The DC fashion statement is a testament to the nation’s general take on appearance. But we’re the friggin’ nation’s capital, and yet we seem to house some of the least fashion conscious people in the world. I should have written about this ages ago—because frankly it pisses me off. And I’m no high fashion-type guy, but even I realize that this is a problem. How can we possibly represent a positive version of the nation if each person I see here looks like the rolled out of bed like an unprofessional slob? The District embodies the more dressed up version of America’s “I don’t really care what I look like” attitude.
The whole thing has actually got to be one of the oddest clothing paradoxes in the world. DC is the only place in the United States where people still wear ties for middle-class jobs, though they still can’t make it look good. Has the nation lost any ability to dress? Does DC being an apparently lost cause mean the rest of America is too? Are we doomed to white tennis shoes and ill-fitting clothes forever?
If you’re not certain what I’m talking about, then you’re probably a victim of society’s ills—and a grave perpetrator and perpetuator of the problem. I’ll detail a few of the “trends” for you. Puffy shirts—and in no way do I mean shirts designed my Sean Combs, or whatever he wants to call himself or his brand. I’m talking about the dress shirts that puff out—well, everywhere. It was even the butt of the joke of an entire Seinfeld episode 20 years ago. And yet, it’s a still fashion faux pas repeated ad infinitum in this city.
The puffy shirt is simply too much fabric around the sides, over the cuffs, and maybe even on the back. It is the first one that is inexcusable. No matter what size your body is, accept it and move on—then get something that fits that shape. I don’t know what company even makes these cuts any more, but DC’s masses seems to keep their factories humming. Almost every government employee in town seems to have an uncanny ability to find shirts that look like they just came off the set of the movie The Office.
In general, this is probably the largest genre of DC’s fashion faux pas. I don’t believe there are more than a handful of people on the whole block my office sits on that I’ve seen with clothes that actually fit them. There are very baggy pants—especially on skinny women, it just looks strange. There are block shoes—guys should realize by now that the toe of a shoe should look more elegant than a bull dog’s face. No offense to bull dogs. And both sexes seem to find an unusual amount of pleats on pants, skirts and other parts of clothing which don’t necessitate it—as well as the perennial favorite of white gym shoes.
The next is the width of lapels, collars and ties. I’ll put them all together, because dissecting each one would just raise my ire further. Rather, I’ll just say that this is not 1976. Just as toupees, disco, and flamboyant chest hair have gone the way of the dodo, so too should thick rims around a man or woman’s clothing. It is more fitting and elegant—and less wasteful on fabric—to have thinner lapels, thinner collars and thinner ties. I’m not talking about skinny ties, but just something that’s not as wide as your forehead.
As I mentioned above, there are white tennis shoes and big block dress shoes. DC also hosts shoulder pads, people that wear all black every day, dangerously long and pointy shirt collars, heavy-soled wedges, gym pants and jerseys worn everywhere, wrinkled clothes, dirty backpacks/purses/satchels and multiple designer labels among the myriad of fashion maladies.
There are a host of other signs that this city is fashion-challenged. The only places that seem to have any sensibility are around the hill (because of the concentration of pretentious young lawyers) and the areas around the World Bank and IMF offices (because everyone that is not American dresses better than Americans—period). Writer Ellen Byerrum pithily notes that Washington DC is “The City Fashion Forgot.”
Now, if you’re not proud of that title, please do something about this problem. You don’t have to scratch your whole wardrobe. But the next time you buy a shirt, look in the mirror. Ask yourself, does this look good? Or do I look like a doufus? If it’s the latter, have the patience and the self-discipline to try something else on. You are probably better looking than your wardrobe allows you to look. So take advantage of that, make some changes and channel your inner Olivia Pope or Don Draper.