04 December 2007

Lamborghini vs. Volvo vs. Saturn style

The last time I was behind the wheel of a car for more than the four minutes and ten seconds it takes me to make the three right turns from my parents house to the gym was sometime back in the mid '90s.

In fact, if you were to add up all the mileage I've amassed from the time I was 16 until the present, I'd wager it would fall just short of some of my colleagues' 90 minute one-way work commutes.

To be clear, my refusal to drive is not borne out of some sort of bourgeoisie idea that I need or deserve to be driven but rather the very real fear I have of making stupid snap decisions with two tons of potentially repercussive steel, glass and other such automobile-ish bits ready to punish whomever happened to be on the road with me that day.

But just because I don't drive doesn't mean I can't appreciate cars in the aesthetic sense or that I can't use them metaphorically to drive home the more ASJiNE-related point at which I will now finally arrive.

Until last week when I had a life-changing epiphany courtesy of 'Jeopardy!', I had always considered there to be two primary camps when it came to women and style:

the Lamborghini group


the Volvo group

In short, there are overt demonstrators of opulence and then there are those who choose a more understated approach.

"Lamborghini women" tote multiple pieces of Louis Vuitton emblazoned luggage and as many other conspicuously expensive items they can fit into a single outfit. These are the woman whose desired "look" is so loudly designer-driven that even if you tried to ignore their clothing and accessories' logos and distinctly-tied-to-a-brand decorative detailings (if you or someone you know owns a Coach bag and consciously decides not to remove the function-less "dogtags," you know what I'm talking about), you'd still walk away thinking, "Wow, she's got money":

And then there are the other kind - my kind - to whom I like to refer as, "Volvo women." Members of this group carry themselves with a quieter luxe that may very well include Gucci separates and Louboutin heels, but unless you're of the fashion-obsessed ilk that spends the better part of the day memorizing the subtle differences between the wares of brands X and Y, most would never know a simple black ensemble like this one below cost somewhere in the ballpark of $4,800:

Now back to my epiphany.

As I often do after returning from Monte's first walk of the evening, one day last week I immediately shed my fitted black work uniform and snuggled into a pair of light blue wide-leg sweatpants and an old friend's oversized t-shirt, clicked from the news on E! to 'Jeopardy!' on ABC and began to write up the next day's piece.

Though I keep the volume relatively low so as not to aggravate my sweetbun's eardrums (for serious, everything on that one is "sensitive," my vet claims), I could still hear the contestants' voices as they, one by one, offered Alex some banal two sentence introduction and gave a shout-out to their "wonderful" families. As the third and final "Hello, my name is _____, and I'm from _____," filled the room, I looked up to confirm what I thought I'd just heard -- all three contestants were women.

It was in that moment, out of a rare burst of feminist pride, I decided to set aside my laptop and give the show - more specifically, these three fabulously accomplished women - my full attention.

Maybe it's because I write a blog dedicated to upgrading professional women's appearances, maybe it's because I always have been and most likely always will be someone who can't help but assume the storyline is only as good/bad as the cover, but for whatever reason, at the conclusion of the first round, I had learned nothing aside from the fact that behind the podiums were three ruddy, concealer-free faces, a painfully tight denim blazer atop a burgundy fleece zip-up, two one-size-fits-all ribbed, faded scoopneck sweater tops - one of which was cut low enough to reveal more than a peek of sun-damaged pancake cleavage - and three dingy, unkempt bobs that at the very least could've used a pre-show comb-through.

Hold on, it get's worse.

At the end of the final round, after the third contestant overtook the reigning champion in a sweet bit of clever wagering, my final nightmare was realized when not one, not two but all three women stepped down to the main floor in the same universally-unflattering tapered, pleated, bone-colored, balloon-seat chinos.

It was bad. I mean, even Monte looked up from his Sudoku to let out an "oy vei."

And so, from a gameshow, I came to realize there aren't just two groups of women but in fact three, the last of which I'll call:

the Saturn group
These are the women who don't concern themselves with making an impression based on anything but their merits and that mystery brew my Mom refers to as, "what's on the inside." These are the women who, even on the most important and memorable days of their lives, don't give a flippin' flapjack about presentation. These are what I call, "Saturn women."

