Splishin' and a Splashin'
It’s the Daria Morgendorffer of newsletters, back to brag about our plastic surgery!
Kiddos, this week we begin with a sartorial litmus test. Picture this: You’re an earnest, Brown-educated young movie star who gets a chance to meet your “idol,” former almost-president Al Gore, to talk climate change. You hone your talking points, you re-read Earth: In the Balance. But then comes a critical question: What do you wear? If you’re Emma Watson, you chose a (sustainable!) demi-cape—more of an elongated collar, we’d say—that reveals not just your midriff but the bottom half of your bra, ensuring that Tipper’s ex, having no clue where it’s safe to lay his eyes, is forced to spend most of the meeting staring into the middle distance above your head. Watson lit up the ole text chain this week, and the range of reactions was fascinating. The editorial board of the Spread, being committed fuddy-duddies birthed significantly pre-1990, will continue to take a strong anti-exposed-ribcage stance on business meeting attire, no matter how high sea levels rise. But we’re open to an opposing POV. One friend saw a subversive stroke of genius: In a sexist, gossip-crazed universe, when you know nobody’s going to report on what you actually say, you choose an outfit that the press cannot ignore—the only way to ensure your message gets out. What say ye, Spreaders?
Now that you’re loosened up, let’s get into it! Warning: This ain’t the ingénue issue. We’re hearing from a host of women who’ve been simmering on the cultural burner for years, in some cases decades—and are all the more delicious for it: Brené Brown, Huma Abedin, Amanda Knox, Katie Couric (again? Damn right, again!), and...Laura Ashley.
Come on in, readers, the water’s fine,
Rachel & Maggie
Party like it’s 1985…er, 1885!
In middle school, when my friends were wearing drop-waist, ribbon-trimmed dresses in English-country-house florals that matched their bedspreads, my mother went to Betsey Johnson and bought me a black two-piece pantsuit covered in DayGlo orange sunflowers the size of dinner plates. You could have spotted this getup from space. My mom was an early-’90s businesswoman in the Julia Sugarbaker mold, all hot-rollers and shoulder pads, not the type to outfit a bedroom—or a girl-power-era preteen—in naive florals that looked like they were made for Madame Alexander dolls. Oh, how I longed for Laura Ashley. The best I could do was religiously swab my complexion with blue-bottled, vaguely vintage-y Caswell-Massey rose water, the only thing my allowance covered at the Laura Ashley store. Eventually, though, I guess my mother’s ethos won out. In recent years I’ve observed the growing obsession with the grandma’s-wallpaper prints and leg-o-mutton sleeves of the Batsheva era with a sense of generational befuddlement. From time to time the image of Ella Emhoff and her cousin in Little House on the Prairie inauguration chic floats back into my mind and I feel lost all over again. (What? I have a hard time moving on.) So I was happy to see former Elle regular Amanda Fortini make sense of it in T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Fortini gives me a new appreciation for Laura Ashley, the woman—in the ’60s, those dresses were liberated, maybe even feminist—and makes the case for why the domestic frontierswoman look would suit “these precarious, uncertain times” of nap dresses 1 and sourdough starters and DIY canning. (This one goes out to my girl Sarah and her mom Susan, both loyal Spread subscribers, who very much were that mother-daughter duo in matching Laura Ashley floral frocks and lived to tell the tale.)—Maggie
Maggie, So this is why we’re friends. I too grew up under the fashion tutelage of an anti-florals mother—though mine aspired to be more Robert Palmer girl than Julia Sugarbaker—and that sensibility continues to inform my own (October through April my wardrobe consists of black turtlenecks and black turtlenecks, and not in a Jobsian way). Fortini’s lengthy piece is a fashion trend story that’s allowed to be so much more, chockablock with fun details about the past and aha insights about the present that, in my estimation, one could only find in Hanya Yanagihara’s T magazine—Yanagihara, who is both a literary mastermind and a visual maestro, lets writers go long on subjects that in other magazines would be confined to a 200-word squib. And still, her magazine is perhaps the most visually appealing out there right now. Editors-in-chief, take note: It can be done! —Rachel
Read “The Enduring Appeal of Laura Ashley” here.
Don’t call it a comeback. Call it a “Monica moment.”
