Ten years ago Meryl Streep graced us with her icy tone of disdain and fierce collection of handbags as Miranda Priestly, fashion tycoon and ruthless tyrant of the fashion magazine Runway. 2006 was five Oscar nominations (and one win) ago for Streep, and two nominations (and one win) ago for her costar Anne Hathaway, who played Andy Sachs, the mousy, serious journalist who struggles to maintain her values and her friendships during a cutthroat internship at Runway.
On the surface The Devil Wears Prada watches like a slightly confused combination of criticism and glorification of the high fashion industry, a shallow dip into the pool of purses, prints, and the pressures of perfection. But, ten years later, it’s apparent that there’s more than meets the casual eye with this film than clothes, cattiness, and Christian Louboutins. Andy, her boyfriend, and her friends remain a timely example of the millennial generation and its quest for instant gratification and war on the establishment.
In 2006, I was in my first year of college, and I viewed Andy’s stance against the vapid designer world as admirable, for I was too weak, a slave to brands if you will. I also scoffed at her inability to prioritize and make her friends and boyfriend a priority, because what could be more important than that? Now, ten years later and a decade wiser, or possibly just jaded, I view The Devil Wears Prada with brand new eyes. Why isn’t Andy’s boyfriend willing to make a few sacrifices for his partner’s future success and opportunity? What kind of friends are eager to accept free Marc Jacobs purses but quick to criticize when the method to earning said purses cuts into their social life? And when did anti-establishment start to mean superiority and judgment over another person’s passion?
In one of the most famous Miranda monologues in the film, Andy gets lectured for snickering at the exhaustive efforts Miranda’s team is putting into choosing between two belts that in Andy’s eyes, look exactly the same. Staring Andy down with that glacial glare, Miranda then proceeds to provide her with a lesson on the history of the uniquely distinct shade of blue that makes up Andy’s sweater that she likely chose in defiance of the concept of high fashion, concluding with the powerful point that every article of clothing a person chooses to wear to present themselves to the world each day comes from the hard work of someone, somewhere. So why is their work any less important, less intellectual or esteemed than working at a prestigious newspaper?
Up until this point, Andy’s insistence to remain uncompromising of her appearance in order to appease her new coworkers and boss seems admirable, or at the very least understandable. But is that just because the internship is in the fashion world? Would we praise the same rebellious act if a student teacher refused to follow the syllabus as required by the elementary school she’s been assigned because her goal is to become a professor as a prestigious university rather than a third grade teacher? The concept of instant gratification has been ingrained in our generation, and we treat our stepping stones as annoying rocks that need to be swiftly kicked aside rather than the path we should patiently follow and learn from along the way.
During Andy’s struggle against dedicating herself to work she lacks passion for, she also lacks the support of her partner and their closest friends, particularly when the fruits of her labor don’t whet their palette. Her friends are thrilled to receive free designer gifts she brings home after a long day at work since she still shows up to dinner. And her boyfriend Nate is happy to benefit from the lingerie she reveals to him after she misses his birthday celebration, but when she begins to actually enjoy what she’s doing and put forth the effort to adjust to the lifestyle that makes up Runway, Nate decides he can’t hang in for the full year. One year. Is it impatience? Sexism? Emasculation?
Regardless, Andy’s imploding relationships with both Nate and their friends serve as a representation of the impatience and inflexibility we’ve learned to demand from society and each other. We refuse to allow ourselves to compromise what we want in the moment for what we could have in the long run, because anything that’s worth having should be able to be had right now. Contrary to what’s said about millennials, our issue isn’t a sense of entitlement or refusal to put in the work. We work our assess off. It’s that we’ve created a world where we expect our hard work to be instantly rewarded, and if it’s not, we move on rather than hanging around to see if what’s damaged is actually broken or can be fixed.
Few worlds are as fast paced and cutthroat as the high fashion industry, and the parallels between the history behind that cerulean sweater and how it came to clothe one woman’s back and this generation of young adults who battle daily against an overwhelming outpour of ingrained instant gratification expectation are even more relevant in 2016 as they were in 2006.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox