All She Wrote: Prêt-a-porter politics (reprise)


Greensboro Fashion Week ended just in time to tune into the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And as we all are becoming aware, fashion plays a key role in how we judge and perceive our leaders and their greater image. From Nancy Reagan’s Adolfo red dresses to Bill Clinton’s running shorts all the way to Eleanor Roosevelt’s hemlines and JFK’s rejection of the ubiquitous hat — the politics of prêt-à-porter are a wild and wooly danger zone as treacherous as a thigh-high slit circa 1975 — or as I often refer to it, the pre-Bush bush era.

Scandal has followed fashion as far back as the fig leaf and resonates as recently as Rihanna’s latest get-up, but the current culture of exclusionary fashion regulation has taken the offense on being offended. Fashion has always borrowed from eras, cultures and paid tribute to the aesthetics of tribes ’round the world. But today, amid accusations of racial stereotyping and reckless irreverence, it seems some guidance is in order. It may take a village to make fashion happen, but it takes Fashion Police to get dressed in the morning. So I offer you a humble guide to clothing yourself in election year 2016.

Sombreros: Thanks to the Fashion Police at Bowdoin College, the tiny sombreros often seen in gift shops and accompanying bottles of tequila in liquor stores now are seen as “ethnic stereotyping” due to a student party with a “fiesta” theme that was vilified once photos of attendees wearing these tiny toppers from the event became public.

Mrs. Claus attire: Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton sparked this controversy after the first presidential debate of 2016 this week. Apparently showing up in a red pantsuit with “that hairstyle” and little black shoes was a North Pole no-no unless you are a direct descendent of the Claus family.

Native-American headdresses: Huge controversy surrounds the wearing of war bonnets by whites and, in particular, hipsters at music festivals. Even musicians of Native American descent like Pharrell Williams and Cher have taken flak for adorning themselves with our fine-feathered friends. So if you must “put a bird on it,” take a cue from Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen of “Portlandia” fame and go for the silk-screen variety.

 Goddess gowns: The draped, often one-shouldered paean to the toga seen on red carpets over the last few years has angered the gods to the point of global repercussions. The Greek government debt crisis and the al Qaeda splinter group ISIS may be attributed to this fashion offense. Scarlett Johansson’s recent career can be, too.

 Cowboy boots: The wrath of cowpokes across North America for the appropriation of this footwear has been traced to the Menendez brothers’ use of these boots with white jeans in the 1980s. For some reason, Ralph Lauren and actors with ranch-cred like Sam Shepard have been let off the hook. So proceed with caution if you choose to wear these pointedly pointed kicks. And if you wear them with a suit outside of Texas, make sure it has rhinestones and your name is Porter Wagoner.

 Turbans: Traditionally the territory of Sikhs and other faith communities for religious observance, this wraparound headgear may incite a riot unless you are a silent movie star, a gay man in Key West or between weaves.

 Scottish kilts: Traditional male dress of the Scottish Highlands and Catholic school girls, the kilt made a pop cultural resurgence during the punk-rock era as a symbol of defiance. Today it serves as a go-to get up at strip clubs thanks to Britney Spears. Wear with caution and never with see-thru platform stilettos.

 Jesus sandals: The messiah may have been a mensch, but there is widespread evidence that he is not down with the popularity of his signature footwear. Foot washing aside, “B**** stoleth my look” is a saying for a reason. (It sounds better in Aramaic.) Where do you think the late Joan River’s got it from?

 Slave bracelets: These clackety ring-chain-to-bracelet manacles have nothing to do with slavery outside of the realm of being a slave to fashion. The moniker is merely in relation to the chain that connects them. However, that said, I’d be careful giving them as a present.

Polo shirts: Unless you are unbelievably wealthy or a handsome Argentinean playboy wearing tight pants and sleek boots I would avoid wearing these unless you want to really piss off rich people. I don’t care how casual your Friday is, call it a “golf shirt” or face the consequences of the 1 percenters.

Skinny jeans: Skinny people across the globe are in an uproar over the advent of plus-sized versions of these stovepipes. I mean, what’s the point of being skinny if anybody can wear them?

Mermaid dresses: There are only two species that can pull off this fish-tailed ensemble: actual mermaids and Sofia Vergara. Rumor has it they have formed a union and make the Teamsters look like Girl Scouts.

Capri pants: Are you Italian? Is your name Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida? No? Then don’t wear these pants. Just because brands like Lily Pulitzer have embroidered seashells and lobsters on them does not make them acceptable for the flat hind quartered, square hipped nor thick-ankled WASP set.

Military gear: The ubiquity of the hipster pea coat has brought about a veritable tribunal regarding the wearing of Army/Navy surplus that veers all the way from controversy over aviator glasses to camouflage to dress blues. The general rule of thumb is that if you think you can kick the veteran’s ass who calls you out on it, go for it.

White wedding dresses: Virgins from near and far are really ticked off about this one. It goes without saying that gay marriage has added a whole new layer of tulle to the mix. I mean, what is a virgin anyway? And if you are a virgin after Labor Day can you still wear white?

  • A Mrs. Claus outfit? And here I thought Hillary was simply wearing the blood of her opponents.