I will daydream of owning every shoe in Vogue no matter how many offensive fashion spreads they throw at me, but this has really been a banner month for out of touch features. First, we suspected Anna Wintour of one of those brain tumors that turn all of your firmly held convictions upside down when we saw America’s wannabe first family on the cover. Then we got sexy domestic abuse in Vogue Italia. And now, we have the gentler but still ridiculous prison inspired style guide in the latest British Vogue.
That’s right, now you can dress just like the inmates at Netflix’s favorite fictional prison, Litchfield Women’s Correctional Facility. Just like you never, ever wanted. All you need are a $413 orange anorak and $564.40 crewneck sweater. I didn’t know what an anorak was on my spelling test in eighth grade, and it doesn’t make much more sense now. But for the high price tag of this spread, maybe British Vogue could have splashed out for a quick night course in criminal justice or American race politics instead of a retina burning windbreaker.
Orange is the New Black is a phenomenal show. Yes, I am whipping out my favorite overused NYC adjective (RIP, literally) because it really is that good. OITNB isn’t just addictive lady-centric TV. A racially diverse cast that gives Latina and black stars big, meaty roles, not just bit parts. An actual mustachioed villain we get to call Pornstache. Lesbian action that isn’t solely for the male gaze. A trans* actess playing a trans* character! So very much win in 13 episodes, and I totally get that fashion high rollers want to get on the bandwagon.
What OITNB does not give us, however, are fashion tips. With the exception of Taystee’s DIY blonde extensions traded and cut from blonde Piper Chapman’s own head, the federal pen isn’t exactly teeming with fashion advice. In fact, one of the best things about OITNB is that the characters look realistically haggard, as if poor Piper and Co. have actually been showering with generic liquid soap and 200 thread count towels. If you are the kind of person who can’t really engage with soap operas and the CW because teens waking up in full makeup and barrel curls takes you right out of the show, you’ll understand my appreciation of
Donna Alex Vause‘s under eye bags.
The fact that Vogue‘s pricey, high fashion coverage of Orange is the New Black is a bit of a reach and a weird departure from their generally “aspirational” tone isn’t the biggest issue. Women’s prisons almost always inspire more sexualization and less mainstream fear than their male counterparts. The L Word did “sexy lesbians in prison” not once, but twice (Season 1 and Season 5). But female incarceration isn’t all prison wife drama and Desert Storm pudding. According to U.K site Women in Prison, 5% percent of the overall prison population in the U.K. is female. Between 1995 and 2010 the female prison population increased 115%. Almost 1 in 10 of those incarcerated dropped out of school by age 13. The U.S. fares even worse. The Sentencing Project cites the number of women in prison increasing 646% between 1980 and 2010, nearly 1.5 times the rate of men. Strict sentencing for women means more moms and fiancees than ever are landing behind bars, and Orange is the New Black has a more important message than how to look overpriced and incarcerated.
If this spread is a joke, it’s not a very good one and comes at the expense of thousands of women who probably don’t have this month’s Vogue in their cell. And if it’s an earnest fashion spread, it makes no sense. No one wants to look like they’re in prison. The whole point of being incarcerated is that it’s the worst.
Now, if this was a piece on how OITNB compares to the day-to-day grind of women in prison, I’d be thrilled. If it were a guide to keeping my closet of neon tee shirts as bright and vibrant as prison orange in a gross Laundromat machine, I would be intrigued. But a round-up of faux prison wear that adds up to roughly $1500? I’d rather spend that on bail for a petty drug dealer, thanks very much. Maybe next month, they’ll make up for it with a TV look we actually want. I’m thinking a guide to Game of Thrones-style braids and breastplates. Or absolutely anything that isn’t, you know, prison.