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IT’S LIKE THAT: Losing My Fashion Sense

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If someone heard my name and the phrase “trend setter” in the same sentence, they’d probably laugh–especially my close friends. They’d tell you that I’ve been wearing the same cut-off Dickies shorts, Converse one-stars, and thrift store T-shirts for the last fifteen years. They’d also tell you that if I was indeed a “trend setter,” it has been a long, long time since I started one.

Just because I haven’t changed my wardrobe in over a decade does not necessarily mean that I am not fashion conscious. Oh believe you me, I am definitely conscious of fashion, but I’m just too comfortable in my own clothes to radically change anything. Coming of age in the 90’s–when thrift store shopping was actually considered cool–makes it very difficult for me to pay more than $10 for a pair of pants. Even if my friends might not admit it, I’m sure there’s a certain comfort in seeing me in the same duds, year in and year out. It’s the same comfort I got seeing Run DMC in leather jackets and fedoras, The Ramones in blue jeans and sneakers, and Metallica headbanging with long, unkempt hair.

Did these musicians consistently have impeccable style? No.

In the late 80’s/early 90’s, hip-hop fashion was all about bright colors, poofy hats (ask Heavy D to show you a couple of his), and baggy clothes. In Run DMC’s “The Avenue” video, Darryl McDaniels trades his fedora for a puffy hat, Run forgoes black jeans for a pair of overalls, and Jam Master Jay (gulp) breaks the monochromatic color code of the group, and wears a hideous striped hooded jacket–the kind that were only in style in the early 90’s for about a second.

At that point in time (1990) Run DMC might have looked cool, but they didn’t look like Run DMC. The same can be said when Metallica cut their curls in 1996 for the release of their album Load.


(right: Run DMC looking like Run DMC.)

When one of your friends, a band, or a television personality (Larry David anyone?) finds a wardrobe that suits them well, and sticks with it, certain people will complain. But you’ll find more people upset when a change has actually been made.

What about artists like Madonna–performers who reinvent themselves for every new album release? To me, Madonna’s “reinvention” is the equivalent of finding comfort in Run DMC’s black hats and adidas shoes. People would be pissed off if Madonna didn’t change her style from album to album. And because she has constantly transformed throughout her 20-plus year career, Madonna can indulge in bad fashion trends, knowing by the time they go out of style, she’ll be on to her next wardrobe choice.

When I was a VJ for MTV, I was assigned a fashion stylist. You can imagine the wars that raged in the fitting rooms. Alison, whose job it was to dress on-air talent in the latest, hip threads, had to battle daily with me, a person who figured if Mr. Rogers could wear the same thing for years and years, it’d be okay for me to do the same.

More times than not, Alison and I found common ground, but there were times when we had fierce standoffs. For example, a few years ago it was quite fashionable to wear jeans with bleached fade-marks in the thigh region. I refused to wear ’em. To me it looked like someone took a paintbrush and put two streaks down each leg. I didn’t want something to go on my reel (or the internet) that would look so out-of-style in two year’s time.

I also refused to wear shirts that had screen-printing above the collar. I like my logos in the middle of the shirt, three inches below the collar–right where they belong. Sneakers? Had to be classics: Nike Cortez, Converse One-Star, Chuck Taylors, or original Puma suedes. Shoe’s with ribbed soles, Velcro straps, and rounded leather toes were never welcomed on my feet. Jewelry? Don’t even go there.

Growing older–and according to my wife, “getting more and more out-of-style each day”–I recently thought to myself, “Am I really out of touch? Have I lost ‘it’?”

How could I let this happen to me–a person who once prided himself in uncovering fashion trends long before they were deemed “cool” by the mainstream? Here are a few examples:

The Ringer T Revival
When I was in high school (early 90’s), you couldn’t buy a ringer T-shirt anywhere. Occasionally, you could find one at a thrift store, but those were few and far between. I quickly came up with a solution–to take a fabric marker and color the collars of my T-shirts. A couple years later, retro fashion was in full swing, and you could buy a 70’s-inspired ringer at any retail store in the mall.

In the mid-90’s I had an old golf visor lying around the house. I decided to wear it to a concert. I kind of liked it, so I started wearing it everywhere I went. Two years later, visors became the head-wear of choice for ravers across the country. I retired mine shortly thereafter.

¾-Sleeve Shirt Combo
Trying to mash-up some styles I liked from the previous decade, in the early 2000’s I began wearing ¾-sleeve shirts (aka softball shirts) under my short-sleeve tops. I wore this combo for many of my early MTV/2 shoots. A year or so later, when we began shooting in the same studio as MTV, I saw the ¾-sleeve shirt combo laid out in the dressing room for some of MTV’s on-air talent. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery!

kanye old lady.jpg

White-Rimmed Sunglasses
Four years ago I decided to switch up my style of sunglasses. Wanting something different from everyone else, I searched far and wide for a pair of shades with white-rims–sort of an ode to a pair Kurt Cobain wore years earlier. After getting the glasses, my friends (especially my brother Danny) began referring to them as my “old lady” sunglasses. There was also a certain producer at MTV who wouldn’t let me wear them on-air. Later in the year, Kanye West began wearing a similar pair of white-rimmed sunglasses, and my “old lady” glasses weren’t so “old lady” anymore.

(left: Are you going to tell Kanye he looks like an “old lady”?)

So what’s the point of this whole rant? Well, as I sit here today in my cut-off Dickies, whose once coarse material is now as soft as a rabbit’s ear, certain friends and loved ones would have you believe that I’ve lost my Midas touch as far as fashion is concerned. But if they weren’t so busy laughing, they would be ashamed to know that they prevented me from striking fashion gold once again.

Three years ago, at the suggestion of my wife, I was told to update my wardrobe. I went back to the “well” so to speak–the thrift store. In the mid-90’s, thrift stores were gold mines for retro shirts and trousers. In the 2000’s all of the sweet, old-man threads donated decades earlier were bought up, giving way to a mountain of clothes donated in the 90’s–Looney Toons t-shirts, Starter Jackets, and stone-washed jeans.

With such a horrible selection to choose from, how was I ever going to find a fashion gem? Just as I was about to give up, I noticed a rack of long-sleeve plaid shirts. After thinking about it for a couple seconds, I thought, “Yes! This is it! This will be my new fashion signature!” I proceeded to buy six of them for $8.

As soon as I started wearing the shirts out in public, I heard complaints. My wife thought the shirts were grotesque, complaining that I looked even more 90’s than I had before, and some of my friends likened my new fashion sense to that of a burnout in the 1980’s. Being a little reluctant to change my wardrobe in the first place, I decided to go back to the comforts of wearing t-shirts and cut-offs, and threw away my thrift store finds. That was three years ago.

More recently, whether I’m riding the subway, watching TV, or thumbing through a magazine, I’m seeing more and more fashionable young men wearing (guess what?) long-sleeve paid shirts. Yes, LONG-SLEEVE PLAID SHIRTS!! The same damn shirts I was criticized for wearing. And you can bet the farm that you can’t buy ONE of these for $8.

In closing, I’d like to dedicate this piece of prose to all of my loved ones who thought I lost my place on the other end of the tipping point. Damn it, even though it may not look like it, I still have the ability to spot (and occasionally start) a fashion trend! You just remember that, every time you see somebody in one of those long-sleeve plaid shirts.

Start passing the jar around, you all owe me $8 and one great, big apology.

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