The Emperor Has No Style
August 2003

"We're born naked, the rest is drag." -- Rupaul

Fashion does not matter. Okay, so that's an outright lie - you and I both know it. But it is a useful and pervasive lie that allows us to pretend that we've learned to value what has true meaning, that in post 9/11 America, artifice and pretense necessarily take a backseat to integrity and respect. We don't put on airs, we simply and elegantly present our true selves every time we walk out the door. Useful and pervasive or not, a lie is a lie and it hardly takes clairvoyance to see that our Higher Truths are merely veneer obscuring, if not intentionally hiding the fact that at no point in American culture have we been less concerned with function and more concerned with form.

We all care about how we look and those who claim they don't are lying. That's because as we do less and less real connecting with others, our appearance is an increasingly important opportunity to communicate. We say a lot about ourselves by how we look -- what we wear, what we don't wear, how we wear it, our grooming, hygiene, etc. It's all fashion. But within this arena, what separates today from the past is that we no longer admit our allegiance to la mode, we are too something (repentant? calculated? self-deluded?) to acknowledge the value we place on it.

How do you look at this very moment? Why have you chosen to wear what you are wearing?

Pretense is everywhere. In the past week, I've seen no fewer than three women speaking on cellular telephones utilizing "hands-free" earpieces in manner requiring the use of both hands - one hand holding the phone, one hand holding the microphone on the earpiece wire in front of her mouth. It seems unlikely that fear of cell phone radiation can account for each of these instances. Those pathologically afraid of cell phones for health reasons typically find other modes of communication. Thus, the dedication they had for their hands-free devices was an inspiration for all critical thinkers who were mesmerized by this pageantry.

I felt like I was at the theater because I was witnessing a performance. These women weren't using this technology for any efficiency or utility it might provide, but rather for the identification of being a person who uses such things. This identification was important enough to gladly use two hands to accomplish what could easily be done with one -- the old way. I mean, anyone can just talk on a cell phone, but important people use them with earpieces! You didn't know? Damn the Bauhaus, this was a triumph of Form over Function, if not the human spirit! I'll bet you one of my kidneys that none of those exceedingly important women use t heir "hands-free" devices when not in public. And I love them for that. They used them for me - no, for all of us - so that we could see, know, understand who they were. In short, they were a delicious cultural embarrassment.

Fashion is at best, an expression of the self. I can't argue with personal preferences - people's tastes are their own. I can only make fun of them. But when people say they don't care, I don't believe them. Especially coming from pop stars. If we are lucky, we get a pop star that's 90% packaging and 10% talent. So how can a pop star not care? It is implicit in pop stardom. When, since REO Speedwagon (which was pre-music video proliferation) has a truly awful looking pop star torn up the charts? Someone so ugly you want to slap them. When? Hmmm?

A while ago, Alicia Keys made some very public remarks about the fact that she is decidedly not a fashionista, that she is about her music and places no importance on the visceral world of surface beauty. One week later I saw her entering one of the countless masturbatory entertainment award shows. Yet somehow she looked different. I suppose it could have been the radiance of knowing that she, unlike her peers on the red-carpet, was about her music, about her art, not caught up in that whole "image" thing that allows Joan Rivers to reveal her praying mantis DNA (which, in turn, encourages her spouses to do the rational thing and kill themselves). So either Alicia Keys' special radiance came from within, or just maybe it was the Swarovski Austrian crystals that were spackled coast-to-coast across her eyelids. But wait! She wouldn't succumb so such overt glamour. Why, I heard her say so just the week before! Am I to understand that expensive and publicized glitter on the eyelids is not a style thing? I find it difficult to reconcile the two so my litmus test is my father. My father, who still has some sense of how he likes to look (as awful as I think his choices may be), is generally as disinterested in fashion as a middle-class American can be. So I asked myself, would my father sit around whilst a stylist epoxies cut glass to his eyelids? It is like wondering if Wilford Brimley would stand in line to get pec implants. So maybe Miss Keys isn't fashion-indifferent. "So what?" you ask? Well, I, for one, don't like being lied to.

I don't believe there is anything wrong with a little healthy vanity - taking pride in your appearance is a form of self-respect. I'm not advocating for everyone to start dressing up in a prismatic horror like Siegfried & Roy, I'm simply suggesting that perhaps we look best when we present ourselves in a way that is true to who we are. To do otherwise is fraught with peril, because the moment you try and get high-tone or phony, there's always gonna be some bitch like me to point it out.