I'd include a photo of one such woman, but my fatha' the lawya' says to do so would potentially open me up to a world of problems, so instead, just sneak a peek at most of the women around you as walk home this evening. Just like men who don't seem to get the point that "how r u?" and "c u later" text messages are about as endearing as track-stained underwear, these ladies are *everywhere* in DC. Seek and ye shall find.

As appalled as I was that these women would come dressed more for Fall softball league than an extended national television appearance, the truth is, 'Jeopardy!' is that ideal place where success is exclusively dependent on one's ability to perform. Whether you have a cute face, a fabulous sense of style or a winsome personality is completely irrelevant.

"Saturn women" with serious jobs, take note: 'Jeopardy!' isn't the real world.


from a guy's perspective said...

this made me laugh out loud. a woman as a Saturn. too funny. there are plenty of this type in my firm. I'll do my best to secretly forward this post onto them.

1blueshi1 said...

I am DYING at work in my grey dress, opaque tights, and four inch heeled black leather platform almond-toed boots--but dammit I look good!

M Street admirer said...

brilliant. and true.

ay said...

My extremely adorable Saturn is so sad to be grouped with these women, and that sad looking saturn you've pictured.

Anonymous said...

OK, that is an old, sad-looking Saturn.

But if you understood anything about cars, you would know that Saturns are fantastic, as is their customer service, as is the way they treat their employees. I know that wasn't your point...but my point is go look at some new, current Saturns, and then you won't pan them on appearance. After all, Tim Gunn looks HAWT in his Sky Roadster.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! And so true. Some women simply gave up long ago, or somehow find femininity an affront to "what's on the inside." But seriously, everyone likes pretty packaging.

john p. said...

Saturns might have "fantastic customer service" but I've looked at the new models and there ain't nothin' pretty about them. Even Tim Gunn's precious Roadster.

love the post.

Dave said...

First I have to get by that you don't drive. When I lived in New York City I didn't drive. Is DC the same way? I couldn't get around out here without a car. Of course the chief reason to have one is that Cody loves to ride in the car. The sound of the garage door going up has, in a Pavlovian way, conditioned him to go nuts with joy. You really should try it.

Having worked on the Saturn business I can with confidence say you've miscategorized Saturn. At worst Saturn is American for Volvo. They are dependable cars that aren't that long on styling. But people who own Saturns really like them. People don't say that about Volvos. Perhaps you would have been better calling these people the Buick group.

Good blog post though.

Johanna said...

Buick, Saturn, Dodge Aries -- to me, they're all in the same category. And in all honesty, I only chose Saturn for alliteration purposes. The few people I know who bought Saturns were those looking for practicality (gas mileage, cheap sticker price) and an American-made automobile. Let's just say aesthetics didn't really factor into their decision.

And on top of that, they all make fun of them and talk about them in self-deprecating ways!

As a girl who grew up with Volvos and still to this day calls the S80 her favorite car, to say the Saturn is its American equivalent is tough to stomach. Volvos may be considered "boring" to some, but they are really beautiful cars that offer a really beautiful ride.

But like I said in the beginning, I'm not a car person, so...cut me some slack!


Brooke said...

That is the exact model Saturn I used to drive! Different color but same year (1994).

erin said...

You've got to stop referring to Monte in this way. I'm beginning to think he actually *can* do Sudoku!

Saturns are cars one resorts to, not cars one dreams of buying. I think your use of it here is fine. Like you, I grew up with Volvos my entire life and am a bit biased toward them.

oh, and I just removed the tags from all my Coach bags. You're right, deep down I did keep them on so that people would notice :-(

Anonymous said...

That's not true, Erin. I dreamed of a Saturn ever since they first came out. My dad works for GM, I know a lot about American cars, and I couldn't wait to be one of the happy people who gets the picture with the car when you first drive it off the lot, a "birthday" card for the car every year, and now I happily sit and am brought breakfast or lunch when they're making repairs. It in every way is my dream car...all for $16,000. And my little silver-blue SL1 looks just as sharp today as he did the day I bought him five years ago, all by myself, no loan or lease needed. He is *my* dream car, because my car dreams aren't about flash or showing off.

