Pumped Up Kicks
I’ve taken the title of this article from my favorite song of the moment by Foster the People. If you live anywhere but Los Angeles, you probably had it on your iPod all last summer. Due to the dearth of good radio stations here, we’re a little late on the indie musical uptake, so the fact that I’ve known about it a couple of months makes me an early adopter.
You’ll see why I chose the title later but, first, I was catching up with a Style Network show that I haven’t seen in a while because I can rarely find the Style Network in the cable lineup. Unfortunately, Fox News is right there in front of your face when you click on “Guide” and I think that may be one of the biggest problems this country is facing. If more people were watching the Style Network and fewer people were tuning into Fox News on a regular basis, we’d all be less angry and much better looking.
This episode of How Do I Look? was certainly one of the more dramatic transformations I’ve seen on one of these makeover shows. Mousy, messy South Bronx schoolteacher Chrystie, it seems, has a little addiction problem with ugly, oversized hand-me-downs. I celebrate her desire to reuse and recycle but most of her problem is that she’s too cheap and disinterested to shop for anything new. She opens the show wearing a big, chunky cardigan over a big, chunky sweater with raggedy ass chinos and ugly pink sneakers rounding out the look. The fact that she is being filmed for a nationally televised show sans makeup or benefit of a comb attests to her disillusioned perception of the power of one’s appearance.
By far the best thing about How Do I Look? is the fiesty, no-nonsense attitude of the show’s host/hostess Ongina, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag U. Put a wig on that bitch and she’s an automatic fashion fireball, taking no bullshit from the misguided, defensive frumps she has to beat into some sense of fashion responsibility. I really never would have predicted this after he showed up week after week on Ru’s show with those silly little hats glued to his bald head, but I like it.
So, anyway, a highly esteemed panel comprised of Chrystie’s mom, her (possibly closeted) younger brother and some lady who doesn’t seem really thrilled to be there assembles to confront this mislead schoolmarm and her fugly clothes. Pieces of her old wardrobe rise up out of a table for the panel members to rummage through and critique. The clothes don’t exactly look fresh from the cleaner’s but they are bandied about, oblivious to any germs or bacteria, and then banished piece by piece. Ongina sticks them in a clear plastic vacuum tube and they are whisked up to, presumably, the floor above. Who knows? And why the stupid plastic tube? Banks and obsolete department stores (I mean you, Neiman Marcus!) have had those tubes for decades, so they’re not impressing us with their space age technology. Just throw it into a dumpster, already. We’ll still get the point.
A most interesting part of the episode is the presentation of three new collections that the panelists — Mom, Brother and Strange Lady — have chosen to replace Chrystie’s scary homeless man ensembles. She really seems to blossom during this segment, shedding her old limiting beliefs and finally realizing that she can feel much better about herself with a little effort. The final step of lopping off that messy hair and having her makeup done launched her into an entirely different dimension. The sequined Studio 54 dress that she wore at the reveal was a bit much for a schoolteacher in South Bronx but she could totally work that look at night in Chelsea. (The brother chose the dress, by the way. Hmmm.) At the end, they gave her a plane ticket to teach poor kids in Kenya, so I’m not sure how she’s going to work that disco look into her repertoire anytime soon.
Anyway, remember those pink sneakers she was wearing at the beginning? Well, get ready to hear some more about shoes. Cover your dead ears, Oscar Wilde, but in the shoe world, Form usually follows Function. Deck shoes were designed to wear on yachts and riding boots were made to wear in the saddle. Trainers are so named because they are for training, or working out. I don’t know from where the term “sneakers” originated but it’s been around since the 1880s and must be something about being sneaky. If you think about it, those late Victorians would have had to be pretty sneaky if they were ever going to have any fun.
Designers have managed to adapt deck shoes and riding boots to suit a variety of looks for years but, as much as people may try, sneakers are not as adaptable because they are less aesthetically pleasing. They’re usually big, clunky and colorful. Some of you will disagree, certainly, and I know that there are some very fashionable individuals even outside of the rap contingent for whom sneakers work well on a daily basis. My friend Ron Rangel in New York has hundreds of pairs and, with his ageless look, I couldn’t imagine him in anything else.
In general, though, here’s my rule for trainers/sneakers/tennis shoes: If you’re not participating in an athletic activity and can wear any other shoe, choose the other shoe. It might be a loafer, oxford or Chelsea boot for men, a ballet flat or a stiletto for women but it’s nearly always going to be a better, less clichéd choice.
In other shoe news, you might think that the wedges that have been reappearing every spring are becoming a bit silly. If you think back to the enormous platform chopines that the courtesans of Renaissance Venice wore, requiring attendants to walk either side holding them steady, these espadrille things that show up every year are quite tame. And you know, of course, that the courtesans were “the T” in Venice during the Renaissance so they must have been on to some shit.
Though I never needed someone to help me walk in my shoes and I try to guide you along a practical yet fashion savvy path, I do have my own impractical footwear story. You see, in an age when cowboy boots could be worn without irony outside the borders of Texas, I had a pair made for me in black and white pony. When they finally arrived, they were at least a half size too small but I insisted on wearing them for short periods anyway. During a trip to visit a friend in an upscale part of the Silicon Valley, we went into San Jose to see a punk/ska band. I ended up in the mosh pit for a while and, on the way to the car, I had to take those fucking boots off and walk several city blocks in my socks. I carried them around the world with me for years but I never wore them again. The moral of this story is: Don’t buy uncomfortable shoes, no matter how fabulous they look. You will regret it.
In the end, footwear is a challenging business. Every season there are hundreds of thousands of shoe options from the bland to the sublime. You should own at least one pair at each end of that spectrum and a few in between.
So, I guess that’s it for this week: only wear sneakers with your gym clothes; don’t buy uncomfortable shoes; and, 17th century Venetian hookers were awesome.
Oh, have you heard that rat poison is the newest weight loss fad? On the downside, you’re eating rat poison.