Up from The Cape: 1 Mar 2017
If there should come a time when science can identify the biological influences that incline us towards any given profession, my suggestion is we put as much effort as we can into isolating and modifying the fashion designer gene. A casual browse through the pages of history will show it’s something that’s done a lot more harm than good.
Other than when I was a child, I can’t decide what the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever worn has been. Indiscretions in childhood divide broadly into things over which we had no control (i.e. looking idiotic due to the abuse of power by the species known as adults), and the things we have to accept responsibility for, grudgingly, when we see them in photos decades later. In my case there isn’t any photographic evidence I’m aware of regarding my own errors, so I can afford to be light-hearted about it. I’ll touch on that again later.
Anyone who was alive during the 1970s understands it was the decade that style largely forgot. It was, literally, impossible to have been male at that time and not looked like a fool at some point. In the absence of style, something had to fill the void. What stepped into it were ludicrous flares, Daliesque collars, platform shoes, ties reared on steroids, shirts that looked like they’d been cut from vinyl wallpaper, and hairstyles that made a lot of men look like a strange new breed of dog. If ever an era should have been filed under the heading “there’s no excuse for this”, it’s the ‘70s. As a species we’re witty and inventive, but there’s always some maverick who wants to go against the flow. That was the mindset from which the ‘70s sprang. If you’re too young to have experienced it, consider yourself lucky.
My own worst indiscretion occurred pre-1970s when I was seven years old. I always mention age first because it’s a way of indemnifying myself against responsibility for it. I was below the age of reason. When I was seven I coerced or nagged one of my parents into buying me a Beatle wig. This was one of the madder products born of the hysteria that accompanied Beatlemania at its height. It was not a wig in the orthodox sense. It was a rigid plastic helmet that had been molded into the approximation of a hairpiece, vaguely reminiscent of the hairstyles The Beatles chose early in their careers. On a child it fitted over the head like a diver’s helmet. It covered the eyes so effectively the only way it was possible for a child to see was to tip its head back and try to look downwards. The “wig” had a semi-gloss finish that lent it the appearance of having been burnt or melted.
Now there are no witnesses remaining I can reveal to the world that I wore mine all the way home (in the street) from Woolworths. I think at the time I was dressed in a white shirt and light trousers. With a melted black plastic shell over my head I must have looked like a spent match walking along with an adult for guidance.
One of the great lessons of life is that our perception is built on quicksand. What we think looks great today doesn’t look great tomorrow. My perception of myself as I walked home was that I looked really good. It’s self-evident now how badly that perception was awry. I had the idea everyone was looking at me. I was right, but for the wrong reasons. Real life – it was ever thus.
I’ve no recollection of how often I wore my Beatle wig. I remember it being hard to see where I was going when it was on. I also remember that it pinched below my ears like a clam (something it was also reminiscent of because of the way it had to be prised open before it could be worn). Those two factors may have persuaded me to just keep it as a trophy, along with a Thunderbirds hat I treated with reverence and kept on a shelf. I’ve no memory of having worn it in the street again, though it’s equally possible my mind has simply erased all memory of me doing so out of pity. When I put my head inside it, there was a hollow, distant rushing sound akin to what you can hear if you listen at the open end of a length of pipe. It made conversation difficult, but realistically there weren’t many other children who would have wanted to speak to me……..or be seen in my company. My only comfort in thinking about it now is that there were people who, of their own volition, chose to look more ridiculous than I did. Under the heading of “Lest we forget”, it’s worth touching on a textbook example:
Pajamas in “Bri Nylon”:
If you’ve ever enjoyed using a Van der Graaff generator (a device that makes hair stand on end in an amusing way), then this is the sleepwear for you. The 1931 Universal Pictures version of “Frankenstein” set the standard for electrical discharges in a confined space that everything else has been judged against. Bri Nylon surpasses that standard effortlessly. The electrical discharges that lance out indiscriminately from anyone making the slightest movement while wearing Bri Nylon, is the stuff of legends. It’s also distinctive due to its alien appearance. It is completely artificial, and unmistakably so – again much like a Frankenstein creation. One additional worrying feature was if it caught fire it would melt and stick to anyone still wearing it, thereby doing even more harm. I’d sooner sleep dressed in a hand-grenade.
In case you’ve never seen Bri Nylon in the wild, here’s what you missed:
This, by the way, is what hospital workers will be wearing in the year 2225 if healthcare still exists then. Dr Mentor is on the left. He always knows something about you that you don’t want anyone else to know. Look at his face…..he knows about my Beatle wig – hence the unnerving expression that seems to look right into my soul. Along with an amiable colleague who evidently thinks he’s Robert Redford, he’s presenting their first slightly annoyed-looking inflatable patient to the world. I think the expression on the patient means “I’ve buzzed the nurse three times, and nobody’s come yet.”
Can’t think of a use for inflatable patients? Don’t worry, they said that about lasers, and now we can’t get enough of them – especially for blinding pilots on final approach.
What does it say about an era when it that thinks this is a good look for a man with self-respect and a mirror nearby? Off to bed now sir? First you need to dress up like a court jester. It’s the rules in 2225. Dr Mentor says so, and Dr Mentor is always right.