Fashion’s penchant for so-bad-it’s-good has reached peak irony
Jason Lloyd Evans
EDITORIAL & CONTENT
The brief I was originally given for this piece was to identify the supercool pre-zeitgeisty thing…and then gas-talk about it like a pro. Couldn’t do it. My trend-hunting abilities used to be reasonably sharp (i.e. I’m very impressionable and would be subliminally influenced by approaching cool, in just the manner consumerism requires), but of late, something’s been messing with my radar.
We know how fashion works: aesthetic trends from previous eras are rehashed, changed in some minor way and presented as fresh. So, the exact ruffles that were huge in 198-whatever are given a fabric-change and, once again, huge in 2019. We buy it, in more ways than one. But, according to my hypothesis, because the key trends of the last century have been used up, times over, lately designers have had to venture into the dud files, looking at sartorial trends of past eras which were never huge, or even considered attractive; the mundanities of the underfashionable cohorts.
In footwear alone, you have Grandad Attending Physio in 1996, which has been the key trainer aesthetic since 2017, doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon and is in fact the poster accessory for the phenomenon. While Religion Teacher on School Tour to Lourdes, circa 2005 is a particularly strong sandal look, and one which I’ve been rather partial to, myself. Most recently, the ugly trainer and the ugly sandal have been at it like rabbits and their spawn is making me doubt humanity.
(I’m saying that today; watch my feet next week.)
There’s nothing new about fashion subverting norms of dress, of course, but what’s notable in 2019 is that the desired effect is different. Take, for instance, a woman wearing a man’s suit and looking badass – sexier and more feminine in contrast with what she’s wearing; the bucket hat is only an improvement if, say, a large seagull recently shat on your hair. The appeal lies entirely in the badge of honour of looking like a sap; “Yes, I know I look hideous, but I’m doing it ironically, so am, therefore, much cooler than you, who looks rather pretty”.
During a recent mirror-front pose, I realized I was sporting a stunning likeness to my confirmation outfit – bulbous, ear-accentuating hairband; shapeless logo t-shirt (the Bishop wasn’t a fan of this one); bum-flattening, hip-widening, ankle-skimming palazzo trousers; Teva velcro flatform sandles. I knew that 97 per cent of the people I met would think I was on day release from some facility or other, and yet I was delighted with myself.
I’d fallen hook, line and sinker for the ploy of the fashion machine and actually thought this looked great. But that was because, subconsciously, I knew that the 3 per cent would be giving me an invisible nod of style approval (invisible but very real, I assure you). None of these would be straight men, of course, but what do I care, I’ve nabbed my prince and he lovingly screeches “eh, eh, ehhh” (Ann from Little Britain’s charming catchphrase), in response to many of my less alluring outfit choices.
Point being that the rise and rise of ironically-worn atrocities, seems to me like a sort of secret handshake within the fashion intelligentsia. Just as when you were 17 and your Dad asked if your outfit was the result of a dare, now catching your basic colleague vomit in her mouth, at the sight of your shoes, is the ultimate badge of approval.
You know your cool girl mates – whom you’re desperately trying to impress, even at what’s approaching middle age – will love them. It’s peak notions, but it helps me feel young, between weeks on end of legging-wearing* (*works from home; has children), so for the most part, I’m staying on board. To taste-test the theory, simply wander into Urban Outfitters and hang around long enough for one of the sales assistants to glance in the direction of whatever item you’re wearing ironically. If you’ve as much as caught the attention of the over-stimulated youth, you’ve nailed it.
And yet it’s this set of so-naff-it’s-cool sartorial codes that’s got my trend compass all off, mainly because there are just so many instances, now. While in 2010, I might have winced at Jack Duckworth glasses the first time I saw them on a Nu Rave contemporary, but been fully committed the next day, now the “bucket hats? really?” could last months, due to sheer ironic overload, from the feet up.
And the very real fear that at some unspecified number of naff garments, the irony will be eclipsed and I’ll morph forever into a 35-year old Daniel O’Donnell fan. But not until I’m seduced by that blasted hat, which I feel will take so long that I’ll be wearing it with my winter coat. Or have I just unwittingly stumbled upon the next step in the naff style cycle; wear it a season too late?
From a fashion trend commentary piece I wrote for Irish Tatler, September 2019 edition
Listen to me expand on this noble topic via the Irish Tatler Podcast