Are we what we wear?
It’s a luxurious Saturday afternoon and I’m waiting in line at Magnolia Bakery in New York. If you’ve ever walked past Magnolia, you know that there’s always a ridiculous line that wraps around the building at all hours of the day. I still have about 30 minutes to wait before I’m allowed in, but I’m already orgasming in anticipation of that $8 box of cupcakes. Seconds later, another reason to come walks past, and he’s wearing skinny dark denim jeans, pointy, black patent leather shoes, a white v-neck t-shirt and this fire-engine red single-breasted coat. I cream. Just like the other Magnolia pastries, this guy was tan, beautifully packaged, and I wanted his cupcake in a box.
“Can anybody in their right mind ignore a hot guy in a red coat?” I thought as he darted past. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to open his box, so while I waited on the only cupcakes I was going home with, I couldn’t help but wonder: When it comes to fashion, do we dress for ourselves or for others? What is the purpose of red if not to make biscuits hot?
All fashion is situational and usually depends on other people. We know to wear different outfits custom-tailored to the setting. The currency of fashion is so powerful that we feel like bozos if we wear the wrong outfit at the wrong time. For instance, everybody knows that you can’t be too sexy at a job interview or under-sexy on a first date. Either extreme might result in a catastrophe.
Example 1: I once had a first date with this guy who showed up in comically baggy jeans, an oversized t-shirt with yellow pit-stains and black orthopedic shoes that were talking to me, if you get my drift. And he was totally u-g-l-y. Call me judgmental, if you must, but I want to see what you’d do if an ugly guy with dandruff of the face and green teeth was your next candidate.
Conveniently, my date asked to stop at the nearest Rite-Aid, and I told him I’d wait outside.
Y’all know you’d do the same thing.
Bad fashion is a deal-breaker. Good fashion can temporarily relieve ugliness.
We’re most successful when we get dressed for the benefit of other people. Fashion, after all, is communication. Of course we’d like to think that we’re capable of getting dressed just for ourselves, because we like this $150 scarf, these $790 boots or that $2,500 red coat. But each time we change social environments, we enter into a different Social Matrix, and every time we spend money on clothes, we’re actually paying dues to the SM.
Each of these SMs has opposing rules and expectations for what is cool, hip, appropriate, too much, ugly, beautiful, over the top or desirable.
And if you don’t master the rules, you too could get ditched at a Rite-Aid.
Example 2: A few weeks ago I went to the MFA Sculpture Thesis opening at the School of Art. Before I went in, I didn’t know that what awaited me at the top of the stairs was a vast sea of Art Boys and Art Girls, kooky glasses, skinny jeans, high-tops, grandma glasses, trench coats, grandma dresses, Mohawks, pearls and bright, ironically colored American Apparel hoodies. Let me just say it now: Art Boys are so hot. And Art Girls make me want to be straight. Almost.
What’s curious about that night at the School of Art is that never before had I seen so many Art People/some-might-call-them-hipsters gathered together in one place in New Haven. It’s the same group I see when I gallery-hop in Chelsea or Brooklyn, when I go to MisShapes or Metropolitan, or when I’m on the L-train to Lorimer.
Have you ever realized that we must become SM masters in order to know what fashion will fit into our social locations? How do we know to be kooky before we gallery-hop, or to be flashy and androgynous at MisShapes, or to be reserved in the country club? It’s because we’re all following fashion scripts, and even picking an outfit is a performance, a one-person show of getting dressed for another.
A perfect example of the benefit of getting dressed for others is the Gay Clone Couple. The Gay Clone Couple is the oh-so-cute pair of gay men who happen to look like cum-copies of one another. They’ll wear similar A&F t-shirts, have the same Mohawk or, God forbid, wear matching “Pitcher/ Catcher” shirts. That’s the benefit of gay relationships: you get to double your wardrobe.
There isn’t anything wrong with the Gay Clone Couple. What is interesting, though, is how fashion helps them find each other. Like the ABs/AGs, the GC knows where to go to find his or her likeness. Hell, two ABs might just date one another after meeting at a gallery party. Because fashion, like desire, is a vicious circle.
We all know what we’re doing when we invest in a new piece of clothing. Just like the GC when he buys what everybody else in Chelsea is wearing, or like our friend the hot guy in the red coat who knew what he was doing when he bought it.
We know what we like. We imitate it not just because it’s hot, but also to attract other people who like it too. Maybe I don’t like Abercrombie and Fitch, but if I am taught that these are the kinds of men who are beautiful, then I fashion myself after these men, not really to be like them, but to attract them.
So if we do get dressed for other people, then there’s no such thing as originality. We’re all just tripped up in being everybody else. But in the end, who really cares about being original? That won’t get you any cupcakes.
Let’s play dress-up. Red coats for all!
Madison Moore is praying to the fashionable hipster gods that he will make it into the MisShapes book. But he would never let on that he cares so much because caring is so like last decade. Desperate to be cool = so not cool.