Ah, the past. Could the preceding eons of humanity have ever imagined how much comedy they would provide for the present? Especially in the realm of fashion? Between the sackcloth, the aversion to hygiene, and the smallpox pancake-spackle, we Jetsons Age sophisticates have enough material for centuries of laffs and merriment at our forebears’ expense. But what comedy gold will future generations spin from current styles? What of our own fashion fiascos? Here are ten problem areas:
1. FAKE HUMAN SKIN Let’s get this one out of the way. Yes, SkinBag, a company in northern France, is manufacturing and selling clothing designed to look like cured human skin. There’s the jacket ($830, www.skinbag.net), the skirt ($350), the Élégance handbag (available in four different ethnicities, $125), the segmented Animal fanny pack (“with umbilical cord,” $250), and a watertight computer bag ($700) of a distinctly non-Caucasian hue. The company has held exhibitions of full-body suits and tote bags decorated with fake tattoos. The rubbery material, veinless and hairless, seems a victimless vulgarity, falling somewhere on a continuum between fake puke and user-generated CGI animal-torture videos. Here’s the bummer: SkinBag now offers instant freak-out power on the cheap. Why go through the risk and bother of hunting, killing, and skinning human prey when you can order a reasonable reproduction online? Sooner or later someone is going to figure out the huge criminal potential here. What security guard or Good Samaritan would dare touch a bank robber clad in human pelts? And then there are the military applications. What happens if the Taliban or the armed forces of Iran or Kim Jong-il’s Korean People’s Army gets hold of SkinBag’s URL? Any military force outfitted in human skins would make the Old Norse berserkers pale in comparison. Could any country on earth face down an army of Ed Geins?
2. REVENGE CLOTHING A German website now offers the “Get Naked Bikini” ($15, www.racheshop.de), a two-piece water-soluble swimsuit that allegedly falls apart after three minutes of swimming. The bikini is made from polyamide and elastane. Although this combination of polymers is found in most water-resistant swimsuits, the dubious product has still managed to enrage many sensible Europeans with its overtones of male revenge fantasy (the comparably priced men’s “Get Naked Pants” haven’t yet made the news). The bum-out here is the level of Lex Luthor logic required to execute this gag on the revenge level. There would have to be meticulous planning and precise knowledge of a horrible confrontation and separation (perhaps the suit is meant to initiate both). Bad breakups don’t traditionally end with a gift exchange. Are there dudes out there so twisted and calculating that they might insert the “Get Naked Bikini” into a normal, healthy relationship? Are there any women in the world that twisted?
3. CODED CLOTHING Savvy teabaggers of 2010 wear the “Pray for Obama” shirt ($10-$16, www.ebay.com). Under this neutrally scripted message comes a smaller subhead: “Psalm 109:8,” which, as equally savvy teabaggers know, reads “Let his days be few; let another take his office.” Even savvier teabaggers know that this line is followed by Psalm 109:9, which reads “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” This is old news and—as a statement of impotent rage—fairly weak sauce. But as a harbinger of political code, these shirts may point the way toward the oblique discourse of the near future. Eight years ago, Target retired its semi-infamous “88” line of shirts and baseball caps; “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so the decoded “HH” tags the wearer with a coy “Heil Hitler.” People were upset. And yet only last year, Target went one step deeper into the undercover political clothing market with the sale of shirts depicting Michael Richards as Kramer. Eventually their racist menswear department will hit a level below the radar detection of even the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is, of course, something of a bummer when a growing segment of our society lacks the guts to speak their beef in a straightforward manner. But it is an even larger bummer that a guidebook may soon be required to tell who that growing segment of our society is. At this rate, earbud slipcover color will be the racial Hanky Code of the twenty-teens.
4. PRADA MEINHOF Periodic pundit meltdowns about “terrorist chic”—Che shirts, Rachael Ray in a paisley kaffiyeh—miss the big story. All appropriations of militant iconography are doomed to mutation. Take the semi-legit Prada Meinhof fashion line of the past ten years. This amusing homage to the Baader-Meinhof Gang inadvertently belittles the very same group it celebrates, a West German terrorist outfit that referred to itself only as the Red Army Faction (“Baader-Meinhof Gang” was the diminutive media label). It’s a vicious, brilliant twist of irony, but the implication is bleak—perhaps as early as the 2020s, we can expect to see shirts with Che Guevara’s face reading “Cool Puerto Rican Dude.”
