March 31st, 2013

The Dress Code Shall Set You Free

Steve Marsh wrote a fantastic piece for GQ about fashion in the NBA these days. Rather than deal solely with the surface (meme-worthy press conferences and vanity glasses), Marsh gets into both the heavy specifics (who styles who; who goes to what fashion shows and why) and the roots of the movement. It’s the latter that makes the most provocative claim: that the dress code, rather than stifle identity politics in the NBA, instead laid the groundwork for a new era of image. Hip-hop wasn’t left in the dust; rather, basketball players undertook the same shift in paradigm that’s come to define Jay-Z or Kanye. Style of dress is shorthand for the way they make their way in the world, both professionally and personally.

Dressing like Iverson was a salute to the “real”; all too often, it was also indicative of an inability to adapt to the demands of the NBA life. The dress code, on paper, was to be the worst kind of assimilation. Instead, it forced players to confront maturity on their own terms. Stern wanted suits? Players discovered couture and the rekindled the grand tradition of looking fly. Stern wanted accountability and respectability? Today, players are more self-aware and serious than ever about their roles as businessmen and power brokers. It’s not just about fighting for the right to wear XXXXXXL. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. Ironically, the dress code may, in the long run, have made NBA players even more troublesome. It was the last stand of one era and, in the message it sent, a clear sign that players needed to start working on a stronger, savvier alternative to what they stood for. 

August 10th, 2011

Wraparound sunglasses on the head is ALWAYS a good look. Marge Mansfield, one of the midwives at Seattle Home Maternity Service, is all about wraparound shades on the head. I’ve seen a video of her delivering a baby, in a basement at 4AM, with them on her head. Here she is meeting Ina May Gaskin, the Jesus Christ of midwives, and the glasses are in place. It says “I’m always ready to be cool, and cool about being ready”. No one can tell if you’re coming or going, the consummate insider or the outsider prowl. @

April 19th, 2011
To put it another way, as I told a friend last week: I have a minor fixation on LL Bean products, which is great, because it guarantees I look like a complete asshole at every show I go to.
Pinpointed for Oblivion, in response to my clothes ‘n’ age post. Note: I don’t even try to go to shows anymore, but this thought occurred to me recently.
April 18th, 2011

When Ryland Knight and I met for the second time, we were wearing almost exactly the same thing: green t-shirt, dark jeans, some sort of brown leather shoes. I joked about this being the “I used to be interesting and then it stopped” uniform. It also reminded me of a conversation a friend and I had in a Dallas thrift store like four years ago. It wasn’t the usual “this shit is picked over” bitch-fest, but real, material fear—a sense of powerlessness that came with the understanding that one day, all the good old shirts would be gone. Ours would fall apart, there wouldn’t be any left to replace them, and thrift stores would be filled with stuff that still felt recent to us (nostalgia slackens and distance shrinks from college on). We resolved that, when that day came, we would just go to well-made jeans and plain tees. And here Ryland and I were, livin’ the dream.

Writing this now, though, I’m realized that we’re still trying to have it both ways. Old clothes, ironic tees, and pearl snap shirts were always, on some level, supposed to be about not giving a fuck. Being overly clever, or too creative, was never really the point. Trying too hard was always out of bounds. At the same time, as relatively grown-up as we looked, we also weren’t dressed like 1996—it was entirely possible that style was on our side. I’m not so sure that anyone wants to look all that interesting anymore, at least not across a certain demographic. Call it backlash, or aging out, but I think it’s just as likely a re-packaging of pretending not to give a fuck. Incidentally, Ryland and I went shopping. I bought the J-Crew khakis, pictured above, to wear to court.