A fashion statement made unknowingly

MIKE ROYKO

March 19, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO FTC

It came as a pleasant surprise to learn that I am on the cutting edge of men's fashion.

I discovered this after reading an article in the New York Times about a new magazine devoted to the kind of clothing worn by today's male.

The story contained this capsule view of men's fashion trends by one Woody Hochswender, who is editor of the new magazine, which is called Esquire Gentleman.

Mr. Hochswender said: "If you take an anthropological view of fashion today, it's all happening in men's fashion.

"Take a walk on any street in New York and look at the hair, the pants tucked in the work boots, the jewelry, the tattoos. You have two currents -- the hippie and the dandy. You have your deconstructed Salvation Army grunge and your neo-Edwardian Beau Brummell brocade vest, foulard tie and pocket square.

"It's all very interesting, very fin de siecle."

Yes, I found it interesting but for different reasons.

There are two kinds of stories that appear in newspapers that I can never understand.

One is any rock music review. Most rock critics write in terms that are understandable to only other rock critics, rock musicians and people who have cooked their brains with strange substances.

The other is any story written about fashion. I mean, where else do you find phrases like "deconstructed Salvation Army grunge," or that today's fashions are very "fin de siecle"?

It shows how journalism has changed. There was a time when an editor would have said to a reporter: "Fin de siecle? Are you talking about Vinny Di Cicco, that West Side precinct captain?"

Which shows why I have never considered myself in the mainstream of fashion: I don't even know what "fin de siecle" means. And I doubt if the clerk at Kmart, which is where I buy my wash-and-wear trousers, would know either.

My fashion statement has always been as follows:

1. Wear clean shorts and underwear because, as our parents taught us, if you get in an accident, you don't want to be embarrassed in front of the emergency room nurse.

2. Wear socks that match, although if one has a hole in the toe and the other doesn't, most people won't notice if you remember to wear shoes.

3. Own one dark suit for going to funerals. If you take good care of it, you can even wear it at your own.

4. Always wear the same tie to Italian restaurants, and a different tie to Chinese restaurants, so you won't get gravy stains that clash.

But Mr. Hochswender's statement aroused my curiosity. Especially about things being very "fin de siecle."

He was kind enough to take a phone call and explain what he was talking about:

" 'Fin de siecle' means end of the century," he said. "It is said the last decade looks back.

"So today's fashions are a nod to the 1960s and the 1890s."

That is why we have some guys dressing like dandies -- "the Neo-Edwardian, Beau Brummell brocade vest . . . it's ruffled blouses, long, cutaway coats, high-buttoned weskit. It's the watch chain, the walking stick, the hat, the half-boot shoe. That is now the urban style -- everywhere you look the half-boot shoe. Look on the street."

(Actually, I do look on the street. And maybe Chicago is different from New York because the only neo-Edwardian types are hotel doormen.)

At the other extreme, he said, "is your deconstructed Salvation Army grunge look. There is a neo-hippie or '60s revival going on in fashion.

"Secondhand store clothes, patchwork clothes, wearing the same clothes day after day. The American grunge movement is related to this deconstruction. It's anti-fashion. It's a very strong style statement. They're torn, ripped, tattered; they're recycled."

That's it. That is me. I have never heard my wardrobe described any better than that, except that I don't buy my clothes at the Salvation Army because they wouldn't accept my wardrobe as a donation in the first place.

So I'm a fashion plate without having known it. Maybe that's why when I meet a panhandler on the street, we both get confused about who is supposed to give a buck to whom. Sometimes I come out ahead.

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