“We all need a splash of bad taste. No taste is what I’m against”. Diana Vreeland
We have discussed in a recent post the fact that – for better or for worse – anybody nowadays can adopt a killer look, in a quasi-Dsquared2 style, for less than €200, this thanks to high-street brands like Zara, H&M, Topman, River Island, Jack&Jones…
So how come some people still dress like shit?
Of course we must first humbly acknowledge the subjectivity of the concept. May be others think that it is I who dress like shit! And in the eyes of the great architect of the universe, wether dressed like a star or like a tramp, it is all about what is inside our pure beautiful hearts and all that kind of crap….
Yet, my friend Fernando’s dress sense does not just feel like a bowl of vomit slowly poured over the word “style”, but it is also a personal insult to me, my kin, my whole belief system.
Why can it be so in this day and age?
We have tried to analyse the reasons that explain the dress sense – or lack thereof – of the Fernandos of this world.
1. Those who adopt a coined “collective” style…with disastrous results
We have identified three streams under this heading
1.1. The mediocre modern version of an urban tribe from the past
Starting with the Teddy boys in 1950’s England, followed by rockers, mods, skinheads, hippies, glam-rockers, punks, metal-heads, new-romantics, goths, rappers, grunge kids….belonging to an urban tribe was a big part of growing up until the homogenised X-factor type culture spread its ugly wings over the world’s youth in the last years of the 20th century.
Nowadays, a member of these families, while showing personality in not sticking to the mainstream style, is likely – unfortunately – to be a plastic imitation of the real thing. Not only in terms of social significance (nothing shocks anymore) but also in terms of packaging: sportswear, tattoos, piercings, goaties, glasses, platform boots (and beyond mere clothes, also driving cars or having degrees)…are all anomalies – some handy I acknowledge – which for someone who has lived the era of suburban tribal warfare a few decades ago, seem grotesque and out of place.
2.2. Chavs (U.K.) and Skangers (Ireland)Also related to Poligoneros (Spain), Racaille (France)…
These guys actually think they are God’s gift to the world; that nobody equals them if they are in full regalia, that means flashing brand new runners, tracksuits, baseball cap, gold watch, chains and rings.
Within their little world the trick actually works; the social hierarchy thereby established probably empowers the dominant males with mating rights and territorial control. Discovery channel material.
2.3. New age travellers
Also know as crusties. A sort of tribe like 1.1 above, but contemporary and more itinerant than urban. Barefoot, dyed baggy pants, woolen jumpers, dreadlocks galore, strong musky scent of the great unwashed, their females have unshaved legs and armpits … Universally avoided. Their skills at “playing” the didgeridoo or the bongo is on a par with their dress sense.
2. Those who don’t give a flying f***kTo dress well, you have to care about it. Some people just don’t, but it is not always for the same reasons.
2.1. Married or in a long-term relationship
It is basic psychology and textbook sociology that we dress to impress…potential mates. Simple brains can’t swallow that (“That’s not true, I wear this because I like it...!”). However, alone on a desert island you just wouldn’t bother (see 2.3. below). As a result, once caught at the end of a fishing line, it is not long before the old discipline goes lax. Less purchases, less changing, less exercise, sometimes less washing…
Women and gay men are less subject to this phenomenon than straight males, and there may be evolutionary reasons for that. May be the possibility of death at war or at work of the male partner was such a risk to the survival of the mother and children that she has to ensure she would still be chosen by a replacement male. Gay men? Well, if you’re fabulous, it’s for life!
At the end of the day, the arbiter elegantium is rarely a happily married straight man.
It’s a cruel world out there. There is no mercy for the weaker members of the pack. Dominant males get to copulate, others are either reduced to the status of scavengers and get whatever is left, which is usually zilch, or give up and let themselves perish, alone, away and hidden from the world.
