my menocore manifesto
On one late summer Tuesday last year, I was at Marin Country Mart with Ethaney trying to kill time as we waited for the blonde hostess at Hog Island Oyster to call our names. We looked out of place among the rest of the parties waiting: Real Housewives of Marin with their Hermes Kellys, MAMILs swapping tax loophol—I mean, accountant recommendations!
It’s the kind of place that makes you acutely aware of race and class dynamics. There’s a lot to observe.
We had just finished a beach day nearby. The beach was at the bottom of the secluded mountain path. The sense of perceived safety was clearly quite high for a place with no cell reception. Naked sunbathers, asleep with a book over their faces. Hiking the mile down to the beach was easy, exciting. But hiking back up? Brutal. We were so famished and dirty. Sand clinging to our shoes, an angry mosquito bite forming on the inside of the armpit, reddened faces and hardened expressions from the exhaustion. I thought about glamorized portrayals of fatigue on sports magazines as a MAMIL walked by in his Rapha bodysuit. There’s aspirational fatigue that sells $10k mountain bikes, and there’s real fatigue that grinds your spirit down.
In our febrile states, we strolled into one of the many airy boutiques with wood frame chairs and those patterned pillows that look like market souvenirs from San Miguel de Allende.
A Marin NPC with Jonathan Van Ness hair, a denim jacket and Moroccan babouche shoes asked if we needed assistance with anything. My fingers grazed a beautiful plate with a lipstick mark design on it. I could feel the surveilling eye of the JVN dupe. Ethaney whispered omg that’s so cute and I whisper-shouted back I know!
My eye flickered to a rack of cashmere sweaters with a mossy green tie dye design. By a “rack” I mean a skinny wooden beam hanging from the ceiling with no more than four sweaters spaced four inches apart. Faux scarcity, how the rich like to shop. The sweater looked fine, maybe a little homely, but it felt so comfortable. In the true sense of the word, it brought physical ease and relaxation. The fibers felt so creamy. They should swaddle babies with eczema in this. I didn’t need to check the price tag to know it was out of my budget.
Months later, I still find myself randomly thinking about that day and that sweater in Marin. How it encapsulated a certain appeal of menocore style (breezy linens and shapeless silks associated with menopausal-aged people). How that’s been rebranded as “coastal grandmother.” How the dominant culture presumes the said coastal grandmother as a white grandmother from the Diane Keaton and Nancy Meyers universe. The other unsaid parts: her coastal home was acquired either via inheritance from her parents or via alimony from her second husband. She might be on a blood thinner but definitely not antidepressants. She says “no worries” and actually means it because there is nothing to worry about it.
This gives us a peek into what we hope to embody through menocore clothing.
In this article which I call the original Menocore Manifesto, Sara Bernstein asserts that menocore “embodies a particular fantasy about middle age and femininity, and the excitement because of the fact that these two concepts are almost never correlated […] It’s not just of any older woman, but of a wealthy one. And because race and class are so deeply intertwined, usually a white one.”
Bernstein also drops this banger of a line (!!!):
The Eileen Fisher woman has aged out of the male gaze without a backward glance.
Some context: this article was published in 2017. Bernstein advocates for a cultural shift of menocore away from the “white leisure class” signifiers to its association with “inclusivity, sustainability, and ethical production practices.” 5ish years later, I like to think the online fashion set approaches aesthetics like menocore with a more critical eye—but my perception is going to be biased because of the algorithm I’m in.
I am excited by the growing number of fashion voices who understand the racial and socioeconomic underpinnings of aesthetics as ascribed by the dominant culture, and then skewers that dominant narrative through their participation in the aesthetic.
Fashion theoristis a great example. She has an enviable knitwear collection, lots of plush Lauren Manoogian, pieces I’d consider menocore staples. I watched her video on presentation and dangers of racializing clothes about 15 times because it was so good. The main takeaway for me is when she defines presentation as “how your identity impacts the communication of said style.”
As an Asian woman, I’m never going to be perceived as belonging in the Diane Keaton Nancy Meyers universe (and I don’t really wish to be). Menocore means something different to me, something the dominant cultural narrative isn’t going to pick up on.
When I wear a loose pima cotton cardigan and red cashmere pants, I feel like a Michelle Yeoh movie protagonist.
This is my menocore manifesto: I embody the energy of an older, elegant Asian woman who drinks soymilk and has a bottle of white flower oil on her nightstand for headaches. The robe-like cut of the cardigan and bright red color of the pants signify elements of Chinese clothing and fashion history. Yes, this Michelle Yeoh character might be a rich estranged triad wife (watch the Brothers Sun on Netflix!!) but she’s resourceful and savvy. She doesn’t believe in paying full price even if she could afford it. She may be on blood thinners but she also believes in the restorative power of bird’s nest soup.