Some ramblings about appearances

Shabby-chic or just plain shabby?

How is it that the average man of the 21st century has been raised up, in wealth, in holdings, in leisure time, in education, in rights, to levels on par with court members and landed gentry of earlier ages, but in respect to finery has sunk to the level of serf? Were even the least noble member of the humblest nation’s aristocracy of 5 centuries ago to meet a working man of today, though perhaps on par with him in wealth and below him in education, the noble would be forgiven for mistaking this average Joe for a barrowman.

A few comments, not necessarily articulated (in the sense of a skeleton with all its parts in the right places) but somehow dancing around the subject of men’s fashion in the industrialized world: I read an essay in some mag once about how the man’s suit has achieved a certain design stability, the way knives and forks have, a maturity such that no major change can be deemed an improvement; thus it is that the ‘radical’ new designer, such as this Boateng fellow, dare not alter the cut in any obvious way but simply offers us a suit in hunter orange! Bravo? As I pointed out to my wife recently, most men’s clothing owes much to post-gunpowder military uniforms, with all the earth tones, blue, black, brown and olive, and not much beside unless one is an attention hog. The man’s suit, the article aforementioned states, offers both anonymity and elegance, and only the subtlest of status cues. I have noted, since acquiring some Armani jackets on the cheap at Goodwill, that a well-cut suit jacket is designed to make you look more muscled, more virile, than you may necessarily be. This is why the tailor will attempt to construct enormous shoulders to reimpose some v-shape to a wearer with a pot belly, with varying levels of success.

It’s also interesting how many less formal clothing articles come to us from some sporting “look at me I’m dressed like an athlete” provenance. Baseball caps, obviously, are adapted straightaway from the caps worn by baseball players to keep the sun out of their eyes while they try to catch fungoes; and I assert that they are good for little else. I wear a broad-brimmed hat when out delivering mail, because I want sun protection for my entire head and neck. The thousand and one varieties of sneakers are more justifiable; I would be loth to walk all day in leather soles. Even a few blocks is murder.

T-shirts? Efficient things, but for warm weather I have gone over, whenever possible, to those Hawaiian shirts, but only if they’re made of rayon! And why must a good, cool, rayon shirt have tikis and surfers and flowers all over it? Who made that decision? Were I a designer I’d offer a whole line of better-looking rayon shirts. And long-sleeved ones, which are as rare as ‘57 Les Pauls.

I’m a big fan of skateboard shorts with seriously big cargo pockets. It would be a sin for these to go out of style, ever. When I was twentyish shorts were a much more nut-hugging sort of construct, and it was easy to go too far in that direction (I can still remember the hoots and stares got while walking to Harvard Square; I swear I didn’t know I looked like a male prostititute until it was pointed out to me. Soon afterward I discovered world-class Cannondale bike shorts which pointed the way to the big-pocketed future).

And I have a few fash preferences which only seem like affectations to those who don’t know what a good, practical thing they’re missing. I have a straw hat. I repeat: I own and wear a straw fedora which, for driving into the sun or walking in the heat, is one of Man’s finest inventions. I used to deliver mail in it, until the boss’s boss sent word that I was to stop. He didn’t know all the compliments I was getting from ladies of a certain age, who hadn’t seen a physically fit man in a straw hat in about forty years, not counting movies.

For colder weather, I again defy convention with a very old Air Force olive-drab cap with ear flaps and a tiny brim, which affords warmth and looks and feels far better than the knit watch cap, aka the head condom, aka the Devil’s Itch Bag, aka the Instant Bad Hair Day. Oh, how I loathe this undignified sock that doesn’t know which end of the body it inhabits, and how I loathe the weather that would require it!

One last observation: I once read that, in African villages where nobody owned any shoes, a podiatrist would starve to death. The foot is designed to be unencumbered. I had noticed my toes starting to turn inward, as old people’s will do, from excessive confinement. So I have gone to wider shoes and a whole size too ‘big’, and a boxy toe whenever possible. Let the foot spread and find its own place in the order of things. It seems to help! My feet bother me less than before, even though I wear the ‘wrong’ size. What the heck? I now suspect most men, and probably most women, have been wearing too-small shoes their whole lives.

But most of what I have just discussed is practicality rather than fashion, so here are some of my opinions on pure appearance:

Bow-ties? Not unless you’re Andre 3000 or it’s a formal ball. Who else do you know who does the bow-tie thing? Farrakhan, Tucker Carlson: i.e., assholes.

Belt, not suspenders. Why? Habit.

Pleated pants? They always make you look like you have front-butt.

Cummerbunds? Ha! I said “Cum.”

Team insignia (American sports or Nascar): says “I want to be branded as property.” Team insignia (foreign): much better; if you’re from the foreign country in question, says “I’m proud of my country.” if you’re American, says “I’m cosmopolitan and/or ironic.”

Goth gear: says “I’m not really a vampire, but can I suck you anyway?”

Power tie: says “I’m really a vampire, but it’s your soul and wallet I came for.”

Going ‘commando’: says “You call it the subway, but I call it the Tunnel of Love!”

posted on 06.17 at 09:30 PM.

Elegance rarely comes without effort. Throughout the centuries, a great deal of time, energy and resources has been devoted to this quest. Mastered by those with financial means, fashion was once the privilege of the few. For some it was also an obligation: noblemen were required to appear at court and in battle in elaborate finery. To fight was their birthright; to shine, their prerogative.

posted on 09.17 at 07:15 AMmeba

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