It’s time to look at this fall’s hot new fashions. I heard you’ve been feeling good about yourself, and it’s time to take you down a notch.
Have you seen any of these clothes? We are told that “houndstooth is the new black.” How many of you want to wear a skin-tight, fitted houndstooth suit? Nobody? Is that because you’re afraid you would look like William Shatner playing a golf pro from an obscure foreign country visiting America to pick up tips?
And that’s just what women would look like.
Who knows how men would look? To be honest, the only men I know who follow fashion have already used up their clothes allowance from buying last year’s shrunken schoolboy attire. They’re not happy, either. They’re spending this season trying to get their sleeves to cover their wrists.
The fashion industry ignores our desires while giggling behind its manicured and bejeweled hands at our needs. Clothes are a necessity, right? But like the evil stepmother out of a child’s fairy tale, the fashion industry sends us out into the world in rags while cackling at our misfortune. This year the rags will cost up to a week’s pay, and we’ll still look like Hansel and Gretel, only less well-groomed.
We’re drawn to the guidance of the experts, despite ourselves. We know the clothes they’re showing aren’t designed with us in mind. Clothes are not even shown on actual adults. Fashions are routinely displayed by models so young, what we’re seeing are basically sonograms dressed in Stella McCartney’s eye-catching outerwear.
One of the major magazines — the fashion issue weighed more than many individual models — suggested its readers remember, “Flared denim is super flattering.” I must’ve stared at that phrase for a full five minutes trying to make sense of it. Just think: since I was a child, I must have misunderstood the definition of either “flared denim” or “super flattering.”
Before I was 30, I didn’t care what I wore. Nobody under 30 should. My clothes came from thrift shops and secondhand stores. My favorite pictures from high school show a 17-year-old girl wearing a 20-year-old dress for which she paid $3.
I pretty much look the same until I was 26, when I started to teach full time. That meant I started buying clothes at full price. I bought worse clothes for more money: Such is the nature of retail.
My father understood retail: I once showed him a yellow knit suit that made me look like one of the killer bees from Saturday Night Live, and explained I got a good deal because it was $100 suit on sale for only $19. My dad shook his head in pity and explained “No, sweetie. You got it backward. Some moron originally paid $100 for a $19 suit.”
We need to stop paying attention to fashion foolishness.
If someone came up to you and said: “You wear that fur hat with aplomb!” or “Head-to-toe fire engine red is bold!” you’d stop returning the phone calls, right?
How about a spread headlined “Styles That Would Make Walt Whitman Proud!” displaying wealthy women in country-themed paraphernalia? Not for nothing, but Whitman wrote about working-class Brooklyn and liked men.
Even as a fan of the poet, I wouldn’t be flattered to be compared to Whitman in terms of a “look.” The most famous images show him with a full beard, a soft brim hat, an open neck shirt and an old jacket. (The jacket isn’t houndstooth, but he does wear the hat with aplomb.)
Finally, one recent fashion headline chirped, “Sometimes your sweat shirt speaks for itself.”
Want to know what my sweat shirt says? It says the fashion industry is unaccommodating, hermetically sealed and entirely out of touch with any person not flexible enough to put his or her ankle behind his or her ear. And if you think that syntax is awkward, just imagine how awkward a houndstooth leotard would look on the person sitting across from you at the breakfast table or waiting for the next bus to the mall.
Especially if that person were Walt Whitman, who knew the value of some coarse clean clothes and having the silliness shamed out of a person.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.