5. BLACK TECHNOLOGY Black is a cool, sleek color. Smartphones aspire to coolness and sleekness. Ergo, the majority of smartphones come housed in black glass and plastic, as much a fashion statement as earrings or sunglasses. Electronics don’t look quite so sleek in white, which is the color of soymilk, undershirts, and hardboiled eggs. This is something of a problem if you happen to be human with a normal human epidermis. Flakes of dandruff stand out on shiny dark surfaces. All of us have had that moment: Your smartphone is on the table in front of you, the early-morning sun hits it just right, and you suddenly notice all the tiny white shards of dander and sloughed-off skin—human ash—you’ve been lugging around and pressing to your cheek. Ladies, ever wondered what biological horror we men store in the razor heads of our electric shavers? Just peel back that rubber slipcover on your iPhone and find out.
6. POST-9/11 FLESH MARKET Blame one more thing on the TSA: the informalizing of American dress. The loose-hanging, security-friendly dumbed-down fashions of the early 2000s have given way to parades of unadorned flesh not seen in this country since the 1600s, leaving many of us weary travelers in cramped quarters with tramp stamps, moley muffin tops, underarm cameltoe, and general flabby, floppity lobster flesh. Who knew the top of the human intergluteal cleft was such a foreboding place on most actual humans? (Fairness disclosure: As anyone who has visited a Renaissance faire knows, the new casualness has at least spared us of one flesh bummer of ages past—corset-enforced back cleavage.)
7. PAJAMA PARTY The past ten years have seen a steep rise in the number of people wearing pajamas in public. This phenomenon cuts across racial lines, but not economic ones. You may see a lawyer, stockbroker, or periodontist in their PJs on an international flight, but it’s a safe bet you won’t see them like this at the 7-Eleven. Public pajamas suck in two unique ways. Flannel is cousin to microfiber cleaning cloths, a natural magnet for dirt. There’s a reason it’s not a material for the outside world. Filthy flannel sucks in dirt, breathing in the grit of public life until the wearer becomes a walking health and human-safety issue. It also sucks up human dignity, a means of social control straight out of Orwell that produces mother-and-daughter teams that make chav scum look like 4-H club recruits.
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8. NOVELTY YARMULKES These thin, round skullcaps plug into millennia of religious conviction, demonstrating awe of the Almighty while offering a healthy reminder of one’s proximity to the higher universe. Within the wide range of available styles of yarmulkes, there are innumerable subtexts and symbols afoot, and cloth and color can signify political affiliation and religious denomination. Then there are novelty yarmulkes. Observant Jews can now partake in skullcaps celebrating the Oakland Raiders ($18, www.neshomanetwork.com) or Sponge Bob ($15, www.zionjudaica.com), or personalized with a photo ($39 per dozen, www.kippah.com). There’s a yarmulke that will electronically scroll any message you want ($20, www.ledkippah.com). Treating semi-sacred garments like graduation gowns invites incredulity on the viewer’s part that verges dangerously close to anti-Semitism. Like: If you don’t take your own religion seriously, how are the goyim supposed to?
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9. OBLIVIOUSLY OFFENSIVE SHIRTS Last year, my mom watched a merchant kick a grown man out of a toy shop. The man seemed incredulous that his t-shirt (“Practice Safe Sex… Go Fuck Yourself”) could have any bearing on his right to browse a children’s store. And just last month, my wife answered the door to find an eager high school kid selling chocolate bars for charity. His shirt—a pictographic diptych of a man pushing a woman off a cliff (“Problem/Problem Solved”)—deeply sucked. “Wow… your shirt sucks,” my wife said before sending the young man packing. He seemed hurt and, worse, confused. Bummer Time occurs when offensive shirts are no longer manufactured and purchased to be offensive, but because their ubiquity negates offense in the first place. What happens in ten years, when everyone on earth is an “Official Pussy Inspector?” What nightmarish H.P. Lovecraft shirt designs will be offensive at that point?
10. OVER-HYGIENE Tweens of the twenty-tweens are awash, quite literally, in several drugstores’ worth of personal-hygiene products. Gels, sprays, hydrators, deodorants—have any adults caught on to what a ticking time bomb this is? Does anyone realize that not a one of the currently available identities for self-conscious young people—goth, jock, emo, achiever—has an opt-out for cleanliness? Can anyone imagine what comedy gold this next generation’s slavishness to hygiene will provide for forthcoming eons of humanity?