Monday, June 3, 2013

Dressing With Humor: A Hilarious Person's Guide to Wearing Stuff

Did everyone have fun at Kanye and Kim's baby shower? Did everyone enjoy the "Garden Chic" theme? (Kanye chose that one.) (No one man should have all that shower.)

I couldn't make it, but this was the outfit I had picked out:


And this was my date's:


He couldn't make it either. Guess we'll never lock down that brunch date with Khloe and Lamar.

Moving on!

I've been thinking a lot about humorous fashion lately. The thing about me is that I prefer everything be funny. Funny movies, funny books, funny Nobel prize winners, funny first ladies. Give me the funny always. But don't make it too slapstick or it stops being good. I just like my humor like I don't like my cake: dry.

So, slapstick funny fashion is, like, those dumb purses that say "My other bag is your mom" or whatever. That's actually a bad example, because that's a great bag! But you know what I mean.

What I mean by funny fashion is witty fashion. And what I mean by witty fashion is this:

It makes specific references: So, my problem with The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, and every other band with a suspenders/fedora dress code, is that they vaguely reference THE PAST and not any actual style of music or time period.


The Lumineers might be a Depression-era band? But might also be from 1750? They sound like folk singers from Scotland? But also maybe Mississippi? I like their music, I'm not saying I don't like their music, but they're not really making anything thing better or new. Instead of showing respect for one specific tradition, they're showing no respect to any tradition.

This is also my problem with any menswear trend that just sort of references "nostalgia" with nothing backing it up. The following two photos (from Midwestyle) are perfectly nice, but totally witless outfits.  They're not clever; they evoke nothing.


For me, they're sort of like the Renoir paintings of menswear. "Oh, what a nice picture of a pleasing garden," I'd say. But I'm not buying the magnet in the museum gift shop, you know?


You certainly don't have to be clever to dress well. You also don't have to be funny to make movies. I'm just more likely to get a ticket to the funny movie, is all I'm saying.

Anyone sick of my metaphors yet? TOO BAD BECAUSE THIS POST AIN'T HALF OVER.

Below we have ourselves a specific reference to the 1940s, BUT there's a play on tailoring (and fun socks). 10 million points to these people, they're amazing.


It plays with tradition: One of the bazillion reasons why men's fashion is more interesting than women's is because it still follows strict rules of tailoring and tradition.

Designing for women is like being a teenager with parents who buy you liquor and don't enforce a curfew--it requires little creativity because what's the point of being wild if it isn't forbidden?

Designing for men, on the other hand, is like going to a Catholic boarding school with barbed wire fences. The smallest subversive move will feel like a revolution. You are forced to push yourself to the extreme limits of your creativity because you're restricted so much. And when you finally decide to really let loose and go crazy, everyone takes notice.

I'm especially impressed with designers whose sparks of creativity rebel against the custom. It seems mischievous in a way--a boyish approach to the formality of menswear. This is one of my favorite newer examples:


It's a basic button-up in classic chambray, but instead of a normal square pocket, it's a tilted handkerchief. A TILTED HANDKERCHIEF EVERYONE. The tilt alone is clever, but the grandma-tastic fabric is just so next-level. This shirt is a pun! It's funny! It's delightful! It's for the farmer of the future! Can you imagine if urban farmers put as much effort into snappy dressing as they do their beehives? I'd move to Brooklyn and never look back!

An all-denim 3-piece suit is clever for the same reason. It's almost totally expected...except for the fact that it's in denim. The twist is that the fabric, usually used only for casual wear, comprises this entire formal outfit. You can almost hear this Italian guy saying GOTCHA. Or, more accurately, IO HO TE. Or, whatever.


It adds something unexpected: The unexpected is funny. I think we all learned that from Looney Tunes.

In fashion, the unexpected is either something that doesn't belong with the style or formality of the outfit, or it's a surprise color/textile/pattern/tailoring of a customary detail.

See below: Bandanas are streetwear. Or western wear I guess. Or mechanic wear? Or painter wear. Anyway, I think we can all agree that they're not going to a black tie event anytime soon.



Using one as an ascot in a classic outfit, switching out an expected silk scarf (which would be $$$$) for a 80s/90s street staple that cost 2 cents, is funny. It's both a nod to streetwear, and it's a sly mockery of old money prep. Both I fully endorse.


Color can also add a delightful surprise to an outfit. I'm completely tickled by Angelo Flaccavento's plum leather gloves here:


It uses sharp contrasts: I remember my very first spark of interest in fashion like it was 16 years ago. I was in a mall with my mom and saw an Amelie type woman wearing a delicate silk pink dress under a masculine bulky industrial trench coat. MIND BLOWN YOU GUYS.

I don't even think I knew the word for "contrast" yet so I described it as "weird." And obsessively doodled it for years.

Dressing with humor involves some sharp contrasts: masculine with feminine, untouchable excess with muted austerity, flashy with subdued, pattern with...other pattern, I could go on.

Casual/formal:


Playful/serious:


Tribal/colonial:


Below, my fave example of contrasts: Harvard sweatshirt evokes prep; the bucket hat evokes...Gilligan and Ghostface. The sweatshirt on its own would be fine, but the hat adds self-awareness to the outfit, making it funny.


It's respectful: Good comedians don't go for the easy joke at someone else's expense, and witty dressers don't either. I think the key is: make fun of the clothes, not the wearer.

Take the example of the wolf shirt. You know about the wolf shirt. Not restricted to the costume department of Winter's Bone, this thing was a hipster staple in 2009-ish, and I think it's a great example of how to dress like a douche. The shirt in and of itself is not making fun of anything or anybody (except maybe wolves for howling so adorably), but its particular resurgence seemed offensive. And not funny.


Funny: a wolf shirt paired with a tulle skirt and pearls. Read: "Wolf shirts are ridiculous but also kind of awesome; my outfit is ridiculous but also kind of awesome."

Not funny: a wolf shirt with trucker hat, jean jacket, and ironic mustache. Read: "Isn't it hilarious that I'm wearing this shirt normally favored by poor uneducated people, when I am in fact a well-off educated person who has evolved past this commoner drivel?"


Just no.

The difference is, one look is all about the t-shirt (funny); the other is all about the subculture (not funny).

I am a religious person and I love the use of religious symbols on clothing even if the wearer is not religious. I also love using the same word 3 times in a sentence. Religious imagery is beautiful and evocative and I am all for beautiful and evocative fashion, even/especially when worn irreverently.


A bikini with crosses on it= great. A WASP wearing a yarmulke= offensive. One is a reference, the other one is a costume.

Funny: playing with religious symbols

Not funny: mocking religious people

Girl. Get it.

Still on the fence about the tribal trend but I'm sure any day now I'll form a really strong opinion one way or the other and refuse to consider valid points from the other side! So you can look forward to that.

Signing off, with me rocking the "add something unexpected" (gallon of ice cream) look circa 1991:

This is how I felt today, sans princess dress or ice cream to get me through.

2 comments:

GG said...

This is in my top favorite posts of yours. Mostly because you say everything I would if I was capable of writing such amazing things. It's like you know what I'm thinking before I think it, because I never would actually come up with but I will always aspire to.

juliem said...

This just makes me miss you all the more.