Valentine’s Day from nearly every angle — speaking to the lovestruck, the broken-hearted and everyone in between. What’s more, it attempts to do it all from a very forward-thinking place, throwing in porn recommendations and weed-themed gifts alongside “non-lame” date ideas. While certain posts definitely give in to the usual Valentine’s cliches, the site is very careful about how it frames it, as with “Treat yourself with these V-Day lingerie looks,” a piece that argues for self-satisfying lingerie shopping. Another post, titled “What to wear on Valentine’s Day if you’re happy to be single,” also panders to the empowered ladies of the world — but it also feels a bit forced.
The celebrity style and trend site is known for its slew of gift guides, so its response to this holiday was to be expected: Its latest guides include “17 cool Valentine’s Day gifts for your besties” and “20 Valentine’s Day gifts guys will actually love.” While those are innocuous, the site also geared two posts toward dressing for your man, catering to the timeworn idea that this is a holiday on which women need to effectively step it up: “What not to wear on Valentine’s Day, according to a dating expert” featured a matchmaker from Three Day Rule, who shares that styles like sneakers, distressed jeans and “items your date has seen you wear before” are no-nos. Instead, she recommends wearing “something flirty,” like a sexy black top and heels. “The most attractive dating looks, according to dating experts” follows the same blueprint, arguing for form-fitting clothing that will accentuate your curves. Posts like “9 things to buy your friends who are so over Valentine’s Day” (which includes the popular The Future Is Female tee) are a small saving grace.
Goop’s content caters to the sex-positive and, of course, wealthy cohort. “When it comes to romancing your sweetie, it never hurts to heat things up,” the site argues in its couples guide to the holiday, before suggesting lace bunny ears and love potion (yes, really) as potential tools. Items on the lengthy list include an Hermès scarf, an inexplicable Prada flashlight and a $55 Coco de Mer blindfold. Although the list is not the most inclusive, it does make an effort to cater to women and gay men by including vibrators and a set of cheeky key chains labeled “Top” and “Bottom.” The site also tries to speak to the singles market, with a questionably-titled “Solo YOLO” gift guide — ideas include a love potion–making class at Calliope in New York and a book titled “Real love: The truth about finding unconditional love and fulfilling relationships.” Goop’s single lady, it appears, is not content to stay that way.
Sex is in Cosmo’s DNA, so a holiday like Valentine’s Day that, essentially, revolves around the matter, is like its bread and butter. As such, the site produced a lot of content surrounding it, ranging from gift guides to first-date confessionals — and the overall picture is dated. “20 sexy dresses that will slay Valentine’s Day” calls for women to “get their freakum’ dresses” on. “12 movies to watch on Valentine’s Day if you’re single and DGAF” caters to singles by imagining them home alone, with nothing better to do than lust after Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike” or — bitterly, perhaps? — watch “The Shining.” A handful of gift guides center on sexy lingerie, with one specifically geared toward enhancing a woman’s small bust. Its attempts to shake up the same-old, same-old (see: “A guide to vibrators that are better than a Valentine’s date”) are comparatively flimsy.