Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fashion Is a Tax on People Who Think Personality Is Something You Wear (Not Something You Have)

This is going to sound angrier and be much longer than I originally planned. It was supposed to just be an entry making fun of the breathtakingly effortless condescension in Washington Post style and fashion editor Suzanne D'Amato's Sunday column. (I'm still catching up on my reading from the weekend.)

You should just read the article. I don't do fashion, but I was in awe. I mean, it sports a level of condescension that's typically reserved for the unfortunate souls in the flyover states. (I assume those people have souls.)

She says that because DC folks don't care much about fashion, a sophisticate such as herself (displaced New Yorker, of course) can be part of a secret sorority of fashion giants walking glamorously among the troglodytes, swooping in Indiana Jones-like and scooping up the treasures hidden under the noses of those who don't share her raised style-consciousness -- all the while sharing knowing glances with the other cognoscenti and laughing up her sleeve at the natives' ridiculous naivete and shockingly gauche fashion faux paus.

As a bonus, since no one else here is as stylish as she, she is just that much more fabulous by comparison -- a brilliant light flaring against the sackcloth, instead of being washed out by those even more fashionable than she in New York.

Oh, but don't worry -- there's a moral to the story. The peasants, in their charmingly naive way, ultimately dress only to please themselves (which is fortunate, since they have no way to compete with the truly style-conscious). And isn't that what fashion should be?

Yes, the joys of simple folk -- they can show us what life is really about.

It's an amazing read. I'm hoping she's just really bad at satire.


Now, I typically avoid blogging about matters of fashion and style. This is because I am a heterosexual male (occasional misidentifications notwithstanding).

It's easy for guys to ignore fashion, since despite the best efforts of the fashion industry to turn men into women, guys' clothes don't change. They don't have to change. And they won't change unless the phantom WMDs really do exist and we all have to start wearing radiation suits with activated charcoal liners.

As long as they fit, a guy can realistically get by with a pair of regular, plain old straight leg jeans, a pair of straight leg khakis, a pair of straight leg dark slacks (notice a pattern?), some nice long- and short-sleeved t-shirts, a couple of dress shirts, a sweater or two, maybe a sports jacket.

Solid colors preferred. Shirts fitted if you're in reasonable shape. Pants not too loose, not too tight. A few extras for variety. Limited redundancy to allow for the laundry cycle. Replace when worn or it doesn't fit anymore.

It's even easier if you have to wear suits. If you want to get all a-twitter because the high priests and priestesses of fashion decreed that this season's suit trend is three buttons instead of two, or that seersucker is back (hint: it's not), you can replace your entire wardrobe if you want. The rest of us will get by.

It's easy to do if you can avoid the need to feel fabulous and fashion-forward. And it is easy, for those of us who've been around for a while. We can remember firsthand how stupid we looked in the 70s, 80s and 90s, trying to adhere to the pronouncements foisted upon us by the arbiters of style in the name of fashion.

Paisley shirts? Turned-up collars? Rollneck turtlenecks? Striped pants? Two-toned jeans? Plaid? We remember.

Ah, but the tastemakers and trendsetters are different now -- we've learned from our past fashion mistakes. Listen to us now.

No, you haven't. And no, I won't.

Not going to play that game again. It's a stupid and pointless exercise designed solely to sell clothes.

Maybe not being fashionable is boring. There is compensation, though: In return for forgoing the distractions of worrying about clothes and being fashionable and fabulous, men get to run the world. It's like school uniforms, writ large.

An oversimplification, I know. And I don't run anything. But, now that you mention it: Why yes, I do happen to think that fashion is a frivolous pursuit meant to enrich a handful of designers, the garment industry and assorted commentators and hangers-on, at the expense of the fashion-conscious.

If the lottery is a tax on people who can't do math, fashion is a tax on people who think personality is something you wear, not something you have.

(Having more money than sense also helps, though that applies to a lot of things.)

It's an even bigger scam than how the entertainment industry comes up with a new format every decade or so, so that people have to repurchase the media they already own. This is because it happens twice a year, every year. And what's more, people look forward to it.

Now that's good training.

Mind you, I can appreciate good design. (Though there's a lot of pointless frippery involved with that, too.) Well-constructed clothes that fit and last. I get that.

What I don't get, and don't care about, is mindless designer-worship. Repeat cycles where everything old is new again. Pointless changes in the cut of a jacket, a rise in a hemline, or the crowning of a new in-color by people who only wear black. The next brand fad that's going to look completely ridiculous in a few years (if not sooner).

And not just fashions defined by clothing designers. Black duster raincoats in a Hong Kong summer. The same thing as before, with tailfins. The next shiny thing, the next pointless distraction.

(I am similarly annoyed by audiophiles who spend hundreds of dollars for wooden knobs, or young folks who spend tens of thousands of dollars tricking out their boom cars [which was the '80s version of pimping your ride -- the terms change, the idiocy doesn't] -- though at least the audiophiles who waste that kind of money tend to be more financially established. They're probably not going to be the oldsters eating dog food in 40 years, screaming to the government for a safety net, after they blew all their income from their early 20s on an Alpine for their IROC-Z / NOS and rims for their Civic.)

Why the long-winded hostility to something that's essentially harmless to those who can afford to indulge in it (simply because it's so completely and utterly meaningless)? I'm not sure. It's not any different than sports-worship, technology-fetishism, celebrity gossip-mongering or any other pointless and self-indulgent pursuit that garners more attention than it should in a sane existence.


Anonymous said...

I think you're quite right, but I can't help digging dusters ever since seeing "Once Upon a Time in the West" for the first of many times.

Anonymous said...

She's absolutely insane, yet another purely superficial, vapid drain on society. Wooo!

Wish there was some YTB this season!

Joelogon said...

Matt -- I have no problem with occasional bouts of fan worship -- it's just the permanent, institutionalized seasons (with the planned, nay required obsolescence) that gets me.

Jason -- there will always be a YTB, just maybe not on the fields.

Anonymous said...

i so agree with this post, i'm a woman, have lots of clothes, but i also completely don't get this idea why on earth we are supposed to all like something one season just because someone tells us we like it, and the next we're not supposed to like it - it's such a joke!!! - i can decide on my own what i like! it's so ridiculous that i just can't believe that people really do it! Just for fun, i've had a look at what is "in" this season, and they say everyone "must" get something in red - he, he, so doesn't matter that i love and look good in white, blue, and yellow, and have so many clothes in these colours - this season i have to run to shops and get red! huh??? Selma Hayek who always looks so good in red was therefore not "fashionable" last season wearing it? :)) Also they said corsets are back - i've worn corsets since i was 16 since they are so sexy and make me look good, but now, some boss decided they have just become "in" now! so before i was not fashionable ;) Already scared that 90% of girls on the streets will wear my favourite corsets :(( I can only pray that my all-time favourites - white tight pants, white short dresses, black singlets, super short shorts, mini skirts - will not be declared as "in fashion". And I also make fun of the "two button - three button" thing :)) Or one seasons my hand bag should be big, then small; one season i should have a belt with a big buckle, next with small :))) So glad to read this post, i was worried i'm the only person making fun of the "must have fashion trends for season x", felt a bit like in "emperor's new clothes"!!!

Joelogon said...

Can you talk a little more about the corsets?

Discourse about the white tight pants, white short dresses, black singlets, super short shorts, or mini skirts would also be acceptable. -- Joe