Concededly, I possess a limited sense of what is "fashionable". Oh, sure, I've railed before about casual Fridays. I've caviled about how, when I grew up, only the important guys with good jobs were able to wear coats and ties to work; how I consider it a privilege to be able to do so now; how I can't understand how, on school days-Monday through Friday-you could actually practice law in a polo shirt and a pair of khakis; and I've mourned the loss of the bargain ties of the now-closed Horowitz Department Store, a Chapel Street institution.
That aside, I continue to mull the mysteries of what passes for fashion. Frankly there's a lot that I just don't get. Allow me to expand.
Hats, grown-up people's dress-up hats once were, for the most part, for men, the fedoras like the FBI agents wore in the J. Edgar Hoover days. For women it was what you saw on telecasts of the Easter Parade outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Except for the real old-timers who continue to frequent DelMonico's on Elm Street, the fedoras are pretty much long gone. And the Easter Parade sure isn't what it used to be. There's been a sea change.
But tell me, please, how it became fashionable to wear baseball hats as part of a white collar work ensemble. It used to be you wore baseball hats when, for example, you played baseball or maybe some similar activity. You know, fishing, playing golf, mowing the lawn, painting your kids' bedroom. The hat served a purpose. It protected you from the elements. You might also choose a hat to display your support and for a particular team. Go, Sox! Now every Tom, Dick and Shirley sports a hat bearing a LL Bean, Sandals Resort or some college logo when they're all spiffed up on their way to Court, the Symphony or the Queen's Ball. Help me out. I don't get it.
Or how about wearing them backwards. The brim, designed to shield the sun's rays, now points toward the rear, doing little more than covering evidence of the need for a quick trip to Supercuts. Now Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and the bevy of Molinas sprinkled throughout the major leagues necessarily wear their hats backwards for a very practical reason: they must wear a catcher's mask. But the folks I see indulging in this "fashion statement" don't appear to be catching anything more than a ride home or a skinny latte at Starbucks. What am I missing?
And there's a corollary to this phenomenon, applicable mostly to academia. When did it become acceptable to doff these chapeaux de jour, front or backwards, in classrooms? I thought the basic rule is that you take your hat off when you're inside, a kind of sign of respect. Now apparently there's a school of thought that thoughts in school can only be acquired under the cover of an offering from New Era, Nike or Reebok.
A baseball hat, for a baseball player, was special. You made sure to get just right. The right size. And the brim was important. You bent it a certain way, fashioning it just so to maximize its shading function. You wanted to look like a ballplayer. No more, pal. Now you buy a baseball hat two sizes too big. You make sure it covers your ears. You leave the brim flat as a table top and, get this, you leave the removable manufacturer's tinfoil decal on the brim as well.
Ah, yes, pants. They come roomy. They come tight. [ Skinny jeans, anyone?] Fashions vary, apparently, from season to season. Cuffs. No cuffs. All that I get. What I don't get and never will is why wear them so big and so loose that they fall off your backside and display your BVD's. Spend some time in arraignment court watching handcuffed, beltless defendants executing steps best reserved for a hoedown, one hand at the waist, guarding against disaster. Not a pretty sight. For me another unsolved fashion mystery.
Logos and Trademarks
The biggest mystery for me, however, is the stuff we end up wearing that actually advertises either the manufacturer or the place where we bought it. And we pay for the privilege. Somewhere along the way the fashion industry has really done a job on all of us. They've pulled a Tom Sawyer. Instead of bidding for the privilege of whitewashing Tom's fence, we pay to wear his shirt and show it to others so they'll do so too.
It's hard sometimes, to find a shirt-T or dress-that doesn't sport the logo of the manufacturer. If I see one more polo pony, alligator or sailboat logo on a dress shirt I'll spit. It's like this. We buy a shirt-and in the polo pony category, an expensive one-and we then become a walking billboard for the manufacturer. And we pay for the privilege of helping sell more of the same. Tell me how this makes any sense at all. Shouldn't they be paying us to sell their stuff?
T-shirts are unique to themselves. We take a trip. We buy a T-shirt, maybe as a souvenir. On the front is a silkscreened something or other depicting "Disney World" or "Budweiser" or "Al's Alligator Farm" or the silhouette of a black dog. Here we go again. Or maybe it's a Nike swoosh, an Adidas three-line symbol or a Puma symbol. And we pay more for that. Someone tells me how this makes sense to anyone other than the people to whom we've paid for the privilege. No wonder Mad Men is so popular. It's homage to the wonderful folks who can twist our minds to believe this is not only rational but desirous.
Things like this remind me of my Uncle Joe, a plumber with a little less than a high school education and a common sense genius. A number of years ago the fundraisers at his church solicited him. They wanted to build a new church. As a faithful parishioner they were confident he would be supportive. They visited his home. They asked for money. Uncle Joe quickly analyzed the situation.
"Wait a minute" he said. "Right now the Church that is convenient to me. It's right down the street and I can walk to it, right?"
"Yes", they said.
"Now you want to build a new church that's father away and less convenient and I'll have to drive to it, right?"
"Yes, that's right"
"And you want me want me to pay for it, right?"
"Yes, that's right."
"No", says Uncle Joe, "I don't think that makes any sense."
Like my Uncle Joe, I just don't see how any of this clothing stuff makes any sense.
Great country, America.