Hellosie, it’s Maisie. For me, dressing is a question of comfort and a lack of fear of being judged for “looking like a lesbian”.

Gender

How many women – straight or not – would benefit from never having to consider what a man – real or imagined – thought of their clothes.

Though I realised I was into girls at around six, it took until 13 to come out, and then 17 to tell my mum.

After coming out, I’ve always stuck to feminine outfits and a feminine look.

So, I’ve never gone for gender-neutral. And what was once a queer-owned style has shifted to the mainstream, being appropriated by straight women to the point that it’s now impossible to infer a sexual orientation from the way a woman dresses.

Obviously, it’s fine. I’m not one to tell straight women to dress straight and vice versa, but it’s certainly having an impact on gay women. What was once lesbian code is now merely on-trend, thanks to the high-street ubiquity of unisex outfitters such as American Apparel and Uniqlo and the androgynous cuts of Scandinavian shops like Cos. Add to that the rise of gender-free accessories (Grenson shoes, beautiful and virtually indistinguishable between genders). Some women are shirking the “boyfriend” cut for actual men’s clothes, something gay women have been doing for years.

Celebrity influence has also helped, from the ever-quirky Tilda Swinton to the more tabloid-friendly, youth-appealing sorts such as Cara Delevingne. Even Emma Stone, who happens to be straight, prefers to put a little subtle butchness into her off-duty looks, dressing like a cross between Kristen Stewart and preppy Taylor Swift. As for singers Jessie Ware and Lorde, both are styled by Avigail Claire – who just knows how a monochrome masculine cut works on a feminine physique.

Stepping outside of sexuality, it’s an interesting shift for fashion. If lesbians and bisexual women dress butch, it’s not necessarily because they want to be boys, or deliberately to peacock for other women. They’re doing it because they don’t necessarily aspire to a supposed male ideal of what looks cute; they’re more interested in wearing what’s most comfortable to them, that or emulate ‘out’ model Freja Beha Erichsen in black tees, black jeans and biker jackets.

It’s not only going to be harder for lesbians to pull off, now that every woman is wearing these signposts of queer, but I’m a bit proud of not looking like a ‘dyke in those dungarees’. And that pride is in setting yourself apart, in wilfully doing something that will never ever be done for the pleasure of a bloke, is kind of liberating.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. The waif look has arguably never left us. And with that unhealthy aspirations.

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I have discovered that I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down, just to fit into a sample size piece of clothing, and I refuse to fight against nature.

Awareness of the extreme thinness required of women has been growing for years, as have the objections to the cultural fetishisation of bones and hunger, instead of health and happiness, for women. Now, normally when a backlash starts against an advertising trend – which is in all important respects what women-thinness is, albeit more enduring and hegemonic than most – advertisers retreat. They take stock. Which is to say, they look at where consumers’ money is going – and they respond accordingly.

But the lack of change in this area suggests consumers are not changing their spending habits. And as most of the consumers of the brands and products these advertisers are selling to are women purporting to hate this kind of thing, we have a conundrum: why are we still doing this? Why aren’t we putting our money where our mouths are? And then, obviously, in further solidarity taking our mouths off for a pizza somewhere?

It seems that in the great fight against narrow beauty ideals we’ve gone only as far as lip service. We know what we see is wrong on multiple levels, but you can’t undo years of conditioning overnight. Enculturation starts at birth, and images work at a visceral level. You learn what your society’s beauty is long before you acquire – if you ever do – the tools to criticise and deconstruct it. Within the gap grow unhealthy aspirations.

If you want to see quite how unhealthy, do a quick search of the “thinspo” (short for “thinspiration”) hashtag on Instagram and see the approvals from girls and young women racking up alongside their emaciated peers. “My goal!” “My dream!” they cry to people well along the path to starvation.

Open letters, bans on the ultra-skinny (most of the body mass index cut off limits are still well below what doctors consider healthy), the occasional success of “plus-size” models such as Ashley Graham, Robyn Lawley and Myla Delbesion (the last for Calvin Klein, the brand that in the 1990s brought us, via Kate Moss, the waif look that dominated for the next decade and has arguably never fully left us) are all welcome, necessary and valuable. But they are not enough, and show no sign of approaching the critical mass needed to bring about change.

