Traveling the streets of New York City can be a disorienting experience. It is not so much the hordes of commuters, Ivy League bankers, shopkeepers or tourists that get me down (well, for the most part). It is the ever presence of shiny, attention seeking Americans flashing their latest look that I cannot stand. Growing up on old movies taught me that sparkle is definitely an evening wear choice. Well, no more in 21st century America! Feel free to sparkle all of the time! Lately none of us seem able to distinguish ourselves without a big, loud designer something on. Must sandals now have long suede ankle wraps attached to them (and 20 buckles)? Does every young girl have to look like an 18 year old hooker recently let loose unchaperoned at Barney’s? It’s not just the girls either. Grown men cannot seem to ride the subway without wearing full wraparound beige to white Gucci sunglasses on. I know fluorescents provide an unflattering light but there are limits. So what has happened to style? Why does fashion only mean risk taking anymore? I need a break. My eyes hurt.
What disturbs me about the prevalence of a ‘bling’ attitude is the pose it suggests – that of a very insecure, well-off teenager. Adolescence was never my favorite phase to begin with. I remember walking around like I was untouchable but truthfully I could not have felt more insecure or fag-bashed. Burgeoning sexuality is not a pleasant sensation, especially when you are trying to find a social niche. This is just what I see on the streets nowadays, this same stance: can’t touch this / I don’t know who I am (add an expendable income). Is this the new America? I’m not gonna lie - I am afraid.
I do not believe this is the slightest representation of America or the American character. It is however pervasive. Everyone on the street seems to want to be perceived as a slumming pop star. It is a look but don’t touch world. But I don’t think it is style. Style is cultivated - this is bought and boy does it show. Isn’t leisure wear supposed to be leisurely? I am all for a little color coordination and some high end sunglasses but we the USA have fallen into a rabbit hole and everyone on the other side looks bizarre on purpose. Here are some of the apparel I would place in the 'no, please' category: strappy sandals with rhinestones, anything with rhinestones, loud European sunglasses, high heeled shoes at noon, excessive layering, “pocket pants” (jeans with a crotch pouch for men), super high sheen lip gloss, tiny tees, skin tight jeans, oxford shoes without socks, peg leg pants for men, Capri pants for men, summer fedoras for anybody, gaudy handbags held out for display, omnipresent smart phones, “guns” (giant headsets), sleeves (arms full of tattoos), print tees, and labels, labels, labels.
What happened to a distinctive American style? A casual, modest kind of look designed for walking around during the day? I love fashion, I love glitter, but I love my sanity more. Looking at old family photos from the 60s I once asked my mother how she kept us all looking so immaculate on a budget. “Oh I bought everything at Penneys (JCPenney)” she said. “Clothes were not high like they are now”. I’ll say. Clothes are high! I am not saying that we should all run around in 40s fashions (where every man owned a good suit and a woman wore gloves) but I am not saying I would mind either. How about a touch of modesty in our attire? Must our clothes sneer at one another? Extreme presentation is a very isolating experience for the wearer and the viewer. It also defies a classic American ethos of folksiness, even friendliness. If we are all starring in our own show how are we going to get along? I feel as if we are all running around like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange – and look what happened to him! So here is what I say: viva chinos, hello khakis, wear a belt, shoes to match, buy a couple of things and wear them over and over again. If you are working on your look don’t make the public suffer – casual elegance is time honored and worth achieving. This way if someone strikes up a conversation with you it won’t be about where you got your jeans. Not that you would bother responding. You will just blankly, glamorously stare into space.