In practice, these non-dominant elements of the group, which is the majority of us, have two choices: living a delusion by keeping on trying and overcoming failure with lies to oneself like “one day my Prince(ess) will come“, or just give up, stay at home when not compelled to venture outside, and abandon any last remnant of care for one’s appearance. Why waste time and energy in trying to look good, if society, through the hierachy it imposes by showing us where we stand on the “doable” scale, keeps on telling us that we are worthless?
The way many of us stay unwashed and dishevelled on a Sunday after an unsuccessful hunt the night before is a small-scale version of the permanent life choice some end up having to make. Sounds cruel, but the human kingdom is as hard as the animal one.
Make no mistake, you dress not for yourself but for others, even if your ego thinks otherwise. Three days shipwrecked on a desert island and you would pick the warm rag over the super 120′ tailored suit and crisp white shirt. All style and beauty concerns out the window. Robinson Crusoe was not that dedicated to intimate grooming.
Note that unfortunately this category also includes the shipwrecked of the modern world, which are the homeless of our cities. God bless them. Readers, insert Maslow’s pyramid of needs here. Note that Dsquared2, no stranger to controversy, had a whole collection on the “homeless” theme (Autumn Winter 2003).
3. Those who don’t have a clue and still attempt an individual style
Two sub-categories here, quite different from one another.
3.1. Those who have inherited the “bad taste” gene.
A little like the aforementionned “chavs”, these guys think they look the business, but in an individual style way. Yet, they keep on collecting faux-pas and have become a caricature of themselves.
In this category I would put some people whom I admire immensely otherwise, like Michael Flatley or Elton John. Many south American soccer players too. It’s not like they have money issues; they can buy anything under the sun, but somehow always end up looking ridiculous, despite themselves being convinced otherwise. Hey Michael! Mullets look terrible by any standards, and cow-boy boots with a tuxedo are grotesque!
3.2 Those with the “taste gene“ actually missingHere, it is not that these innocent souls have bad taste, but they seem to have no taste at all. No ability to assess what might look either good, just OK, or awful. As a result they might look acceptable by accident one day, and look revolting the next. Most of our dads are in this category. We love them but Jaysus, some days we cringe being seen with them.
Conclusion: Fernando, a case study
My great friend Fernando belongs to categories 2.1 and 3.2. Happily married with kids, he has no need to impress anyone. He is an amazing person in terms of knowledge, intelligence, loyalty, respect, friendliness, compassion…but I would be ashamed to bring him out to some places. Fact.
His wardrobe is more or less the same as Two and a half men‘s Alan Harper: all shirts are variations of the checked shirt, and all trousers are shapeless chinos, in every known shade of brown. And he doesn’t even notice that (3.2. above).
With zero “thinking outside the box” ability in the field of dressing, his judgment of fashion pieces uses for compas the most basic tool, as we see in very young children or great apes: drawing parallels with what is known to him. If I suggest wearing black…”I look like a crow“! If i suggest white trousers or a pink t-shirt…”Only girls wear that“! I show him a pair of boots…”they look like orthopaedic boots“…
Shopping with him is so emotionally difficult that I had to declare that I was no longer able to help in that department. It is like showing a Picasso or Chagall to someone who would reply “my eight year-old nephew does the same kind of stuff“. Recently he asked me to help chose between three exactly same grey polos on some website (Springfield or Cortefiel). Like asking a Wagner enthusiast at Bayreuth which ‘One Direction’ CD they should get.
And it’s always been the case. I remember once around 20 years ago, him having flown from his native Madrid to visit me in France, and me having planned to take him to what was the trendiest club in Paris at the time. I was dressed in a way that I knew was going to be the passport to pass the extremely harsh physionomist at the door. When she looked at the two of us, eyeballing him head to toe, having probably never come accross someone dressed like this even trying to get in, I had to say in a “pretending-to-be-a-regular” way: “He’s my cousin from Madrid, visiting for a few days“. The door lady, horrified and reluctantly letting us in: “You can tell he’s not from here...”.
Now, I have to say that Fernando is such a great person that if they had not let us in, it would have been their loss! But I would have agreed with them…
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