For that, we need advertisers to break the vicious, and viciously effective, cycle that threatens to trap current and future generations of consumers, and start using “real” women – of healthy weights, and maybe slightly varying shapes – instead of those who have been told to “get down to the bone”.

Asking, or compelling by legislation, advertisers to do this runs counter to almost every prevailing ideology and trend. It asks that moneymaking ventures act for the greater good instead of the bottom line. It asks government to chip away at a cornerstone of the free market. It conceptualises women as hapless victims of intangible forces.

To the first two we can safely respond – yes, it does. Ideologies and trends are not immutable laws of physics; do it. To the last, I say – yes, that’s an uncomfortable thought, unless you accept that all human beings are hapless victims from time to time. It doesn’t mean any of us are stupid, or make us lesser beings. It means that when things go too far we all need a bit of protection, not just from one another but from ourselves. And starvation as the norm is always too far. So, let’s do it.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. There are more important things to think about than one’s dresses. What a stupid thing to say!

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If I said to you “wrap dress”, what would be the first thing that sprang to mind? Would you think “sleek and versatile”, or would you think “sack of spuds”? Whichever it is, the name Diane von Furstenberg probably also popped up, or DVF if you prefer the shorter, catchier version.

The dress that suits any woman of any shape and size, allegedly. I say allegedly because I have never really found it suited me except very fleetingly when I was toned and muscular from training and I was body-confident enough to wear a dress that felt as though modesty was only third on its priority list.

Personally, I find that the fluid jersey construction – “it made every woman look like a feline” – is the very thing that turns me into Grizabella the Glamour Cat. I clutch, I fidget, I pin and I tape; I substitute a substantial leather belt for the skinny tie; and on one occasion I have actually sewn myself into one. You can’t say I haven’t tried. A tailored wrap dress in a fabric with structure is an entirely different proposition, neatening my outline and feeling secure.

A-Line

I’ve worn the A-line since I was about five. This, to my mind, really is a shape that can be worn by any woman, although I think it suffers a bit from being thought of as slightly dull. That said, there are several A-line dresses in my cupboards. As long as the fabric has some structure to it, an A-line dress fits neatly over the bust but then skims everything else, because it’s A-shaped, and it’s very flattering.

Empire line

Empire line is another one that has been a good do-er. The difference between empire and A-line is that the empire line is seamed under the bust and then falls to a flared, gathered but always a fuller skirt. I’m not keen on much gathering, which only adds bulk.

Full skirts

Vintage or retro styling of the 50s sort has always been a thing for me, and given that one of my earliest memories is of my mum’s swishy skirts, I suppose that’s hardly surprising. Of course, this means full skirts and full skirts make the waist look smaller (tiny even) and cover hippier hips.

A couple of summers ago I took to wearing a black linen, full-skirted shirt waister with my own layers of petticoats underneath and, as is often the case with favourites, I wore it until it finally disintegrated, but I always felt good in that dress. I need a (wider) belt to help define my waist. Femininity is something I’m keen to hang on to but I would rather do it without frilliness (which isn’t the same thing at all), although I do permit the “right” sort of frills in my wardrobe in moderate quantities.

The “right sort of frills” sounds like a topic for another conversation, which might be a good place to leave this one and ask what dress shapes have always worked for you?

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. Confidence begins the moment you decide to be yourself. Just plain pure and beautiful you. No make up required.

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From the soot-rimmed eyes of the ancient Egyptians to the lead paint worn by the Elizabethans, women and girls have experimented with cosmetics throughout history. Indeed, according to the Roman playwright Plautus, “a woman without paint is like food without salt”. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was less keen but just as rude, telling Ophelia: “I’ve heard all about you women and your cosmetics too. God gives you one face, but you paint another on top of it. You dance and prance and lisp; you call God’s creations by pet names, and you excuse your sexpot ploys by pleading ignorance.”

