We live in the golden age of patterned fabrics. Yesterday in New York City I saw a man wearing an oxford shirt with tiny hamburgers embroidered all over it, and I’ve already discussed the prevalence of botanical prints in a previous column. Sometimes popular fashion seems to reflect a certain collective sobriety in subdued colors and tasteful patterns, but at other times there’s a sort of zeitgeist of… whimsy. Lately it seems like people are pretty into wearing things that look like they’re patterned with a standard set of stripes or diamonds from a distance but upon closer examination turn out to be a string of curses in tiny font, or a field of corgis.
Independence Day has come and gone, but the color scheme remains in popular fashion. You can’t forever assign meanings to color combinations, anyway—different people will have different associations with certain colors based on their personal preferences, their high school sports team colors, or their knowledge of color theory. What has an obvious connotation for one person might not even be on the mental radar of another, though some associations are harder to ignore than others. Red, white, and blue is a big one.
There is power in reclamation. Some people adopt derogatory nicknames and terms that their former bullies used to put them down as a defensive tactic. It’s much harder for a word to hurt you if you divorce it from its negative connotations, and imagery works in a similar way. The face of a dead celebrity or a symbol of resistance or oppression can be mass-produced and commodified so much that it’s reduced to a shortcut of meaning, almost separate from the original human personality or the elements and thought that made up the design in the first place.
I feel a similar way about flowers. Now that it’s officially summer and most people’s pollen allergies have retreated until next spring, we can proudly wear the image of our tormentor. Here you are, plucked from the earth and emblazoned onto t-shirts, blazers, and even shorts. You are defeated and we wear you as a trophy, free of the sneezing and itchy eyes you once gave us. Also, I like seeing people aggressively clash patterns like this. Summer fashion is usually some form of “oh god, whatever keeps me cool and passes basic public decency,” so it’s also nice to see and appreciate some interesting patterning, especially if you can act like there’s a deeper meaning to it.
If you live in an urban center or hang out with a lot of youngish people, I’m sure you’ve seen a particular trend emerge in the past year or so. Adorning one’s face with metal is nothing new, but septum rings are suddenly everywhere! The first time I really noticed them en masse was at last year’s Afropunk festival, which was full of fashion visionaries. Not that I’m complaining about the abrupt popularity—I think almost everyone looks good with a tiny metal loop in their nose and have had mine since 2007. The bigger ones and the more ornate ones require more confidence and nasal strength, though.
The sun is out, your shirtsleeves are cuffed, a spring’s in your step, and you’re ready for your… first day of kindergarten?
Groupings of primary colors are forever associated in my head with children’s toys, color-coding, and the simple, friendly atmosphere of school classrooms for young children. Bright, uncomplicated reds, yellows, and blues felt condescending to me as a kid, like the world of package design was telling me that I wasn’t smart enough for more nuanced tones yet.
I don’t think this gangly adult human walking in front of me in New York City was deliberately trying to look like a small child, but that backpack looks like a prop from Sesame Street, or like what a performer at a drag ball would wear to accomplish “schoolboy realness.”
wearing his heart on his sleeve
I’ve written a lot about my love for all-black outfits that feature some kind of eye-popping accent. Shadowy clothes with a weird detail say, “I can’t be bothered to think about colors but you’d better not think I’m boring,” or “I’m dark, but not that depressing.” Sometimes the detail remains hidden until you’ve had the chance to look for it, but sometimes it’s the most noticeable thing in your field of vision. (more…)