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Double Standards in “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”

Published on April 25th, 2017 at 12:43 am

Music Analysis

By Caroline Bamberger

California-based alternative rock band CAKE is known for its sarcastic, satirical music
and their hit single “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” certainly lives up to this standard. The single was
released in 2001 and has maintained popularity with alternative rock fans since then for its
catchy, entertaining rhythm and its clever lyrics that detail the double standard placed on women
in the modern world. Many modern popular songs play into the subordination of women in
society through derogatory and demeaning lyrics that treat women as objects to serve the needs
and desires of men. “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” on the other hand, subverts this trend by
satirically commenting on the illogical and borderline impossible nature of the demands of men
put forth in such songs. Throughout the song, CAKE and its frontman John McCrea use clever
lyrics littered with a surprising amount of literary devices in order to convey and strike down the
twisted notion that women are objects made for men and must be both powerful and submissive.

Lead singer and lyricist John McCrea begins “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by seemingly
describing his ideal woman, and, in doing so, beginning his commentary on the bizarre double
standard placed on modern women. In the song’s opening lines, the singer lists the things he
wants in a woman, repeating the phrase “I want a girl” at the beginning of each phrase (1-3, 5).
This use of anaphora recurring throughout the song demonstrates the ongoing and paradoxical
list of demands men make of women directly by continuously listing the things that the singer
wants in a partner. This idea is further illustrated by the conflicting descriptions of the dream
woman that always follow the phrase. According to the lyrics, she must have “a mind like a
diamond,” “shoes that cut,” and “eyes that burn like cigarettes” (1, 3. 4). In these lines, McCrea
utilizes dramatic similes and imagery to depict his perfect woman as powerful and intelligent,
quite the opposite of the overly sexualized image of women put forth by most popular music.
Furthermore, the use of figurative language in establishing this image heightens the contrast
between “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and other songs by opting for a more poetic representation of
women than such songs used. At this point in the song, it is clear to listeners that CAKE intends
to counteract the depiction of women in music and in society, and this seems to hold up
throughout the song despite shifts in language and tone.

As “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” continues, its portrayal of a strong woman begins to
crumble in order to reveal the double standard placed on modern women. This contrast initially
becomes clear through the total shift in the depiction of McCrea’s supposed ideal woman.
Instead of being independent and intelligent, she begins “playing with her jewelry” and “putting
up her hair” (8-9). These actions are less characteristic of a powerful businesswoman and far
more indicative of a flirtatious and submissive girl, yet McCrea implies that he wants a woman
to be both. Here, the song spells out the dual expectation that women be both powerful and
subservient by attempting to combine the two into one perfect woman. CAKE further highlights
this double standard in the first appearance of the titular line “I want a girl with a short skirt and
a lonnng jacket” (12). This line utilizes the contrasting imagery of a short skirt paired with a long
jacket to metaphorically represent the contrasting expectations of women in modern society. The
short skirt is symbolic of the consistent sexualization of women whereas the long jacket depicts
the more professional side also demanded of them. The fact that this line is used several times
throughout the song as its primary refrain as well as in the title clearly demonstrates that the
double standard it illustrates is the central idea of the piece.

The last two verses of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” follow an extended instrumental
interlude and bring about a shift in the lyrics that drives home CAKE’s message about the dual
expectations of modern women by directly opposing the woman imagined in the song’s opening.
Suddenly, McCrea begins depicting a submissive, domestic woman, the exact opposite of the
strong, powerful one he initial depicted. He introduces this new woman by imagining their first
meeting in the lines “At Citibank we will meet accidentally/ We'll start to talk when she borrows
my pen” (26-27). This sets up their relationship with the anonymous woman already in a position
of subservience as their first interaction is her borrowing his pen, representing the idea that he
must provide for her. Later, McCrea enhances the contrast between the woman described
initially and the woman she becomes by the end of the song by illustrating the changes she
makes to herself. According to the song, she changes her name from “Kitty” to a far more
matronly-sounding “Karen” and trades in her luxurious “MG” sportscar for a more practical and
family-friendly “white Chrysler LeBaron” (30-31). These changes illustrate the shift the woman
has made from a professional and successful lifestyle to a domestic and simple one, and, in doing
so, complete the personification of the double standard society forces on women.

Overall, CAKE’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” serves as an excellent response to the absurd
competing expectations of women in modern society that is prominently displayed in popular
music. The song acts as a refreshing twist on the ideas put forth by many other hit songs that
forces listeners to consider the conflicting ideals women must live up to and the role some of
their favorite music plays in reinforcing this. As such, it is a prime example of the band’s typical
sarcastic style and is a hallmark of the alternative genre which often aims to challenge musical
and societal conventions.

Works Cited

CAKE. “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” Comfort Eagle, Columbia Records, 2001.

"Short Skirt/Long Jacket." AZ Lyrics. Musixmatch, n.d. Web.