After a Fashion

Personal style in the eye of the beholder? No way, baby.

LAME ADVERTISING SPACE I love the courtroom scene in Serial Mom in which Kathleen Turner's character is enraged by a juror, played by Patty Hearst, who is wearing white shoes after Labor Day. There is an ugly confrontation in the hallway in which the psycho Kathleen attacks Patty, who, begging for her life, tries to explain that, "Fashion has changed. It's different now!" "No, it's not!" screams Kathleen, who proceeds to beat Patty to a pulp with a telephone receiver.

Oh, how I identify with Kathleen. There's always some Patty-like character out there trying to tell us how different it all is now -- that fashion has changed. But the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Sure, change is the nature of fashion -- it's those little things called "trends." So-called "anti-fashion," for example, is a trend that's been around for at least centuries. But isn't it the height of hypocrisy to bill itself as such? Anti-fashion? The first time someone stands up in public wearing their "anti-fashion" outfit, and others follow suit, it's no longer "anti-fashion." It's just more of the same -- some of it good, some of it bad, but all of it fashion. In the past century and even into today, "anti-fashion" has run rampant, with every other decade or so heralding some movement that believes itself to be the death of fashion as we know it. Currently, it's the prevalent "anything goes" attitude (that will look so ridiculous in retrospect), the product of lazy designers with very little creative vision, and a public that doesn't know the difference.

Then comes the issue of "personal style." Personal style has been a major point in this column ever since it debuted almost two years ago. Personal style is great -- in the right hands. Unfortunately, it's usually poorly dressed people that use "personal style" as an excuse for wearing something that looks stupid. Personal style and trying to look "different" was the hue and cry taken up in the 1990s. But, what will the 1990s be remembered for? Tattoos, piercings, and goatees. That's different? It may have been for a few minutes, but it began to look so tired, so soon, that it's a wonder it somehow still seems fresh to the teens and twentysomethings who don't understand that the revolution is over … and that it wasn't ever a "revolution" in the first place -- only another "trend." But maybe it takes more than two decades of maturity to understand that.

There is an entire world of clothing out there to choose from, but for many people personal style consists of, "Am I going to wear this Urban Outfitters shirt with my Gap jeans?" That is not my idea of personal style -- it is the same old mass-marketed cookie-cutter schlock seen on millions and millions of people around the globe. Who cares what happens in the chain stores? Apparently a lot of people, but none of that relates to style in Austin. To me, Austin is all about real personal style -- an isolated frontier where fashion news arrives late, takes a couple of years to digest, and then usually gets rejected (except by the devotees of mass-marketing, who are uncomfortable unless they look exactly like their friends). It takes a savvy professional buyer to order the right merchandise that will suit the quirky, unpredictable customer in Austin -- places like Gardens, Central Homegoods, Cadeau, Shiki, the Garden Room, and By George are experts, independent in style and spirit and yet brimming with impeccable style. These are a few of the establishments that make Austin happen.

The award for Most Personal Style Per Capita goes, unquestionably, to South Congress. It is a world of style unto itself, a place where you can wake up in a stylish room, have coffee on the corner, get your hair done, have lunch, shop for furniture, housewares, toys, and fashion, and while away the afternoon with few drinks before an evening of entertainment. And every single one of those establishments is a local, independent business with style to burn. In this corporate-free zone, personal style reigns supreme. So, while one person may refer to these South Congress innovators as "poseured" merchants and my column as lame advertising space for them (as one Glass House "Postmarks" letter writer ["Stephen MacMillan Poseur," April 13] -- who modeled in a local show and gets his hair cut on South Congress -- recently wrote), all I'm doing is bringing attention to that which epitomizes Austin style.

To detractors who don't like what I have to say? Go immerse yourself in all the comprehensive fashion coverage that Austin has to offer. Or better yet, just turn the page, darling.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Gardens, Central Homegoods, Cadeau, Shiki, Garden Room, By George, South Congress, Serial Mom, Kathleen Turner, Patty Hearst

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