Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Old Man: On Costumes

There is an awful lot of talk about costumes in this strange internet clothing world. The ivy guys say the trad guys are wearing costumes: as in they are boiling down a whole era into three things: button-down collars, sacks, and tent-like pants. The trad guys say the workwear guys are wearing costumes: as in they dress like lumberjacks even though they have never handled an axe. Almost everyone says that ascots are too "costumey" (a non-word I hate): as in they have too much Thurston Howell III going on and they are only valid in, well, Halloween costumes. The snark masters at FNB often describe the Fedora Lounge's posters as wearing bad gangster costumes. And most anyone with any sense says that high-end fashion people wear space costumes.

So who's to say? Which group is right? Which group wears costumes and which group wears authentic clothes in an authentic way? Because you would think that this matters, with the frequency the argument is used.

As I usually advocate (wildly unsuccessfully, mind you) in these types of discussions, we should start from definitions. Because words mean things. And while the case could be made that a dictionary is quite the pointless enterprise, when many sides are misunderstanding each other, they can be helpful.

The compact Oxford English Dictionary (the only free online version of the OED I could find) defines the word costume as: "noun 1: a set of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period."

Well that ruins the whole long-winded response I had planned. Why? Because, by this definition, everyone is wearing costumes. The trad guys wear the set of clothes typical of (a small part of) the 40's through the 60's, the ivy guys wear pretty much the same costume but are more pompous about it, the workwear guys wear clothes typical of railroad workers and Navy men in the 30's, the Fedora Lounge guys wear clothes typical of bad mobster movies, and the fashion guys/gals wear clothes typical of The Matrix (i.e. imagined versions of the future).

But surely not everyone wears costumes right? What about the common Joe lumbering into my pizza place to order a large double pepperoni extra cheese for himself in stonewashed jeans and a Gamecocks t-shirt (the garnet really helps hide pizza sauce)? Well believe it or not, the common clay wear costumes too. But, they are actually the closest to escaping the costume conundrum. See, they wear the costume of today.

Now, don't get me wrong, I would much rather dress like a lawyer or a jazz trumpeter or a lumberjack or even a fat crime-boss than I would dress like 95% of the students at the local high-school (or 85% of the teachers at the local high-school).

I'm just saying, the costume argument sucks. So stop using it.

And ascots are cool.

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