Now SHOES, on the other hand...

Cars, like style, are subjective. But it is fun to come here and consider different points of view.

Anonymous said...

It took you a viewing of Jeopardy to realize that there are more than 2 kinds of women out there..and that saturn woman exist? Sad..

Johanna said...

anonymous 10:20-

It was supposed to be a little tongue-in-cheek, the implication being I'm so mired in the world of fashion (my blog) and the fashionable (all my friends) I sometimes forget there are women out there who don't care at all. It took an episode of 'Jeopardy!' to remind me of that obvious fact. If that's sad, then fine.


dc lawyer said...

I think the tongue in cheekiness of the post came through loudly and clearly. You even reference this Saturn group in your opening statement, which has been there for the full year you've been blogging. Anon 10:20 probably isn't a regular reader.

great post!

Anonymous said...

Love it! I can't stand those LV bags. Or the Juicy pants. Or the Fendi anything. I love seeing a stylish woman and finding out she's mixed high end pieces with low end ones. Now *that's* personal style!

brown bear '02 said...

I think I'm somewhere between a Saturn and a Volvo -- maybe a Camry? Or a Sebring?

Anonymous said...

I want to be an Astin Martin like your girl Katie.

Anonymous said...

Do you link to Vanity Fair, (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/11/evagreen_portfolio200711?slide=2), because there's a thing on Eva Green and I think you would be interested.

Just a reader said...

Everytime I see one of the stupid Coach dog tags I want to go rip it off as a PSA. The Minnie Pearl look is IMHO never fashionable.

I may not be a fashion diva but I have a small collection of high end goods that I mix with my Macy's finds and it suits me just fine. So I guess I am somewhere between a Saturn and a Volvo.

Jennifer said...

And when you have a Saturn budget, how are you supposed to get a Volvo wardrobe? Does Saks offer a lease program I don't know about?

Anonymous No More said...

I think I am Honda of some kind.
Practical, affordable, not offensively unattractive, looks ‘fine’ day in and day out, and cleans up nice.

Maybe once in a while I am a Honda with a stupid spoiler or an obnoxious exhaust to get some extra attention, but I always stay away from the silly carbon fiber hood and nitrous look.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry people...but the women described would NOT drive a Sky roadster. It is my new car crush....and not just because Tim Gunn says so. And I'm wearing adorable almond toe black suede pumps today....with toe cleavage....no pleated khakis in my wardrobe...pinky swear...

Teek said...

Can I aspire to be a Mini Cooper? Agile, hugs the curves, classy but sassy, European-influenced, lots of different outfits, looking for BMW quality on a Honda budget, knows her history, easy to parallel park? (Maybe not the last one.)

I think those women you describe might be Chevys.

Anonymous said...

jennifer - thanks for saying this. i think johanna forgets that not all of us grew up as financially secure as she did. my parents weren't able to pay for my education so my extra 200 bucks goes toward student loans rather than a cute top.

Fellow DC'er said...

Anon 3:42 - As someone who paid their way through college and has the loans to prove it at 25, I still manage to have a stylish wardrobe. Not everything is $200.

And I don't think you have any right to characterize her upbringing.

Anonymous said...

I think the point of "Volvo" style was understated, not necessarily understated *and* expensive. Sure, she showed us a picture of a super expensive outfit on Ali Larter, but that same effect can be achieved for a lot less. The point was to look a million bucks without screaming it to the world.

I know J, and she sure does spend a lot of money on clothes, but she also skimps in a lot of areas the rest of us probably aren't willing to do so, like going out, going on trips, etc. It's all about priorities.

Candid Cool said...

love it!

Southern Belle said...

Amen, fellow dc'er! I manage to not look like a Saturn, and I'm working on quite a limited budget with student loans and all of that jazz. It's totally possible (although, the words "overgrown bob" made me a little sad--I'm going in for a cut this weekend, and I soooo need it).

Funnily, I once had a crush on this guy and one of my friends set me straight by saying, "He drives a Saturn, and he kinda looks like his car." It looked like the one in the picture. That was all she had to say.

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