The first of the series, Literary Song Analysis endeavors to deconstruct popular songs, revealing deep thematic ideas representing the conflict of the modern era through pedantic, superfluous, overly academic writing and ample doses of exaggeration. The first, Cake’s legendary Short Skirt, Long Jacket, reveals the double standard placed on women in a post-feminist world, detailing the pull of career as well the pull of domesticity.
While at first glance, Cake’s popular song “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” may appear to describe the singer’s ideal woman, “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” actually details the double standard imposed upon women by men in a post-feminist environment, pressuring women to not only adhere to the “empowered woman” stereotype but also to the traditional female figure of the era prior to the advent of modern feminism. The singer, in Cake’s general ironic style, lauds the modern-day woman, but in the end reveals a desire for the traditional, domesticated female. This conflict manifests itself in the titular fashion combination of a short skirt and long jacket, transforming it into a metaphor for the double standard modern-day American society places upon its female population.
In the opening lines, Cake describes what seems to be the modern woman. She has “a mind like a diamond” and demonstrates capability at work, such as eliminating red tape and picking up slack. The woman has obvious power in her position, as she tours the facilities rather than merely working there. This girl has “uninterrupted prosperity,” “good dividends,” and “smooth liquidation,” showing financial success as well. The singer goes as far as sexualizing her. For example, she puts up her hair and plays with her jewelry, both visual cues of a woman flirting with someone or attempting to attract attention to herself in a physical manner. He also idealizes her beyond simply a tactile sense – her fingernails, he asserts, “shine like justice,” comparing an area of beauty on the female body to a desirable, abstract concept.
Therefore, many people often assume that Cake’s song “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” merely describes what many would call a modern-day, empowered woman, and that the singer praises her for her independence and competence in work and money. She wakes up early, stays up late (denoting an active social life), and is physically attractive as well. If written by any other band, this would lead to an accurate assumption, but Cake’s past songs of irony and sarcasm denote that more may be at play in this song.
Many people miss the auditory cue that demonstrates a shift in the song’s mood and message. After the third verse and second repetition of the phrase “Short Skirt, Long Jacket,” Cake plays a momentary instrumental bridge (the auditory cue for change in the song). The next verse displays a stark difference between the first three verses describing a modern-day, empowered woman, and describes someone completely different. The singer fantasizes of meeting her at Citibank (where else to meet such a powerful, wealthy woman?) and immediately subjugates her into a subservient role. They meet “when she borrows my pen,” the singer says. Immediately, she is an inferior position. She requires a simple tool (tools remaining firmly in the masculine role of the American cultural psyche), but lacks it to complete her routine tasks. She must ask the singer, a male, for help. Thus, the fantasized relationship initiates with the man firmly in control, and the singer begins to sing about a completely different person.
The singer sings immediately after the meeting that she trades in her MG for a white Chrysler LeBaron. MG is a well known British sports car manufacturer, while the Chrysler LeBaron was famous in its inception as the lowest priced car in Chrysler’s automobile line. While it evolved into a lower-priced convertible for a brief time, by the 1990s, when “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” was written, the LeBaron was known as a medium priced sedan, not nearly as luxurious or fancy as the MG the subject previously drove. The singer drives this point further reminding us that this car, rather than to show off or as a status symbol for the woman’s prosperity, simply exists to get her to places, implying the car is now used mostly for running errands. Also, the car has the hallmark of American comfort – the cup holder armrest. This car the woman now drives more closely resembles a car found in use by modern American families and in modern American suburbia, whose juxtaposition with the aforementioned MG displays a drastic shift in either the woman’s goals, attitudes, or at the very least, her luxury consumption and driving habits.
In short, the singer has, in the short space of one verse directly following their meeting in Citibank, effectively domesticated the woman. She has changed her name from Kitty, a more exotic, adventurous name, to Karen, a very common, conservative name for females. She no longer drives about in the speedy MG, but drives a simple sedan for errands. This woman contrasts sharply with the idealized image of the modern, emancipated woman the singer initially sings of, resembling more the stereotypical 1950s American suburban housewife rather than the Wall Street financial power broker mentioned in the beginning of the song (and whom many people assume this song idealizes).
And what of the short skirt/long jacket combination the singer raves about repeatedly? This phrase is obviously important enough to repeat a total of three times, with the song ending with this phrase. The titular short skirt/long jacket represents the duality and tension between the acceptable desire for a modern-day woman, and the more socially unacceptable desire for the traditional, domesticated woman. In the post-feminist age, men who desire the latter are seen as oppressive, while the men who desire the former are lauded as progressive. Women, also, are condemned for desiring to be housewives and praised for ambition in the workforce. This constant tension between two stereotypical extremes plays out in the short skirt/long jacket metaphor. The short skirt represents the emancipation of woman (womens’ rights are, generally, directly associated with rising hemline) – the woman is emancipated sexually in her choice of dress, but also in her career decisions and financial success. However, the long jacket would cover the short skirt, blocking it out.
This dichotomy represents the modern-day society’s double standard towards women. Because of the general success of the modern feminist movement in the United States, women do experience unprecedented freedom and individual prosperity, but old habits and traditions linger. Yes, women may now wear short skirts and still consider themselves socially acceptable; however, the singer allows this modern-day woman to exist, but only if she continues to cover it up with a long jacket. She may be successful and independent, but once she meets the singer (i.e., a potential mate), she must immediately place herself in a subservient role and domesticate herself, effectively covering her once symbol of independence and emancipation – the short skirt – with the long jacket of traditional feminine roles. In essence, Cake’s Short Skirt, Long Jacket represents the murky post-feminist world, idealizing what many would consider the ideal, emancipated woman, but in the end revealing an undercurrent of nostalgia for the “good old days” – the stereotypical, domesticated woman.