“Shelley Hack jumps out of a Rolls-Royce and strides confidently down the streets of New York City in a kicky pantsuit, embodying all the freedom and confidence of the women’s movement with none of the baggy clothes or scowling.”
– We Were Feminists Once (Andi Zeisler)
I recently started reading Andi Ziesler’s We Were Feminists Once, and by “started reading” I mean I’ve almost finished the first chapter. But I encountered the quote above, and haven’t been able to move beyond the word “kicky”. I think I might want a kicky pantsuit! For clarification, the quote is describing an iconic ad for Charlie, a perfume by Revlon, and the first perfume to become a “blockbuster”. This ad is largely attributed to its commercial success. (Shelley Hack is the ad’s model.)
As it turns out, the usage of the work kicky dates back to the 1790’s when it was used to indicate something that was clever or showy/gaudy. It’s usage as slang for something that was very chic/modish, exciting, or even “far out” pops up in the 1950’s and 60’s. (Source: The Dictionary of American Slang. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/kicky). Incidentally, this is also when its usage peaks.
“But, wait!” you say, flipping through your mental catalog of Shakespearean dialog. “What about All’s Well That Ends WellI?” Aah, yes. Shakespeare uses “kicky-wicky” to refer to Parolles’ wife:
He wears his honour in a box, unseen / That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home / Spending his manly marrow in her arms (Act II, Scene 3)
(No, I didn’t make that connection myself. I had some help from an Internet search.)
At any rate, it’s hard not to associate “kicky” with Malibu Barbie, and I’m Shelley Hack isn’t really set free by her kicky pantsuit. Kicky-wickies needed to be contained by their burly men, though I could be on board with them at least being feisty. The Revlon ad is trying to rebrand feminism as pretty and sexy, or even fun. I mean, that’s why I’m stuck on “kicky” – it’s a fun word! The word itself isn’t gendered, though I think it’s safe to say we associate things that feel flirty as being feminine, and I can’t really imagine being presented with an image of a man being described as kicky in attire but only because this isn’t standard marketing jargon.
Still, I do love the word kicky, and surely it can be added to my lexicon in a delightful, gender neutral, yet slightly nostalgic, way. So, have a kicking, kicky day.
*Disclaimer about featured image: I cropped the original ad and applied the blue filter.