The Critical Mass

Setting new standards in American fashion

I understand. The clothing and accessories we see on fashion-show runways are not for human consumption.

But when I stumbled across a photo of a model wearing blue jeans that had been reduced to little more than a set of belt loops, pockets for her apartment key, a zipper and the seams, I paused: What is the outrageously paid designer of this outfit trying to tell me?

High-end concepts frequently reach for extremes. Some of the vehicles you see at car shows never hit the streets. New buildings never seem to meet the swooping grace of the architect’s drawings. Your dog will never look like Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition. These are unattainable standards. In your attempt to reach for this high bar, it is expected that you will fail. This is how the Fabulous People keep the Great Unwashed in our place.

A dog, maybe.

Those disintegrating runway trousers? Likely an inside joke by its creators. They’re laughing at us, that we might take this seriously. Or perhaps this was a Halloween costume, Jamie Lee Curtis from one of her scream-queen films.

Americans in general are not terribly cognizant of the truths that their outfits speak about them. Or the lies. I see people wearing sweat pants to dinner in a restaurant, as though they think it makes them look like a famous athlete. “Look at how much weight LeBron James put on in the offseason!”

We don’t think deeply enough about the important meaning behind fashion. Like the inherent sexism in this model’s tattered runway moment. Because as far as I can tell a guy wasn’t asked to put on this ridiculous outfit as well. Although I know several who would.

Yet sometimes we also think too much about clothing. On my bus rides into the city, out of sheer boredom I evolved into a careful observer of what people wear. I noticed the jeans that had been carefully sliced along the thigh with a razor and then run through the washing machine, producing a feathery effect. I saw calculated cuts exposing a knee. And the occasional slash high on the back of the leg, revealing a crescent moon of buttock.

You can do these reconfigurations yourself. But mostly, Americans pay lots of money for people in other countries to do it for them.

I seek the middle ground when pondering my personal wardrobe, and prefer to remain silent rather than make a fashion statement. Ripped-out jeans mean I’m sealing the driveway or it’s laundry day and these are the only pants I have that I can wear upwind from you. The holes in my jeans are honest, a combination of brushing against exposed nails and careless handling of chainsaws. Age plays a role. I keep my clothing for a really long time. I have flannel shirts that have gone through several cycles of fashion, from Nirvana to the Brawny Paper Towel Guy. It is a carefully cultivated realness.

All good relationships come to an end, of course. And so it was a couple of weeks ago. In a moment of couture self-evaluation, I realized it was time to put down my distressed jeans, threads stretched to the limit, fabric crying for me to end its misery. And into the trash receptacle they went. Three or four of them.

Where they were obviously discovered by a leader in the fashion industry, desperate for a new idea. My old blue jeans. Torn, caked with coffee grounds, smelling of shrimp tails, but remarkably close to what you see on runways today.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Hit the “Subscribe” button on the under-renovation web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

%d bloggers like this: