Sunday, April 26, 2009

Denim Demon

The list of gray-haired gentlemen I take my fashion cues from is pretty short:
-Stephano Dolce (because he is a genius, and yes... I do believe he has gray hair now)
-Tim Gunn (because how do you say no to that face?)
-Karl Lagerfeld (if he is in fact still a man and has not yet completed his transformation to robot)
-Anderson Cooper (because, really, what wouldn't I do if he told me to do it?)

But this guy?

In case you don't recognize him without his signature bow tie, this is conservative op-ed columnist George F. Will. Last week, he published an article called "Denim Demon" about how American's favorite bottom-half attire is a symptom of our developmentally subnormal national psyche. The full article can be found here.

I love a good wardrobe analysis, and so I'd like to thank George for handing me this opportunity to defend one of my personal favorite clothing items by dissecting and making fun of his article on a variety of points. Let's begin here, where it becomes apparent that George doesn't know very much about the current luxury denim market:

"Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste."

It's almost as though this sentence has just climbed out of a sixties time capsule, when it might have been appropriate. But in the 21st century? Alas, no. Anyone who thinks that the current denim market involves an allegiance to "leveling" should be directed to this $699 Nudie Jeans nonsense (aptly condemned here). Things are not as they were when Levi Strauss & Co. churned out the first pair of blues in 1873! You better believe that every single woman walking around in True Religion with ugly-as-sin white stitching up and down the legs wants you to know that she paid $319 for these jeans, damn it, and don't you forget how special she is!

(But in the interest of full disclosure, here is a $253 pair by Proportion of Blu that I have recently been tempted by - hey, this is a style blog):

"Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves."

The first sentence: I hate this idea of "calculated casual". Sometimes, if a person is not going to an office or a formal gathering, that person wants to wear comfortable clothing which is nevertheless more presentable than 1) pajamas or 2) sweatpants. That person puts on some jeans. It is not a costume, nor is it carefully calculated. Pants, minus formal, minus sleepwear = jeans. Does George Will need a calculator to determine that 2 + 2 =4? Hopefully not. My point is that sometimes, you just know the answer, and no calculation necessary.

The second sentence: Of course people judge one another by appearance, and interact in a way that is partially based on those judgments. Our clothing choices act as a window into our self image, confidence, aesthetic judgments, influences, and the manner in which we want others to perceive us. But wearing a certain outfit, particularly in a casual context, does not represent our personal levels of "maturity or respect".

Do you know what really does represent "maturity and respect"?

Speaking and acting with...
wait for it...
maturity and respect!

When I put on jeans and walk out the door, I am no more or less of a jerk than I in a dress or a skirt. There is no causal relationship between fabric and behavior, and while mindset does influence how one gets dressed in the morning, SOME PEOPLE JUST LIKE JEANS. Here are some reasons why I am one of those people - reasons that have nothing to do with being the image-cultivating communist that George Will imagines:
  • They are comfortable
  • They go with everything
  • They can be worn more than once without washing, and are machine washable when the time comes
  • I enjoy being able to run, bend over, squat, and separate my knees without the possibility of an "I see London, I see France" scenario. Sorry skirts and dresses.
Also, if George Will is suffering from the delusion that those unfortunate pleated "baby-making-hips" trousers I always see him in are doing him any favors, he is sadly misshapen and mistaken. And if he thinks that wearing them will elevate him to a higher echelon of praise-worthy, credible, respectable human beings...

Well, I believe it was wise old Epicurus who once said:
"A turd in a suit and bow tie is still a turd."

"Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed for driving steers up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead in Abilene."

Just because the most laborious activity George Will engages in is golfing (other than his frequent exercises in ignorance - ba-bam!) does not mean that the same standards pertain to much of - or, indeed, most of - America. As noted in the list above, part of the reason I enjoy wearing jeans is because they allow me to be spontaneously grungy if the desire or need arises - and it often does!

"This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly."

I have a variety of responses to this outstandingly stupid and repressive mandate, but the most appropriate one comes in picture form:

Three thoughts immediately come to mind:

1.) Now this is "calculated casual".
2.) Why no one has yet invented Man Spanx?
3.) I sincerely doubt that Mr. Astaire would approve.