My mother phoned the other day to say that she’d found some old photos of me and that, gosh, I looked good with long hair. I pointed out that the last time I had long hair was 20 years ago and that, gosh, I tended to look a lot better in every way 20 years ago.
Two days earlier I had been talking to a celebrity hairdresser when he told me that long hair was coming back for men. “Long and luxurious hair.” He was helping a lot of people “grow” their hair. But what does he know? He’s gay but his clientele is largely straight. Plus, he also told me that men want to be admired but not noticed. Mmm, not in my crowd, sweetie. We’re aiming to incite a little action.
In the giddy, roller-coaster world of fashion, it’s always difficult to know who’s got the inside scoop. It’s getting harder all the time. What works in one world won’t work in another.
Scott Thompson once said that the idea of gay porn was redundant — gay life was porn. I’d revise that slightly and say that gay life has the appearance of porn, which is to say it’s all about marketing. But who’s the target market? Who are you marketing to? To whom do you look for approval?
I once told my mother that every time she complimented an aspect of my appearance I did the reverse. Because, frankly, she’s not my target market. I know, I know, that’s not nice, no need to rag on poor old mom, but it’s a very real point. My mother is a kind of reverse focus group. If she likes my hair, I know I need to fix it. Otherwise, it’s ixnay on the exsay for the next six months.
Besides it reminds me of high school — you know, all those Valentine’s Days when the only person who found you attractive was your mother. “I think you’re handsome, honey.”
But if not your parents or other authority figures, who do you turn to for image advice?
It’s easiest, of course, to be 21 and travel with a posse of like-minded fashionistas so you can all wear the same Pumas, peacoats and fur-hooded parkas. You can reinforce each other’s taste and guide each other through the maze of flash bulbs and tiny blue screens now known as youth culture.
But for the rest of us it’s not so easy. Turn to your peers and you might end up in Dockers and a button-down. Turn to the young and you’ll end up trailing an iPod just for the look.
Once upon a time men learned how to dress from their fathers. The traditional men’s magazines like GQ and Esquire used to be full of these stories: “How dad taught me to tie a Windsor knot and polish my brogues.”
But dad never was very good on the gay thing. What was he going to do, tell you to pad your button-flys for a bigger bulge? And dad would be truly out to lunch in a world where the basic look is simple but the details are fraught with significance.
The basic gay uniform hasn’t changed in decades. It’s still jeans and a T-shirt but the details have assumed cosmic significance and they change with dizzying speed.
Would you like your T-shirt with a graphic, a joke or a logo, sir? Simple or stretch? Do you prefer your jeans baggy, relaxed, flared, boot-cut, low-waist or slim-cut? Should the denim be faded, washed, fatigued, pocketed, embroidered, logo-ed, distressed, sandpapered, sparkled, indigo-ed or frayed? And most important of all, with or without an ass? (No wonder best ass contests are so popular. With the advent of baggy jeans, it’s the only way you get to see the merchandise.)
Full-time shoppers (aka kids who still live at home) know all about this sort of thing. (The funniest line I’ve seen on the Internet came from some kid who suggested to potential dates that they get together and see if they had more in common than penises and designer jeans.) The rest of us are baffled.
Aware that even the trendiest consumers might be a little confused, the chain stores have started to post diagrams showing just how low, tight or fitted the various models are. What they can’t tell you is whether the look will last. Will it still be trendy next year?
A couple of years ago I bought a pair of jeans that were the height of fashion for all of about two seconds. Now they look like 1970s white trash. The denim hasn’t worn out but the look sure has. Who’s going to warn you about this sort of stuff?
Magazines that have some vague connection to the street might be of some help. Magazines like Details or the least laddish of the British glossies. But even the best of them are pushing product that, in terms of price and availability, might as well exist on the moon.
Me, I’m just going to take the advice of a friend and longtime fashion observer who threw up his hands and said, “Oh just buy something new.”