So, is makeup necessary seasoning, a conniving ploy by manipulative sexpots, or neither? Ask a group of women why they wear makeup and you’ll receive myriad responses. Some will say it makes them feel more confident, that they don’t feel completely “done” without it; others will say they love experimenting with looks and colours as a way of expressing themselves, that there’s a fun, theatrical element to face paint that allows them to channel different personalities and aesthetics.

However, I can say quite confidently that women wear makeup for themselves, and there are many different roles makeup can play in a woman’s life. There’s the playful and creative aspect – who doesn’t enjoy swirling a brush in a palette of colour? Then there’s the confidence-building aspect – why not cover a huge red blemish on your nose, if you can? Finally, there is an element of war paint and tribalism. Makeup can make you feel more powerful and ready to face any situation.

But just as there are women and girls who wear makeup completely for themselves, there are those who wear makeup for the perceived benefit of others, or who feel as though they are unacceptable without it. Makeup can be a mask you hide behind that gets you ready to face the world, or something you deploy as a weapon – to attract a partner, to intimidate, shock and amaze. It is used as part of religious or cultural rituals, or to align yourself with a subculture. It can mask your insecurities or be used to enhance the bits you love the most.

Makeup is so ubiquitous in our society that for a woman to go without it has become, in some cases, a statement – the “no makeup selfie” being a case in point.

For some feminists, the question can be answered by simply muttering “patriarchy” and dusting off their hands before heading to the bar. Certainly, women receive messages from an early age that encourage us to believe that one of our primary functions is to be decorative and therefore appealing to men. Go into any newsagent and you’ll see little girls’ magazines that come with free gifts of lip gloss and nail varnish. Parents buy their daughters strange, disembodied dolls’ heads to practise on. The Disney princesses so many little girls model themselves on wear eyeliner, mascara and eyeshadow, and have perfectly plucked eyebrows. Considering the extent to which makeup is viewed as a process of adornment used for attracting a mate, to foist it upon girls so young is arguably more than a little creepy.

Evolutionary psychologists have it that, as with so many things, makeup comes down to sex. Women tend to have darker eyes and lips than men, and makeup enhances those sex differences. Furthermore, the desirable qualities a man looks for in a woman – largely related to reproductive fitness – are said to be amplified by makeup. Beauty ideals vary from culture to culture, but there are some universal markers of attractiveness. Facial symmetry and an even skin tone imply good health, while youthfulness denotes fertility. Plump lips and flushed cheeks, meanwhile, are signs of sexual arousal, so your scarlet lipstick and pink blusher might just be giving that random man in the bar the subconscious signal that you’re ready for a night of passion.

Readers of women’s magazines will be familiar with the use of evolutionary psychology to flog cosmetics. I’ll never forget reading an article that suggested I wear crimson lipstick so my lips could mimic blood-flushed labia. And, if a vagina mouth isn’t your thing, then you could always make the skin on your face resemble a baby’s in order to attract men, a suggestion repeated with alarming frequency in the pages of the glossies and capitalised upon by makeup brand Maybelline’s Baby Skin range.

Cosmetics companies often rely on women’s insecurities – inculcated through years of exposure to images of physical perfection in mainstream media – in order to sell products, operating on the basis of “maybe she’s born with it, but probably not, so buy this concealer”. Its function as a means for covering up unwanted flaws or “unsightly” blemishes is hammered into us again and again. Many women spend hundreds of pounds each year on cosmetics, and as many minutes worrying about the way we look.

When the vision of beauty you are presented with is largely homogeneous, it’s only natural that you might resort to makeup as an attempt to “blend in” or to “pass”. But, as often with trappings of femininity, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Studies repeatedly tell us that men are more attracted to women who wear makeup. We’re encouraged to aspire to a kind of unnatural natural beauty, as captured by the immortal words of Calvin Klein, who said, helpfully: “The best thing is to look natural, but it takes makeup to look natural.” (Thanks, Calvin.)

