Friday, June 3, 2011

Lost in the Other Eighties.

(Part Eight of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 17
Last week, I revealed the Second Great Secret of dressing well: "Left to himself, a man will always dress back to the era when he was happiest." There is, however, an important codicil to the Second Great Secret, which we will discuss today:

"...or the era when he imagined himself happiest."

Most men were happiest as children...but there are a number of men who did not have happy childhoods. They cannot look back to a period in their own pasts, to a time when they were content to the extent that it informed their current sartorial decisions, in the manner that we made note of in our last installment.

Fortunately, children have a built-in coping mechanism: vivid imaginations and fantasy lives. It takes very little stimulus to plunge an unhappy child from a broken home into a rich world of his own creation. And these worlds can be just as real to him, and can cement his future clothing preferences just as thoroughly, as a man who drew inspiration from having lived through more idyllic formative years. 

Every person is familiar with placing himself in an imaginary world: the very basis of the genre of fiction itself is the ability to suspend reality and empathise with the hero of a story, to be immersed in a tale and come through feeling a connection to the characters, situations, and settings, as if they were real. For most men, the entertainment value of fiction is a sideline interest. One can jump into it, jump out of it, and get on with life.

For some, though, the fictional connections formed in childhood become more lasting, more engaging, than real social interaction with their peers. The imaginary world becomes more of an influence than the real world. This can cause all sorts of long-term psychological and social issues. These kids may be ostracised as nerds, geeks, weirdos, or just shunned as odd reclusives -- pushing them further into the comfortable retreat of their fantasy world.

For our purposes, of course, we're solely concerned with clothes, not what goes on in your noggin. And just as what you wear is informed by what made you happy, it is also informed by what interests you. Everyone takes something away from their favorite fiction, as well as their own past -- but when your favorite fiction becomes the happiest time of your past, the two become intertwined, and the most comfortable mode of dress might just not be from your own youth at all!

The seeds of creation of these alternative-realities were usually the domain of entertainment media. Books, movies, and television gave us glimpses of different worlds; better worlds, where everyone got along, solved their problems in the span of a story-arc with a swashbuckle, a fight, a clever ruse, or perhaps a song. They depicted different times from our own: vaguely historical, but sanitized, safe, with none of the real problems associated with those eras. We were comfortable there -- we wanted to be there.

The Depression of the '30s brought a number of cheerful musicals and romantic comedies to the theaters. Seen from the distance of a half-century, the then-contemporary patter, smashing suits, and strong women is an irresistible mirror of an idealized era.

Face it, we all wanted to be Nick Charles. Still do.
Passamawho? Disney may have
been weak on plot, but with outfits
like Doc Terminus', who cared?
For decades, the Western dominated the airwaves, and countless children were influenced by images of the wide-open spaces, the wild frontier towns where men were free and rode tall in the saddle. Disney's trademark spin on British Edwardian and American Western life in both animated and live-action form made an indelible mark on young lives, from Old Yeller, Davy Crockett, and Apple Dumpling, to Doctor Doolittle and Mary Poppins. The very perception of America itself is reflected in Disney parks' seven-eighths-scale Main Streets and Frontierlands.

If I looked like that, I'd talk-sing everything too.
Just as a man will take his childhood with him, he will attempt to take his fictional world with him too. Unfortunately, the dress of the fictionalized past just doesn't fold well into modern dress.

Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes was
an eyefeast of proper English dress.

Kids may try to "dress up" like their heroes, but when this moves into adulthood, we invariably encounter problems. Henry Higgins, Harold Hill, George W. Banks, Sherlock Holmes, or Indiana Jones may dress smartly within their worlds, but it becomes costume when taken into the real world.

Who wouldn't want to live in River City? Straw hats, folks bursting
into ex tempore song, and Shirley Jones in her prime? Rrrowl.

No, I was referring to 
this Indiana Jones.
 This does not preclude taking elements of the fictional worlds of the imagination, and including them in your own personal style. Just as we can take parts of a man's happiest past and stir them into your sartorial mix, we can take your fictional past and do the same thing. The method is in the manner, the amount, the balance, the details, and the accessories. And we will conclude next week with just how to do that, while not looking costumey, keeping your style current and classic, and still reflecting that which makes you, you.

(I'll look at another permutation of fictionalized history next week, as well. Stay tuned, muggles!)

1 comment:

  1. I've just discovered your site, which I'm finding really instructive and enjoyable. I've started to work my way methodically through the entries, but in this particular part I do believe you've made some rather profound observations on human nature. I've read a fair bit of psychology but haven't really come across much on this particular topic, of escape through fantasy in childhood, and how this can impact in the present - even down to the level of how we dress.
    I like your style!