THE SUCCESSFUL WOMAN, NOT THE DEVIL, WEARS PRADA

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NANCY SERAFIN

04.01.21

“Florals. For Spring?... Groundbreaking.” Women. In Power?... Groundbreaking. The 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada, seems to shatter glass ceilings as it is centered around extremely successful, professional women. Specifically, the role of Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), Editor-in-Chief of Runway Magazine, showcases the true strength and authority of a woman in power. However, the movie also highlights the downfall and misery that results from Miranda’s success, thus playing into the stigma that women cannot have both professional and personal success. The Devil Wears Prada is an example of post-feminist ideologies, representing its main female characters as empowered by their careers, yet unhappy with their social and romantic relationships. This stigma is most evident as we watch Andy Sachs’ (Anne Hathaway) personal life begin to unravel when she decides to fully dedicate herself to her job as Miranda Priestly’s assistant: a job that no amount of journalism classes could have prepared her for. A job that is, of course, based on the experience that Lauren Weisberger had working as Anna Wintour’s assistant for American Vogue. 

The devil herself, Anna Wintour, attended the movie’s premiere dressed in Prada. Arguably one of the most influential figures in the fashion world, Anna Wintour gracefully accepted Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her. Wintour even told ABC News that she supported the movie, explaining that anything that makes fashion entertaining and glamorous is good for the industry. Anna Wintour is the reigning Editor-in-Chief of Vogue US and the artistic director of Condé Nast. Leading the world’s most influential fashion magazine for decades and being the head content advisor for all things Condé Nast requires a level of hard work, professionalism, and dedication that is hard for many of us to imagine. Specifically, her job title entails playing the role of journalist, fashion royalty, worldwide editorial advisor, global branding expertise , and above all else a manager.  It is no wonder that in the movie, Miranda Priestly has a reputation for being a cruel and ruthless perfectionist. Yet, because she is a woman, instead of receiving praise for her professional achievements, she is condemned for her lack of emotion. There is a scene in which Miranda’s new assistant, Andy Sachs, defends her coldness, “Okay, she’s tough, but if Miranda were a man…no one would notice anything about her, except how great she is at her job.” This represents the major disconnect between the way men and women are viewed in the workforce, and Andy hit the nail on the head with this line. 

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Meryl Streep commented on how she felt playing a role inspired by Anna Wintour. She first clarified that the book that the movie is based on comes from the perspective of one of Wintour’s former employees, and that it simply forms a version of her. However accurate this depiction may be is beside the point, as it was based on someone else's perception of Wintour. She continued, “With certain professions you put aside your feeling gene, your tendency to feel the other’s pain, in order to be efficient and get the day’s work done. A certain amount of work has to be achieved during the day, you want a direct order and follow through on that order. There’s that expectation that hurts women more in leadership than it does men.” Compared to a man, it is much harder for society to accept a successful, yet seemingly emotionless woman. As Streep points out, sometimes you cannot let emotions come into play when you are in a profession like Wintour’s, and for women that means opening yourself up to a lot of harsh criticism. 

The characters in this movie also expose the superficialness associated with working in the fashion industry, especially for women. There is an obvious, overarching hate for Andy’s style (or lack thereof) and disinterest in fashion throughout the beginning of the film. It is not until Nigel (Stanley Tucci), a co-worker at Runway, completely transforms Andy’s look that she begins to have success within the fashion world. The emphasis on looks, rather than actual experience speaks to the superficial nature of the industry. Miranda expresses that she took a major chance by hiring Andy instead of her usual “pretty girl” assistants, “I thought you would be different. I said to myself, ‘Go ahead, take a chance, hire the smart, fat girl.’” By no means is Andy fat, she expresses that she is a size 6, but according to Nigel that is the new size 14. The women that work at Runway all look like they could be in the magazine, and they maintain their model-esque figures by not eating. This movie goes far beyond the stigma of powerful women in the workplace, and accentuates stereotypes of women who work in fashion. Since 2006, many publications in the industry have embraced the idea of challenging some of these stigmas, namely through the diversification of both their own staff and the content and models they represent on their covers. Just this past October super-star and diverse body-positivity activist, Lizzo, appeared on the cover of Vogue. Thus giving her the platform she deserves to spread her message and allowing Vogue to use her voice in redefining the body-positivity movement. 

All in all, I like to think that Andy’s makeover was actually just the boost of confidence she needed to get herself back on track in her career. As much as it may seem superficial, you know what they say… you dress for the job. Working in fashion and being fashionable go hand in hand whether we like it or not. Therefore, it goes without saying the clothes we wear hold power, and the true power of fashion is unlocked when it is worn by a powerful woman.

 

Sources:

https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc848090/m2/1/high_res_d/GELOGULLARI-THESIS-2015.pdf 

https://www.vogue.fr/fashion-culture/article/the-devil-wears-prada-fun-facts-cult-movie#:~:text=Is%20The%20Devil%20Wears%20Prada,play%20the%20glacial%20Miranda%20Priestly.

https://www.vogue.fr/fashion-culture/article/the-devil-wears-prada-fun-facts-cult-movie#:~:text=Is%20The%20Devil%20Wears%20Prada,play%20the%20glacial%20Miranda%20Priestly.

https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/anna-wintour

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/anna-wintours-management-tips#:~:text=In%202013%2C%20Vogue%20Editor%2Din,strategies%20and%20brand%20expansions%20or 

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/07/meryl-streep-anna-wintour-devil-wears-prada

https://www.vogue.com/article/lizzo-october-cover-story-body-positivity-inclusivity

COVER ART: LEIGH COHEN