Viewed from a distance of more than a century, the nineteenth-century beard fashion looks like a basic historical fact. And yet the arrival of this fashion came as a great shock for those who lived through it. Sweeping much of Europe, North America, and Latin America after roughly two centuries of clean-shavenness, the beard movement was almost certainly the most dramatic development in nineteenth-century men’s fashion – every bit as shocking as if knee breeches and ruffled shirts were to once more become the dominant mode of men’s dress throughout the so-called ‘Western’ world.
The salesperson re-approaches, grinning widely, dangling a T-shirt with a phallic motif on it. Now we are excited.
‘That’s free money!’ is Aimee’s favourite expression, and she uses it here. It means something we can go deep and wide into. ‘Deep’ means we will buy a lot in quantity, and ‘wide’ means we will buy a lot of colours. For a long time we consider colours for the phallus, and which direction it should point. (Sideways is chic, up or down is crass.)
I have a flash memory of reading somewhere that brands were supposed to be ‘spaces for dreams.’
I began injecting testosterone at thirty. When I slipped on the jacket in front of the mall mirror at thirty-two, I beamed. Tattooed, with a little hard-won stubble, I could see my contrasts cleanly, my aesthetics an armour telegraphing a history beyond words. A prison for some men was, for me, a church: the rare and precise glory of an integrated self.
On a recent Saturday morning, I dream about clothes. On a single rack in a sparse space hang voluminous skirts in heavy, vintage fabrics of vermillion, baby pink, cherry red and monochrome; a jumpsuit in pastel stripes with rows of fringe; an off-the-shoulder dress of the softest silk in a rich, plum hue; and a collared shirt patterned with puzzle pieces. They are completely within my grasp… Then, just as suddenly as I’d drifted off that evening, the dream ends, leaving me with little more than fragmented images of beautiful garments in a white-walled room. A question lingers, too: What – if anything – might the presence of these clothes in my dreaming mind mean?
Having your ashes placed in a handbag by Louis Vuitton is another way of writing a love-letter, not to a man, but to commerce. If Marilyn had only meant what she sang in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ she and Zsa Zsa and Anna Nicole would have been in agreement. There was never any question of landing a man until death do us part in ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’; the part that mattered was having the diamonds to die in. The thing that people without a great fortune always say about riches is: ‘you can’t take it with you.’ The thing that rich, dead women seem to say is ‘watch me.’
Recently, the trend on Sean Cody is flat-fronted shorts and soft, monochrome shirts. The clothes match the sets, which are full of sand, taupe and gray in what a friend of mine refers to as the ‘Starbucks regency’ look – bulky, plain furniture you’d find in your local coffee shop. Far from the scuzzy, sweaty-jockstrap, sling-in-a-basement aesthetic of much gay porn, Sean Cody’s look is more timeshare promotion video. Dean ejaculates on a gunmetal grey rug with a white, interlocking diamond pattern, possibly from West Elm or CB2.
If the fashion show and pose are essentially historic, tied to the modernist movement of the twentieth century, then maybe the erasure of the fashion poses from the runway in our own time reflects the cultural trends of the twenty-first century. Today’s catwalk models no longer pose. And what use is the mannequin’s pose in this age of livestreaming and Instagram, when the preservative nature of modern media has expunged the transient nature of the event altogether? Weaving up and down the runway, models today become wholly defined by their motion.
In a new millennium, Bond is faced with many difficult tasks; these have included parachuting into the London Olympics beside the Queen as well as taking on multinational crime syndicates headed by shadowy constantly-morphing villains. Now it seems he may have to fight battles and companies much nearer to home, if he is to preserve his own stylish image.
In 1977 I bought my first flat cloth cap – in navy cotton twill with leather detailing on each of the crown sections and a striped lining. It was a souvenir from a family trip to Jamaica, bought from a Rastafarian man selling his own designs at a stall in Kingston. At the time I saw the purchase as a defiant act: the feat of a post-colonial religious activist.
The zoot suit was an icon of its time, born from the bespoke draped silhouettes of London’s Savile Row in the mid-1930s then adopted and exaggerated by young jazz-obsessed men and women across America. Amid a period of social and political turbulence just before World War II, the style was not only a means of dandyism, but also a badge of cultural identity for many African American and first-generation immigrant youths.
The wakashu, traditionally played by teenage boys, represented a specific subculture within Edo Japan. Wakashu are described by kabuki scholar Imao Tetsuya as ‘floating between the polarities of male and female, synthesising the principle of both sexes.’ The wakashu, etymologically resisting gender identification, is translated into English most closely as ‘youth,’ constituting what many scholars consider a ‘third gender.’ By rejecting the imposed male identity, wakashu represented the possibility of an existence outside of Edo society along with the prospect of future transformation for Edo culture.
When he was out running errands or working in his study, bent over a book or teaching the students who filed into our house to sit with him and fix their test scores, I’d slip into his bedroom and rifle through his belongings: fingering his penknives and leather-strapped watches, feeling the soft silk and woven wool of his neckties, inhaling the funky, wonderful smell of his aged leather belts – which I handled with a mix of awe and fear, the two or three times I behaved very badly, these doubled as instruments of punishment – and studying that weathered, bizarre source of power, his wallet.