Regular readers (all three of you) may have noticed I've curtailed my Shambles P.I. posts lately. It's not because I haven't seen any shambles to investigate privately, er, publicly, rather, it's just that I haven't had a camera on me for the last few weeks. I suspect my old helper tortoise Vladimir took it to spite me when he walked out on me last month. Stupid testudinidaen bastard...
Anyway, despite my lack of photographic evidence, some things people choose to wear in DC are still pretty laughable. For instance, the shambles I saw on the Russian couple who stopped by the sex shop last week and argued about whether making penis-shaped pasta for a dinner party as a joke would be too offensive (the answer is no, however, the dyevochka thought otherwise as her droog pouted at the thought of a penis-free dinner). While the argument was hilarious enough to witness, this spectacle was infinitely enhanced by the couple's appearance. The man had a euro-mullet like I'd never seen before. It was Ivan Drago in the front, Dog the Bounty Hunter in the back. It was epic to the WTF degree. The woman, well, I didn't check my watch, but suffice it to say, it must have been Vremya Molotka, or as we'd say in English, Hammer Time. Words can't touch the volume of her tie-dyed Hammer pants...
Now, I would venture to guess that this couple thought they were on the edge of fashion...and perhaps in Novosibirsk they are. But here? In the sex shop? It was a shambles show.
But why? Why did I find this couple so funny? Am I just an asshole or does my judgment illustrate a deeper problem in our society?
A moving picture called "The Story of Stuff" came to my attention this morning in a NY Times article. In this moving picture (and, yes, I will keep calling it that), the narrator, environmental activist Annie Leonard, explains (rather convincingly at most times) why our consumer-culture is unsustainable. While I thought it was a bit too socialist at times (roughly two minutes into the narration she notes it's the government's job to "take care of us"), the overall message is pretty intense and worth the watch because I, for one, think we value meaningless stuff -- stuff we intend to use for six months then throw away -- too much in today's America.
But I did have one major problem with her argument, specifically the section about 14 minutes in when she talks about fashion. In this clip, she tries to reason that fashion trends change every year because of some manufactured concept of "perceived obsolescence," or as Leonard explains it, the idea "that convinces us to throw away stuff that is perfectly useful" when companies "change the way stuff looks" because in our culture, which ranks the ability to have new stuff as a value to aim for, not having the latest-looking item "could be embarrassing."
For her example, she uses shoes. "Fashion is [a] prime example of this. Have you ever wondered why women's shoe heels go from fat one year to skinny the next to fat to skinny? It's not because there's some debate about which heel structure is the most healthy for women's feet. It's because wearing fat heels in a skinny-heel year shows everybody that you haven't [been consuming] as recently so you're not as valuable as that person in skinny heels next to you or, more likely, in some ad. It's to keep us buying new shoes."
OK, right here I'm going to have to call bullsh*t. In Leonard's view, fashion doesn't exist and clothing should be valued for function and not form. Suggesting that fashion trends change solely to create an environment of "perceived obsolescence" completely negates the idea that clothes can also be a form of art. Now, I agree some people -- many, in fact -- buy (literally) into this idea of perceived obsolescence when it comes to fashion. These are the people that blindly follow trends found in mainstream magazines or Gossip Girl and redo their wardrobes every season by scooping up whatever shoddy, made-in-China duds they can find at Forever 21 or Urban Outfitters. They don't care about what they're wearing as much as whether they "fit in" or not. These people are also known as "high school students" if they're under 18 and "idiots" if they're over.
However, as we age, most of us dress ourselves with some form of thought. For the dishabille, that thought could simply be about function. If it's cold, they'll wear long pants. They don't care what those pants look like or how many pleats they have, they just want their legs covered. Fair enough. But I say those people are missing out. Clothing is one of the most tangible forms of art we have as humans. We are the canvases. It's really remarkable when you think about it. Clothes allow you to create an image, the same as you would a painting. Colors, shapes and textures elicit moods. Fashion is, indeed, art.
Stemming from that, for those of us who subscribe to that belief and dress ourselves as such, we invite judgment and criticism, as does a painter when he paints. The thing is, a talented painter is a talented painter no matter what style he or she chooses to paint in. Likewise, with fashion, the best of us can wear a fat heel in a skinny-heel year and make it look fashion-forward. Done right, it won't say sh*t about our value on the consumption scale or worth.
What it does say, though, is something about the worth of our styling skills and if those styling skills are worth nothing, then expect to be Shambles P.I.'d. For example, if you're wearing tie-dyed Hammer pants with a visible thong, you will get judged and not because I don't think you're a valuable member of our consumer-based culture, but because you look like you let a near-sighted monkey on ecstasy pick out your outfit.
Fashion existed long before our culture became obsessed with consumption and I'm pretty sure it will continue to exist even after we (hopefully) learn to -- or are forced to -- change our destructive ways. Done right, fashion can be sustainable and, well, fashionable. (For more on that, visit local enviro-fashion blog Righteous ReStyle.)
In the meantime, I will continue to giggle at bad outfits I see around town, not because I'm a superficial consumer, but because I'm a superficial asshole, although I prefer the term critic.
And while I don't usually invite people to comment (I usually let the retardulous musings speak for themselves), I'm interested (for once) in other people's opinions on this matter. Let's get smart on this blog finally without adding the suffix of "-assed" to that word. Actually, nevermind. We can be smart and smart-assed simultaneously. And for your convenience, I've posted the full moving picture, "The Story of Stuff," below. Like I said, it's worth the watch.