October 11, 2006
Look Good / Feel Better
When it comes to personal style and elegance, as a society we have hit rock bottom. Here in the Hamptons the newly rich seem to be competing with one another over who can be the biggest slob walking down Main Street.
You see them more and more because the old money is selling up and moving out. And why not? Real estate prices, especially in the estate areas, have become so astronomical, who can resist taking the truckload of money being offered for houses that are hard to heat in the winter or cool in the summer, have leaks in a roof the size of a football field, and could keep a crew of painters busy year 'round?
Just "maintaining" has become a challenge to people who inherited a couple million dollars in a time when your neighbor's house sells for twenty million dollars. The writing is on the wall for so many of the old time regulars who graced our villages in seasons past. They are like the dinosaurs watching the comet grow ever nearer and wondering which way to run. They're not yet extinct, but their presence is dearly missed.
Gone with them are the Gucci loafers and walking shorts. Say goodbye to linen slacks topped by navy boat-neck sweaters. Those adorable wrap dresses of yesteryear don't go around running their errands anymore.
What's here in their place are rubbed jeans (rubbed, I might add, in all the seamier places) barely covering butt cracks, tattered tee shirts that don't even look clean, and the ever present flip-flops, long the footwear of choice in Florida and Southern California. In hot weather, those same jeans are cropped into Daisy Dukes or chopped at 'high water' length a la hip-hop.
Then there's the whole thing with baseball caps. They, too, are everywhere — worn straight on, backwards, or at a quirky angle. And they never come off. Once it was considered bad form for a man to wear his hat indoors, and a woman in a cap like that was having a bad hair day. More than ever this year, the summer crowd thought it was okay to slop around town in bare feet and bathing suits.
In Southampton we still have a few archaic street signs informing people a certain amount of fashion decorum is required. Talk about a law rarely enforced! A frightening fact: manners are directly linked to appearance. When you're dressed in an upscale way, you act nicely. When you look like a total bum, you act like someone whose manners are strictly curbside. There's something disconcerting about a person who steps out of a hundred thousand dollar automobile wearing rags. Where's the stability or balance in that? Does such a person, lacking in personal grooming and taste, have a good grip on appropriate behavior in society? Doubtful.
A prediction: there will be a return to elegance in the near future. It only makes sense. When you hit the skids, there's only one way to go — and that's up. We'll ease into it by doing simple things like substituting skinny black or gray jeans for baggy blue ones. Shirts with collars will be back, and we'll resurrect the old bit of tying a sweater around the shoulders — practical for all weather.
The nicely dressed people out here are the ones who work in the stores, offices and service fields. That trend will extend into all areas of employment, and management will require their workforce to make a presentable appearance, even on Friday. As reality TV wanes, we'll start seeing people on the small screen (and throughout the media) dressed for something better than scrambling up a tree to grab the coconut with a promise of immunity in it.
Lastly, people will just get sick of looking so seedy. Our motto: Fight Terror With Fashion! A well-dressed democracy is a powerful force in a world of repressed religious fanatics hell-bent on destroying all that's stylish. Bin Laden is not hiding behind an Armani jacket, you know. Make a patriotic statement by looking great before leaving home.