3 min

Relax, it’s just marketing

Not making a fashion statement at all is the best approach

Credit: Xtra files

The long-awaited film version of Tolkien’s hippie-ty, hobbit-y fable, The Lord Of The Rings is set to open Wed, Dec 19 and already you can see its harbingers. Newly slim Volkswagen bugs, Scandinavian design, hard-edged graphics – the 1960s are back.

Not the politics, just the style, and then only the shyly subversive stuff, beginning at the top with hair that reads Rebel With A Do. Judging from the ads in this fall’s GQ and Esquire, the Beatles mop-top is the look du jour, and dozens of gay men will soon be emulating it, doubtless hoping that a messy mop will make them look as deliciously doleful as the elfin tykes in the Prada ads.

Well, good luck, unless you’re 21 and an expert sulker. The whole look depends on a sort of post-withdrawal emaciation that reads as moody and hard to get. And I suppose that’s easier to achieve than muscle. But it’s not going to work any better on bulging boomer bodies.

The horror, the horror. When are we going to stop start trying so hard? Gay men don’t have God-given good taste; we just try harder. And we all know where that leads – country-house colours in box-sized condos, skin-tight clothes on sagging bodies.

I thought the über-dandy look was long gone, exiled to fashion hell along with sweaters on the shoulder and a Boys In The Band preciousness. (“If one is of the masculine gender, a poodle is the insignia of one’s deviation.”)

But apparently it still has its adherents. Singer Rufus Wainwright extolled an almost Edwardian flamboyance in the Jun 2 issue of Saturday Night. His style, he said was “the skinny, flamboyant, not-afraid-to-be-gay look,” which is an appealing manifesto provided you’re got the fame or the fortune to pull it off. In a picture accompanying the article, Wainwright oozed imperious intensity. Dressed in rock star hair, flashy tie and high-button vest, he looked every inch the heir of Oscar Wilde. But, oh, the work involved. Who has the energy to tie a Windsor or a four-in-hand?

Wainwright lamented the decline of gay style. You can’t tell the gay folk from the straight, he said. “If you had a sports bar next to a gay bar, they would look identical. Everybody would be wearing baseball caps.”

Frankly I like baseball caps, my only grudge being that they make me look like a truck driver. But if you’ve got a small, neat head with a sultry mouth, you might as well pull the cap down low and work the smouldering sensuality.

Besides, caps are equal-opportunity employers, comfortingly proletarian. Like T-shirts, they’re subject to endless variation but essentially available to anyone. Hand over 10 bucks and you’ve got a class-free style that’s one of the few great holdovers from the early days of gay lib – you know, the days when we still thought the movement would set us free to explore new social structures, not endorse calcified old ones like marriage?

Horny straight guys still have to dress up to impress the chicks. Check out the miles of suits in straight men’s mags if you don’t believe me. But wear a suit to a gay bar and you’ll stand alone, and thank God for that. Dressing down is one of the great privileges of being gay.

In a media dominated world, it’s foolish to downplay image or our own very real obsession with its construction and manipulation. What snarky fag hasn’t wanted to reach out to someone, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Wrong colour, doesn’t work”?

Fashion is all about marketing and we all want to reach our target demographic, be it club kids or leather daddies. So it’s completely understandable that we dress to impress, waving sneakers and T-shirts like semaphore flags in a battle for attention.

But sometimes I wish we’d all just relax and play it as it lays.

A couple of weeks ago I was a cruising a cute man on the street and I realized, somewhat after the fact, that a great deal of his appeal was his scruffy look. He was walking his dogs and he looked more intent on his errand than his appearance. Mussed hair, baggy T-shirt – trust me, he wasn’t heading to the bars.

His unstudied look appealed to me and we were just approaching the moment of truth – the confirming glance, eyes across America – when appearances once again intervened. His two dogs decided to take a massive dump and I decided I had errands to run.

Sometimes, you can take the casual thing too far.