“Fashion” and “fascism” are not as unrelated as I thought — and this has nothing to do with the recent release of the film of “The Devil Wears Prada,” which recapitulates the lessons of high school (people can be mean, but less so if you dress like them) through the adventures of a comely naif working at a style magazine.
Nothing so photogenic here. I merely went looking for a swimsuit and discovered that, this year, the hem is down to the knees. This is apparently the result of a surfer influence, although it might as well come from gangstas or America’s increasing tendency toward obesity. Or all three. For some reason, every fashion trend we have is making men’s clothes baggier, possibly coalescing into an ideal of obese people surfing with Saturday Night Specials jammed down their shorts.
Shorts? Are they still called that, or are men actually wearing culottes now? It feels that silly.
Who are the fashion decision makers able to so completely lower an iron curtain — perhaps an Indian-sarong-style iron curtain, for an ethnic relaxed look — on the border between two years? While I continued wearing my ancient and anachronistic nylon Adidas shorts, wearing out their lining, the style went from ridiculously minimal in summer 2005 to absurdly maximal now. This is suspiciously Manichaean, as though the decision makers are testing the extent of their powers by jackknifing an entire nation of consumers through fashion changes so extreme that it suggests the ultimate fashion accessory is a look of bewilderment. (For consumers, that is. For models, it remains a look of surly vapidity).
It works, too, as I’ve been unable to find swimsuits that go down to midthigh, even online, just as I’ve found it impossible to buy a three-piece suit. I remember asking a fashion-forward friend about this years ago, only to have him laugh in my face — the concept so absurd, that I would look for something so out of style. What’s replaced three-piece suits are jackets that button all the way up to the sternum, and shoppers are supposed to believe that somehow this won’t look as stupid in a few years as the Nehru jacket does now; the three-piece suit, meanwhile, a staple of coolest-man-ever Cary Grant, is relegated to yuks associated with used-car salesmen and baby-blue crushed-velvet prom attire.
Style is timeless. It’s fashion that’s of the moment, susceptible to the whims of the mad and their manufacture of the frequently unwearable, the kind of stuff that is essentially radioactive: You can’t use it, you’re slightly ashamed of the one time you did use it, but it has an incredibly long shelf life. In short, it’s impractical and fails the test of common sense.
Gangsta wear, for instance, is based on the idea that the baggier the clothing, the more firepower can be hidden within. Divorced from the actual smuggling of weaponry and converted into fashion, you just get a lot of people wearing ill-fitting clothing that makes it difficult to move if, in fact, there’s some sort of situation in which they wished they’d brought a weapon. For many of us, we can’t wear it and embarrass ourselves if we do. Onto the shelf with it.
And gigantic swim trunks? They fail the common-sense test in a different way.
If Americans are so obsessed with being tanned, and find farmer tans so risible, it seems incomprehensible they are now embracing swim trunks that will leave them with gangsta tans. Knees will be a rich, prewrinkled brown, thighs will be like purest milk. Unless it is dictated, perhaps, that we must all adopt the swim trench coat and, as an accessory, the swim fedora by fashion police headquarters (where the fashion police gather to make bitter comments about fashion internal affairs and wonder if things would be better as a fashion state trooper or perhaps if they were promoted to fashion police administration).
Because fashion is art, designers and decision makers will always be able to apply the logic of art — there is none — to what they do, and this makes failing the test of common sense pointless, like complaining that a Dali or Picasso is illogical. But fashion is also big business, and that means there’s something else at work.
It’s the same thing behind the evolution of technology that has us revamping our music collections from vinyl to tape to CD to mp3 and our movie collections from reels to VHS to DVD to whatever’s next. And as soon as what we want to listen to, watch or wear becomes unusable, we’re trapped into committing to an entirely new lifestyle, forced into changing.
I just wanted a replacement swimsuit. Not to look like an idiot. Not to waste my time, nor to despair.
I wanted a swimsuit, not a Brownshirt.