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Good Housekeeping
Stephanie Castillo, Contributor
June 09, 2011

Some Like It Haute

Ever been called maarte for your love of fashion? Columnist Stephanie Castillo breaks down the stereotype. By Stephanie Castillo
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2011_06_09_stylewise_some_like_it_haute_devil_wears_prada.jpgA few months ago, I conjectured via Facebook status message:

“Why are girls considered maarte if they like to dress up? Isn't dressing just another skill you can excel at like cooking or singing or dancing?”

After around 20 girls (and a few guys) had pressed the cathartic “like” button under my status, my ever hawk-eyed editor commented, “There’s an article in that.”

And here we are.

Take a girl in vertiginous heels, a complexly tailored top, or this year’s ubiquitous maxi skirt, and you’re likely to hear her labelled “high maintenance.”

In Filipino, we use the same term to describe prima donnas and drama queens--maarte. It’s a faceted word, seasoned by 21 flavors of fussy, haughty, and conceited, with a sprinkle of pretentious. Point is, it’s almost always affixed to portrayals of fashionista types, as in: “She’s dressed up every day--maarte kasi,” or “She’s used to wearing heels--alam mo naman, maarte.”

The term isn’t always used negatively. My mother, who has very simple, sophisticated taste and sometimes thinks I’m dressed “weird,” playfully dubs me maarte when her gaggle of gal pals compliments my wardrobe. If you’ve read The Joy Luck Club, you’ll know it’s an Asian mom thing--how a lot of mothers show pride for their children with backhanded affection.

Most of the time, however, being called maarte doesn’t come with a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s used so commonly in our local parlance that the word has lost part of its sting--which, to me, makes it even more worrisome. It’s like having someone insult you and not being sharp enough to comprehend the insult.

As a girl who’s always loved and immersed herself in fashion, I’ve never really understood the maarte stereotype. Sure, in every manicured cluster of stylish people you’re bound to come across some diva attitudes. Vogue editrix Anna Wintour is a shining example (especially if you’ve seen The September Issue), as is half the cast of The Devil Wears Prada. Having worked in fashion myself, I will be the first to admit that these personas aren’t exactly blatant exaggerations of the truth.

But then there’s rest of us high heel-wearing, mixed print-pairing folks who, contrary to popular belief, are pretty down-to-earth. Legend has it that we don’t eat, are incredibly catty, and take the art of pickiness to a whole new level--but you’d be surprised.

Take my friend Cara, who works at a well-known atelier and drapes herself in proportion-bending menswear-inspired numbers. Ask her what she does after a long, harrowing day of fittings and shows, and it won’t be a mani-pedi with a bellini in hand. Chances are, she’ll make a beeline for the nearest Pepper Lunch, order some hot, cheap chow, then head out for a beer.

Or my friend Lia, who has a quirky, artsy style sense ala Zooey Deschanel and a knack for picking strange pieces that work only on her. Lia is an avid surfer, who doesn’t mind living in a shack on some nameless beach and eating off a banana leaf with her hands, just as long as there are waves to ride in the morning.

These are only two of many examples, and here’s the kicker: they aren’t the exception to the rule, but the norm.

It might seem harmless to call a well-dressed woman maarte, especially if it is meant without malice. But personally, I find it condescending--especially in a world that has established fashion as a serious career. Fashion, like business or art or finance, is a skill-oriented field, where a good eye and impeccable instincts are priceless and arguably rare. When you don’t have the skills, you can end up with a hot mess--but when you know what you’re doing, you can work wonders.

Even if you don’t work in fashion, dressing is a skill anyone can excel at, as I posted on Facebook. Clothes, shoes, and accessories are ever-present things in a woman’s life--and even if you don’t dress fancy every day, special occasions make it virtually impossible to avoid.

That’s when the magic happens. We dress up, and it makes us feel beautiful, confident, and empowered. We pluck an idea from a magazine editorial or a scene in a movie, and we paint it into a moving portrait of fabric, texture, and color appropriate for a given occasion. To some, it may appear frivolous, but to us, it is honest self-expression--and just another way to have fun. That’s what fashion-lovers are all about--delighting in the ability to dress with purpose and honing it every single day.

I won’t say that high-maintenance mindsets and a flair for fashion don't often coincide--because they do! But just as often, they can be mutually exclusive. Maarte girls will be maarte girls--the world is awash with them--but how well they can put an outfit together really has very little to do with it.

(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

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  • sonja Jun 09 2011 @ 01:41pm Report Abuse
    I long for the day that people of our country (well, for the most part) will accept that dressing fashionably is not a thing for celebrities or socialites only. Some middle-class people still consider "dressing up" as maarte just because it was not considered a norm. I myself would like to embrace my inner fashionista but feels really awkward looking like a sore thumb say in the office or on weekends at the malls.
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  • Bianca T. Jun 09 2011 @ 03:51pm Report Abuse
    Great first post! I love Ms.Castillo's fashion tips and learn a lot from her articles. Will look forward to her next column!
    Last modified A long time ago
  • Katrina Jun 09 2011 @ 07:31pm Report Abuse
    I dress down or dress up whenever, wherever I want. I don't actually care what people say, they're my clothes anyway, why should they care. =)
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  • JOSE Jun 09 2011 @ 09:22pm Report Abuse
    This was so much fun to read. Your writing is magic!
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  • Rizza Jun 10 2011 @ 10:48am Report Abuse
    Great article, thumbs up!
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  • Sara Jun 10 2011 @ 01:38pm Report Abuse
    Way to go, Steph! Can't wait to read more of Stylewise ;)
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  • happy Jun 10 2011 @ 09:54pm Report Abuse
    nice article!!
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  • Marquita Jun 11 2011 @ 02:43pm Report Abuse
    I really like the trends i see in lookbook.nu

    let's say something i found really interesting to try- wearing colorful socks(just the short ones) with your wedges or heels and a nice outfit to go with it.

    i tried this, and i was pleased with myself but then, people who see me, i know in the back of their heads find it weird and sometimes i feel bad that i tried it but i have to carry on.

    or let's say wearing boots before was something people here won't dare do without an occasion, at least now medyo puwede na pang casualan
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  • kabbie Jun 11 2011 @ 04:03pm Report Abuse
    Nice one, Steph! I enjoyed reading this! :)
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  • kacez Jun 12 2011 @ 07:27am Report Abuse
    i love your article , it explains myself .I love fashion and i love dressing up.. but i am with the crowd who are not. i was branded maarte , sosyal , maluho , but i can afford what i want . I belong to middle class , Na afford ko namn bumili ng LV na bag but ng ginamit ko parang ako pa na out of place . i beleive i dress well and i dress up properly sa occasion , but i still got that

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  • pleasureshop - http://www.pleasureshop.com.ph/ Jun 15 2011 @ 09:36pm Report Abuse
    dead spot on on the title, thanks it was a fun read
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Stephanie Castillo
Stephanie Castillo is a freelance writer and fashion stylist. Her column, Stylewise, appears on FN every Friday... Read more...
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