Perhaps, then, when it comes to makeup, we are our own worst enemies, believing that the world wants to see us in a certain way when in actual fact we’re fine the way we are. Why do women wear makeup? You could say it’s a pinch of patriarchy, a dusting of sex, a smattering of fun, and a whole, caked-on layer of misplaced insecurity.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. Here’s the latest about a single girl from London. And some things you should know.

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The reason I don’t like systems or rules now is that I grew up with a lot of extraordinarily weird ones. I was forbidden to speak to people who lived in council flats. “Why can’t I talk to them – they’ve got toilets inside like us?” I’d say to my mother. Got whacked with the hairbrush for that remark.

We had a Scottish-speaking border collie. My mother missed Scotland very much. I don’t feel Scottish at all. There’s no Scottish words for anything modern.

I love Facebook – though it’s a complete waste of time. I want real friends, not cyberfriends. And most Facebook groups they can fuck off.

I find it’s not a glass ceiling for the likes of me, it’s a concrete one.

Always fuck when you first meet someone, because if the sex is shit you don’t need to see them again.

I was 9 when I accepted my parents were just parents and nothing special. My parents read the Sun and the Mirror. I thought they must have picked up the wrong baby. I expected my real parents to collect me – I imagined they lived in Surrey and read the Guardian.

Right now, knowing what I do. I’d have this pile of chips in hand for my next relationship, and as it progresses if they did things that annoyed me the chips would go down – they didn’t change toilet rolls or light bulbs, get the wrong shopping, forget your birthday. Their chips would rarely go up in these circumstances.

I’ve never signed on. Never claimed for anything; never been unemployed for one nanosecond.

Twitter’s for twats. You really can over communicate; we’re communicating piffle sometimes. You don’t need to tell everyone you’ve just had a crap.

I really can’t stand men in their fifties. They are both condescending and patronising.

The class system in this country is the most rigid in the world.

I just like doing things that I haven’t done before.

The dilemma for men is I’m a woman in my early 20s, and consider myself very independent with a healthy, normal, happy life.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. Kim Kardashian will try and sell you anything. But this is all you need to know.

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Using the Kardashians and Rihannas of this world can bring reach and exposure, but they don’t build a marketplace.

When people don’t care, they won’t buy it.

When, Rihanna tweeted a picture of herself listening to her album, Anti, on what looked like a cross between headphones and a crown. The golden and crystal gadget in question, designed by Dolce & Gabbana and priced at $9,000 (£6,215), sold out within 24 hours.

For those working in the business of taste, this was no surprise. While it is unclear whether Rihanna was actually endorsing the headphones, it is an accepted marketing practice for companies to send their products to celebrities and bloggers, then sit back and watch the likes and, some claim, sales roll in.

This practice has become so massive that, according to some reports, celebrities and bloggers now command hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from brands obsessed with reaching younger audiences.

The formula linking the complexity of social influence to sales doesn’t exist. But this doesn’t seem to worry marketers.

And there lies the problem. Brands are paying for reach, not influence. Rihanna has a huge reach with 55 million followers on Twitter and so does Kim Kardashian with 40 million, Kylie Jenner with 14 million and Gigi Hadid with 1.46 million. These celebrities guarantee mass awareness and in that they are not unlike media companies.

Reach and exposure are great, but they don’t build a marketplace. Social interactions, likes and comments are mere vanity metrics. The asserted impact of influencers on sales is anecdotal and tightly guarded and it shows us little more than consumers bought the endorsed product.

What these metrics mean for business is unclear. Dolce & Gabbana headphones sold out, but did they sell out because Rihanna wore them or would they sell out anyway? Would their sales be faster or slower if another celebrity wore them? Can it be that people were just into Dolce & Gabbana’s headbands, which have already been featured in this brand’s advertising and runway shows for multiple seasons, and that they liked the similar-looking headphones by association?

Unlike legacy marketers, global upstarts initially grew by focusing on their small core user group and making the experience exceptional. Build your business one person at a time. Just focus on 100 people, if they love you, they will market the product for you and tell everyone else.

