2007-10-18 / Sam Bari

Fashion or lack thereof

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

Not long ago, I was in a restaurant that I frequent, when a tricked out Harley-Davidson motorcycle pulled into a parking space in front. A tall, athletically-built man wearing jeans, boots and a black T-shirt was driving. He had tattoos on both arms and a shaved head.

Riding behind him was an attractive young lady wearing a black tank top, jeans and boots. She was also tattooed, but not as extensively. She sported an ear full of diamond studs and an additional stud at the side of her nose. Her hair was blond with pink streaks. I assumed they were a stereotypical biker couple coming in to have a few drinks and food. I was half correct.

My waiter, who I had known for years, seated the couple a few tables away. He greeted them by name and as it turned out, they too were friends of his. When he brought my food, I commented that the man was a "tough lookin' guy." He laughed, and said, "Alex? I don't think so. He's an attorney." He introduced us and they joined me at my table.

The young lady introduced herself as Tammi, "but everyone calls me Doc," she said. And indeed they should. She was a pediatrician at one of the local hospitals. Alex was an attorney who specialized in estate law and planning. Both were graduates of Ivy League universities.

At the risk of being rude, I said that I never would have guessed their occupations. They laughed and said they got that all the time and were used to it. They appeared to enjoy the reactions to their harmless deception.

When I was a young man, men dressed and tattooed like Alex, and riding Harley-Davidsons, would probably find themselves in a position where they'd have to defend that image at one time or another. In those days, if you dressed the part, you better be able to play the part, or the penalty doled out by a real biker crowd could be stiff --- not any longer.

Today's fashions have taken on a new and different role from when I was Alex and Doc's age. Back then, attire was generally a reflection of who a person was, by occupation, social class, or affiliation. An attorney was an attorney on and off the job. A doctor, particularly a medical doctor, was the same. Both were expected to act and dress in a manner befitting their calling at all times. Why? I have no idea. It doesn't make sense.

To my way of thinking, Alex and Doc are a breath of fresh air. When they want a weekend off from being an attorney and a doctor, they stop being their occupations and enjoy themselves as human beings doing whatever makes them happy. They are solid members of the establishment, but they don't want the burden of that identity 24/7. And they shouldn't have to be stuck in that pigeonhole around the clock.

If people want to be ignorant enough to judge them superficially, as I did, then so be it. They worked hard to be a doctor and a lawyer, and if they want to walk away from their vocations once in awhile, they earned the right. They accomplished something, and they owe nobody an explanation of who they are or what they are about.

If everyone were like Alex and Doc, people would be a lot less skeptical about not judging others by their appearance. Unfortunately, many take imagery seriously, and use fashion to make a statement that is just downright deceitful and a misrepresentation of who they really are. Remember, gangsters and drug lords are some of the best-dressed people on the planet.

However, the worst is any fashion trend that begins as a reaction to the establishment - in other words anti-establishment. It happened with hippie duds in the '70s - flower power was used to sell sugar saturated, carbonated beverages to peasant blouse-clad teens.

The punk-driven Sex Pistols brought Mohawks, studded leather jackets, bondage gear and safety pin chic to the masses. The anti-fashion of punk begat grunge, but the trend's flannel shirts, Doc Martens and baby-doll dresses wound up on the catwalk faster than you can say "smells like teenage angst."

However, fashion trends tend to be circular, so the anti-establishment look lives on in one form or another. Right now, it is in a somewhat sanitized form, with pop-culture MTV staples such as Avril Lavigne, Good Charlotte, and even Ashlee Simpson. Somewhere, Sid Vicious probably weeps. However, just because you dress like Avril Lavigne, doesn't mean you can sing or pout seductively. It just shows that you wish you could.

Go to any rock concert and imagine the musicians onstage being in the audience. Unless you're watching Kiss in full make-up and regalia, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the fans who work at Wal-Mart and the real performers.

So when your kids walk in looking like fishing lures in baggy sacks, tell them to go out and accomplish something. Until then, they haven't earned the right to look that weird. Fashion or lack thereof is definitely part of that system we can't understand.

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