This week we heard from two women whose names will never cease to be a gut punch, and who you never thought you’d read about in the same sentence—Amanda Knox and Huma Abedin. First up, Knox, who wants us to know: She’s not weird, she’s just from Seattle! Ten years after she was exonerated, Knox lives in her hometown with a novelist husband, a newborn, and a podcast (obviously), still walking the uneasy tightrope between a fame she never asked for and the regular-folk-anonymity she claims to want—but which doesn’t seem quite her style either. New York Times editor-at-large Jessica Bennett visited Knox at home and returned with a boatload of detail: The trial memorabilia that decorates her front porch, the sci-fi themed wedding—all stuff, we are told, that really isn’t all that kooky...in Seattle. In a moment that seems to be increasingly about women long defined by warped media perceptions who are now actively reclaiming their own stories, it’s interesting, if not exactly surprising, to learn that Knox longs for a “Monica moment” of her own.
Let’s acknowledge the oh-so-2021 awkwardness of looping “Monica” in with “Huma”—Abedin being one of Camp Clinton’s longest-serving allies—before we move swiftly on to Vogue’s excerpt from Abedin’s new memoir. Even if, like me, you spent years wishing Anthony Weiner and everything attached to him would, for the love of God, just go away, you’ll be moved by the perspective of his ex, who is back to remind us that before Weinergate led to Laptop-gate (plus a lotta other lunacy) led to Trump, she was the brainy, gorgeous, Oscar de la Renta-clad political operative who was way out of that dude’s league in the first place. And why shouldn’t she remind us of this!? Her story begins when Abedin, newly and still secretly pregnant, wakes one morning after a sleepover at Buckingham Palace (as you do) with “HRC.” Osama bin Laden’s compound has just been raided; they’re about to fly to Islamabad to smooth ruffled feathers. Things are going great. Abedin sits down to pen a note to her hubby: Dear Anthony, Is it possible for any two people to be happier or more blessed? That night, a text pops up from Mr. Wonderful: His Twitter’s been hacked. “Someone posted a photo.” But don’t worry dear, these things happen—he’ll handle it. Lies pile on top of lies. The rage, readers, the rage that welled up in me as I flipped these pages!—Maggie
Read “Amanda Knox was Exonerated. That Doesn’t Mean She’s Free” here.
Sickness may be the greatest role of Selma Blair’s career. It’s hard to know how to feel about that.
I need everyone to watch the new Selma Blair doc so we can talk about it. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve seen. Blair, who has severe multiple sclerosis, is quite sick and is in many ways doing God’s work—offering herself up in an unsettlingly vulnerable state in the name of public awareness. She’s also a ham, and a shockingly candid one, who relishes the chance to riff on “cancel culture” and appropriation and her newfound commitment to being a good person. Blair loves the camera—even as she suffers through a stem cell transfer and chemotherapy and admits to her lowest moments as a mother—and watching her mug through it all (save for a few rare moments) is fascinating. Blair, who even in her heyday played one frenemy after another, has said the Rachel Fleit-directed film is her first leading role—and to a revelatory degree, she milks every moment.—Rachel
Watch Introducing, Selma Blair on Discovery+ here. (You can grab a 7-day trial through Discovery+ or as an add-on via Amazon Prime).
Couric, take 2.
In last week’s Spread, we riffed on the Baby Boomer affinity for the title of Katie Couric’s new memoir, Going There, in a blurb that could basically be summed up as: “Oh, Katie? Cute!” We (fine, I!) spoke too soon. Rebecca Traister’s blockbuster piece on Couric in New York/the Cut is, in my humble opinion, the best profile of Traister’s career. In a stroke of rare magazine jiu-jitsu, it is both generous and fearless in its assessment of America’s Sweetheart, leveraging both a long-lens view of Couric’s place in broadcast history and crows-feet-close access to the woman herself. Of the book, Traister writes, “It is the work of someone who, if not ready to fully analyze her place in often-abusive hierarchies, is curious enough about those hierarchies to lay out her experiences in ways that are not flattering, either to the news business or to herself.”—Rachel
Read “Katie Couric Is Not For Everyone” here.