This love is about product-market fit. No amount of celebrity is going to make a product that no one wants. At the same time, people will want a product that captures their imagination, conversations, cultural climate and taste. Airbnb, Uber, Net-a-Porter and Spring built a product that hundreds of people love, rather than one that a million people just like. Instead of awareness, they built love.

This sort of small, intimate and curated relationship might prove to be more viable for the fashion business than influencer marketing. The dynamics of the fashion market works in the opposite way to network effects. An item is more attractive if fewer people own it.

Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter enable consumers to cultivate their taste and hone their cultural sensibilities and cultural codes. Street style, fashion zeitgeist and taste making are both shared in, and formed by, these networks. Social objects like hashtags gather micro-communities of similar-minded people that are more easily influenced by each other than by an overexposed blogger.

Influencer marketing not only brings back the old fashion model where we are told what to like, it also increasingly looks like a mass-market advert. Exposure does not equal customer acquisition and retention, and they ultimately drive sustainable business success.

Knowing this, micro-targeting and capitalising on ordinary people may turn out to be the most cost-effective marketing strategy of all.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. Women who don’t necessarily normally do dresses can do dresses. This is what you need to know.

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I can stand up to some serious cross-questioning on the subject of fashion.

And contrary to what sometimes seems a popular belief – feminism and an interest in fashion can coexist. Why would it be antithetical to feminism to be interested in style, in design, in line and colour and cut? Why would a desire to feel good about yourself, to look modern, be at odds with feminism? Look at Coco Chanel. She looked fabulous.

Surely feminism should allow women to be as complicated and contradictory in their personalities as we allow men to be, with their football teams and fishing rods. Absolutely! Women are more complicated. Much more interesting. But what about the argument that our culture makes too much noise around women’s looks as it is, and feminists shouldn’t add their voice to this? That’s a quite separate issue from fashion. The emphasis on how you look is very narrowly defined in our media. That’s the problem. Whereas women can look great in all sorts of different ways. And women on their own terms understand that. Women who are interested in fashion dress much more for women than for men, and with a complex idea of what is stylish which most men just don’t understand.

Does power dressing come into wardrobe choices? It used to. Now, it’s more a case that there are certain wants for which you want to choose an outfit you feel confident about and then not think about it again.

Tonight, I’m out and I’m wearing a Prada skirt with an Etro shirt, which I found for £90 in the Liberty clearance room. I’m a bargain-hunter – of course I am. And I’ve learned that certain labels and pieces work for me.

I exercise quite a bit so I can squeeze my body into most things – I play tennis every Sunday afternoon with a friend. Not this weekend as I’m away.

If you want to do feminine and graceful, you wear trousers (wide-legged, extra-long) and if you want to look tough and all-action, you wear a dress. No, you heard me right. Wait, you got my email about this being the age of gender fluidity, right?

This, as a result, is when women who don’t necessarily normally do dresses can do dresses. I’m going to go with “tomboy dress” as a phrase. Tomboy dresses can be sporty, fastened with oversized ring pulls instead of buttons, or drawstrings instead of sash belts. These are not so much a new take on the dress, as the final frontier of athleisure. The aesthetic of the gym, having already attained ultimate wardrobe-creep by coming to define pre-6pm wear on non-working days, now has designs on what you wear to work.

But there is another option, too. Demure floral dresses have long been a fashion no man’s land. The default choice of the slightly depressed wedding guest, and therefore a look that all of us considers herself to have a little bit of an edge on – women like us, in other words – wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. But now, they are being rediscovered and worn in a way that is more indie-kid than Duchess of Cambridge, with chunky studded belts and ankle boots, and a streamlined, grownup line that makes them modern. (Think a black polo neck layered under a dress, rather than a cardigan on top of it.)

The dress has been liberated from girliness. Sporty details give energy to simple shapes, while a sweet dress is toughened up with biker boots and a ribbed knit. If the high-maintenance elegance of trousers has got you on the run (pale pink wide legged crepe pants are divine, but not exactly the practical option) a dress is this season’s more down-to-earth alternative. There’s even a failsafe test. Does it have pockets? This matters: for practical reasons, and for what-to-do-with-your-hands reasons. If the answer’s yes, that’s your dress.