Fashionably Late, by Elayne Riggs
Whoever thought that lipstick would make major Silly Season news in the 21st century? Although I have to admit I’d rather hear about it being applied to pit bulls and pigs than human beings, but I’ve never had the best relationship with makeup, accessories and other fribbles, as this past week has reminded me.
Every September sees the re-emergence of Fashion Week here in New York City. In keeping with the acknowledgement that this Silly Season is in many ways sillier than most, this year Mercedes-Benz, the chief sponsor, has even decided to go with an election theme on the event’s home page. Maybe they want to emphasize how uselessly trivial it all is. Or, to be fair, how much “fun” people have ooh’ing and aah’ing at emaciated creatures who rarely resemble real people strutting the catwalks wearing creations that rarely resemble real clothing. And there are all sorts of tie-ins, one “big deal” this year being Target’s special “Bullseye Bodega” outlets in strategic areas of the city, only open this past Friday through Monday, which purported to sell high fashions at low (i.e., Target-level) prices.
Fool that I was, I ventured into one around noon on Friday, just out of curiosity, and found it to be the single most pretentious experience I’d ever witnessed. A cramped place with absolutely nothing of any practical value to me, but filled to the brim with a sea of people desperate for couture at closure level. I saw only one piece that would have fit me, a XXL man’s thermal top for around $35, but I’m afraid I just wasn’t in the market for one, and even if I were I could have gotten the same thing (sans designer label) for far less money by shopping at Amazon. That’s the kinda gal I am. But other gals seemed to like it just fine, so obviously one’s mileage may vary.
Even comic geeks have been able to get into the spirit of fashion this year. My ComicMix colleague Martha Thomases has reported on the “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rick Marshall covered the Marvel Fashion Show at the San Diego Comic-Con. There does appear to be a fun element to the idea of heroic costumes being more frivolous than practical, especially when worn by women. But even the guys are taken to task, and taken down a peg, by wry observations about their chosen uniforms. The word “capes” alone elicits either giggle-fits when watching Brad Bird skewer that fashion-don’t in The Incredibles, or sneers in comic pages wherein non-powered citizens dismiss the antics and lifestyles of the heroic and famous.
There’s a lot of similarity between great fashion designers and clever comic book artists. Both create whimsical outfits for largely anatomically-impossible, idealized bodies to wear. Of course, most comic book costumes don’t drape and fold like actual cloth, they’re more like painted-on colors added to naked bodies. That said, some good artists have a happy talent for streamlining outfits that enhance and differentiate their characters. Alan Davis is one of my favorites at doing this; every costume he redesigns for long-standing icons seems like it goes perfectly with that character, with no unnecessary baggage. This is something Alan takes quite seriously; I remember hearing a story about an issue he drew wherein a character who at the time was wearing an outfit that really didn’t work for him got into a fight with someone who, little by little, knocked bits of that costume off in the course of the battle.
What’s your favorite superhero accessory? Mine’s probably Batman’s utility belt, which is hardly a fashion statement but more a pocket-substitute, because who can wear pockets with most of those skin-tight outfits? I don’t tend to see a lot of jewelry worn by superheroes. I loved the bands that Quantum and Woody had in that late lamented Valiant title. Does anyone wear a wedding ring? Vixen has those loop earrings, doesn’t she? I wish more heroes would wear earrings. Earrings are my one concession to fashion accessorizing. I only have the two piercings, one in each ear, that keep insisting on closing up when I don’t put anything through them, but since I got my new job I’ve gotten into buying and wearing pretty and cheap earrings again. I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $8 for a pair, which means that at this point I can afford about 90% of Laila Rowe’s inventory (and, as mentioned last week, there’s a branch of that store way too conveniently close to my office). I’m amazed I haven’t bought it all yet; perhaps the only thing stopping me is that my Earamid (see photo accompanying this column) is currently full and I’m actually considering buying another. And yes, I think it’s sad when one starts to mull whether to buy an accessory to hold all of one’s accessories.
For the most part, though, I have no use for other stuff. Maybe that’s the reason behind my usual contempt for high fashion and its followers. I’ve always been fashion-backward; I’ve never been able to dress cool. I’m still haunted by the memories of being mocked as a kid for wearing animal-print pants to school. I really liked those pants, but I never wore them again after being teased. I also got a lot of taunting for wearing pants of the wrong length (i.e., short enough that my socks showed, which elicited lots of “when’s the flood expected?” cruelty). And growing up fat in the ‘60s and ‘70s you only had so many non-muumuu choices. Nowadays I dress practical and for comfort. I commute in sneakers, and wear a hip-pack rather than carrying a pocketbook. I have little trouble conforming to my company’s dress code but I loathe skirts and dresses, in large measure because I think panty-hose are the work of particularly sadistic demons. I can’t accessorize beyond general knowledge that, for instance, if I’m wearing plain blue slacks I’ll want to pair them with a patterned top that has blue in it. I don’t do scarves or necklaces or bracelets or anklets or even nail polish. In fact, I haven’t applied makeup in decades (high school acting cured me of wanting to put any goop on my face!) and only very rarely wear perfume (I tend to get nauseated by other people’s choices, particularly in enclosed spaces like elevators, offices, subway cars, New York City). Gosh, fashion-wise I’m almost a… guy!
If I were a superhero I’d definitely opt for a practical uniform over a flashy costume. And it would have pockets or, at the very least, a custom-made utility belt. I wonder if Edna Mode’s busy.
Elayne Riggs blogs at Pen-Elayne on the Web, and cares about the fashion industry only to the extent that Stella McCartney is involved in it.