Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Black Swells

It used to be that you could spot “new money” by the way that they dressed: lots of gaudy flash, like a woman I once saw in the suburbs with more gold trinkets on her sweater (!) than a Colonel. She looked like C3PO! But having survived the tech boom, which Holly probably remembers better than I do, I became accustomed to seeing rich young lads in baseball caps and tee-shirts. Perhaps the fear of being called out as “elitist” (or gay) has prevented the wealthy from dressing any different than the rest of us. If you want to see “bling”, look for people who can’t afford it. They’re not “new money”, just “new credit”.

This article makes basically the same point: people who can’t afford fancy things now all have fancy things, and the wealthy spend their money on things that most of us can’t see. Claire’s über accountant father cringes when he sees Hummers because he knows how much credit card debt their drivers have. Meanwhile, most of the rich people that Claire and I know dress and behave just like everyone else and live in modest homes. So, I think that class is no longer easily identifiable, except perhaps in the case of food. The wealthy really do eat better.

Some have expressed hopes that Barack Obama will set a fashion trend for young black men. I have two problems with this. First off, I’m tired of hearing people complain about “those young black men with the pants hanging down off their ass”. Young men all adopt odd fashions to distinguish themselves; it’s not a black thing. Two words: the mullet. Three more: Billy Ray Cyrus.

Also, they don’t seem to notice, but there are already black men who dress better than anyone else. I’ve been impressed by the wave of black swells in the last decade. While new money whites wear khakis and polo shirts, new money blacks still make an effort to project class. Okay, maybe Tiger Woods wears polo shirts, but I seriously doubt anyone would call him a slob. And, for as lousy as his music and conversational skills strike me, I think that Sean Combs, he of the manifold aliases, has a strong sense of elegance. Incidentally, I was happy to hear that Combs acquitted himself well in a recent film of A Raisin in the Sun. My first thought though was “when is he going to play Gatsby”? If there was ever a match between a character and a role, that would be it.

But, as a male, I have to say that my fashion plate role model is not someone from Paris or Milan, but from Virginia Beach: I am frequently amazed by Pharrel Williams. Not only does he exhibit a great amount of taste, but he clearly has his own style. Look at pictures from one of the chichi parties he attends; compared to most people his age in the public eye, he stands very tall indeed.

So, I wish the article had made note of this: between the rich whites dressed like they just left a frat party and the poor blinged out blacks, there are indeed stewards of style in America: Obama just has the highest profile of the black swells.


clairev said...

rufie, even from france i can feel our mind-meld. god i can't wait until you come home and we can talk about shit like that in person. i realize i'm posting this publicly but fuck it. i miss you.

Rufus said...

Oh, I miss you too. As I was writing this I thought, "this is the sort of thing me and Claire would talk about."

Holly said...

I've been chewing on this article since you posted it, and ... it troubles me. The best I can come up with is this: It seems like you're dancing around, but not quite saying, that it seems to be implied that white people can dress any damn way they please without signifying much, but non-whites have to make an effort to look like they've Got Something, whether they have or not.

And... on one hand, this is so cliché it doesn't even bear discussing. On the other hand, it is factual.

I guess my point is, I'd really rather have "black kids" (any kids, really) emulate the social ease of the mainstream, because that carries every-so-slightly less prejudice against it.

Does that sound oppressive? I dunno. I'm really struggling here to express what I'm trying to say. Probably it's a struggle to express because historically, my only personal hope of fitting in is proper uniforms.

I'm rambling, aren't I?

rufus said...

It's weird- I've noticed that, as someone who grew up fairly working class and has had considerably less money since then, that when I see someone who has "made it" and they dress like a slob, I sort of think they're a dick for some reason. With Williams, since I know where he came from, I feel like I get it when I see him dressed up now. He's making a statement that I can appreciate. And, there is a slight "fuck you" in that statement too that I definitely appreciate. But, when I see old money in jeans and a tee shirt, I feel insulted for some reason. I realize, of course, that this is not exactly rational.

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