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Recently I was having a 'damage limitations' conversation with a 40 something client and friend. It concerned a failed wedding dress that had been made up as a toile by a dressmaker (not mine I hasten to add). 'I so wanted to swish you see, and now I am not going to be able to, and there is this great pile of silk that will never find its moment. . . .' When am I ever going to be able to wear a dress like that again? It's all downhill from here,'  she added painfully, as if referring to some sort of irrevocable decline of feminine beauty and potency.

I found this conversation oddly moving because have always been rather cynical about the romantic narcissism of brides with their drive towards the big- fat-fairytale-princess-for-the-day idyll. Why any sane woman would want all eyes turned towards a confection of femininity that is so completely removed from what it actually means to be a woman in 2012 strikes me as absurd (sorry there is my humbug rant but I had to get it out in the open!).  But this real sense of loss my friend was describing was not just financial and sentimental it was somehow profoundly existential. At that moment I did not find her melancholy even remotely self-indulgent. I just wondered to myself how an emotion that is attached to the peculiar characteristics of silk could run that deep.  Later that evening I was bathing my three year old daughter and she was lying back in the water pretending to be a mermaid. 'Look mummy,' she said, 'my hair is all swishy'. I was absolutely blown away. Here was a little girl whose grasp of language is so functional and apparently one-dimensional and yet she understood the onomatopoeic word exactly. She knew what it meant, how to use it and the total physical exhilaration it expressed.

Afterwards I reached for the OED:

swish: n,  1 A hissing sound, as of a slender object moved rapidly through the air or an object moving swiftly in contact with water; a rustling sound, as made by silk; movement accompanied by such a sound. 2 a splash of water on a surface. 3 a cane or birch for flogging; a stroke with this. Also a cane etc. for keeping off flies. 4 an effeminate male homosexual US slang. 5 Cricket; a rapid or careless attacking stroke. colloq

swish; a, smart, elegant, fashionable.

swish: v,1 (Cause to) move with a swinging motion, esp. so as to make a swish or a hissing or rustling sound; (cause to) make such a sound.  2 Flog (especially a schoolboy). 

So there you have it: 'swish' is a word absolutely loaded with notions of gender, and a certain set of qualities associated with it. It is connected with sensual pleasure, social and aesthetic perfection as well as effeminacy and pain,  most especially when it is played out in a too harshly 'masculine' context (swish just isn't cricket). 

Swish is elevation into a superhuman state of grace. When you swish you experience sensual pleasure that is entirely for its own sake, unselfconscious and without guilt or shame -  it is like the exquisite, innocent, sensuality of a child - narcissism before morality got to it and made it sour.  To swish is to be so much more than just sexy.  Swish is satin unraveling from the bolt; it is 'The Girl From Ipenima', ' a Ginger Rogers spin and lunge', 'Garbo's face emerging from velvet blackness',  the toss of Bartot's hair. To swish is be fluid, free and weightless like a mermaid in the sea; a siren  - utterly seductive  - but also seduced by an almost indescribable beauty and elegance of motion. Swish is the exhilarating experience of self caught by a wave - a pure moment outside of the always potentially clumsy human body. Swish transcends the corruption of age and the banality of day to day conflict and responsibility,  - it is orgasmic in a peculiarly feminine oceanic way. It is as ethereal as the wind over a wheat- field. To swish is to be glorious, gorgeous and 'Divine' no wonder it has such an intimate relationship with the cane. Swish is powerful, an irresistible force of nature.

My newest project is to learn to swish a little more on a daily basis - it suddenly seems as essential as cleaning ones teeth! 


Reader Comments (2)

Splendid post. I plan to do some swishing this very evening.

August 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRicard

Great post, thank you!

August 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

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