“Three days after. Ready for lewks. #buhbyejowls”
In a series of recent InStyle missives from the beauty front, Jancee Dunn has made a habit of zeroing in on a Thing we hadn’t quite realized was a Thing and making us think, Oh yeah, right, that is a Thing. For instance: What’s the deal with people openly publicizing their nips and tucks? With “before-and-after Brazilian butt lifts on TikTok, tummy tuck recovery tips on Pinterest, five-day countdowns to jawline surgery on Snapchat,” Dunn riffs on Marc Jacobs’s deeply Instagrammed deep-plane face-lift to ask: “In an era that values authenticity, why not talk about your plastic surgery?” I’m intrigued! I applaud! Nevertheless, Rachel, call me fake (I’ve heard worse) but if a scalpel ever touches this face, I will guard that information like a state secret. And you?—Maggie
MB, I understand the impulse to burn all evidence of plastic surgery (bills, gauze, all of it) and insist you just came back from a real vacation2—the kind you haven’t had in years! But given the fact that at one dinner party after the next, I got so much comic mileage out of my first round of Botox, I suspect I would not be able to resist oversharing on the knife front, too! Maybe Holly Millea and I have more in common than I realized. Still, this social media fraidy cat will be keeping all such conversations, well, face-to-face.—Rachel
Read “I Had a Face-Lift, So What?” here.
Attention, please: The New Yorker has discovered a lady called Brené Brown.
If I were assigning a profile of the Grande Dame of Vulnerability (!), the Queen of Connection (!), the Empress of Empathy (!), I would instruct my writer to deliver in two areas: 1. Please capture that, to millions of women, Brené Brown is so familiar she is just “Brené”—a figure who holds a metaphysical space only two rungs down from that of Oprah herself. 2. Please get the full scoop on the self-help coven to which Brown belongs alongside Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle, and, if memory serves, Cheryl Strayed. For the New Yorker, though, Brené is—in the year of our Lord 2021—a fresh face, ready for the “woman you’ve never heard of but man is she successful” treatment. That gripe aside, Sarah Larson’s definitive profile is a great read and a useful reintroduction/overview to the Tao of Brené, even for those of us who are well past 101.—Rachel
Read “Brené Brown’s Empire of Emotion” here.
Filling in the gaps.
Can’t not crash the cymbals when two of my favorite artists appear together in the Times Magazine! In this week’s issue, novelist Alexandra Kleeman profiles actor-director Rebecca Hall, who my husband and I have both long had a thing for but in different ways. The piece intertwines Kleeman’s own experience of racial ambiguity with Hall’s directorial debut—an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing, about two Black-by-birth childhood friends, one of whom eventually “passes” as white. The story, played by the fantastic Tessa Thompson and bewitching Ruth Negga in the movie, is deeply personal to Hall. Personal how? Time to start reading!—Rachel
Read “The Secret Toll of Racial Ambiguity” here.
Wait, is it October!?!?!?
Writer Kathryn Miles homes in on a sharp, of-the-moment hook for a romp through America’s witchiest town, for Boston magazine.—Rachel
Salem has spent many lifetimes grappling with its legacy as a place where people like my ancestor fell victim to society’s worst impulses. Now, as our nation as a whole works on how to address and repair some of the more shameful moments in its history, with southern cities removing their Civil War monuments and academic institutions reconsidering the names of buildings, some are wondering whether it’s time for Salem to finally do the same. Is a witch-based tourism economy the best way to honor the legacy of executed individuals who weren’t even witches in the first place? Or is continuing to transform the town into the epicenter of modern-day witchcraft actually the perfect way to right the wrongs of the past?
Read “Has Witch City Lost Its Way?” here.
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
The Row…for children. (Andrea Whittle, W) // Aislyn Greene on Louise Erdrich on the Twin Cities. (Afar) // Ponies! Clones! Clonies! (Madeleine Aggeler, Texas Monthly) // Poet Molly Fisk: When your dad is literally an Updike character. (Harper’s Bazaar) // The cult of the Facebook buy-nothings. (Ronda Kaysen, New York Times) // When does Blackstone buy the Spread? (Ilya Banares, Bloomberg)
ALSO: According to Deadline, Ryan Gosling has closed a deal to play Ken to Margot Robbie’s Barbie, in a fillum (no mere movie) co-written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Apparently the great one dragged his feet to commit—girl, don’t they all—but the filmmakers could not imagine anyone else in the role. I mean, yeah. This is an evolving situation and we will continue to keep you updated.
OK, that’s all for now. We’re off to Brooklyn, which as everyone knows is the only place left where a girl’s girl can slip away for a quick ciggie in peace.
For those who still need it, Buzzfeed gives us a primer on the cult of the nap dress—or as it was once known, the “pillow sack”—here.