Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Haute Couture

Are a cloak and a cape and a shawl the same thing?
They are in the same family but not in the same phylum or sub-phylum. You'd have your 'Overcoat' branch and then you'd have your "Cape" branch and things sort of tither off to and fro from there. I'll think more about it later and chart it, but I have to work hard this week so I can't right now. Not that this isn't important. It is. It's just that I don't even have time to pick up my own outdated couture (love that word; it even SOUNDS funny!) at the dry cleaners this week -- and it's supposed to be 9 degrees Friday. I've got a lot of stuff to do. If I loaned you my thermal underwear grandpappy suit, I need it back.

But here is Sunday's column along those lines. Sure, I would have liked to have started the decade stronger, column-wise, but hey, they can't all be Pulitzers. I will catch up later this week and I will try harder next time...

Jan. 3, 2010

My position at the newspaper is changing this new decade from Assistant Fashion Editor to assistant secretary for the Assistant Fashion Editor.

Not many people knew I was Assistant Fashion Editor for the past 10 years or so. Not even the Fashion Editor knew. It made it easier for me to accept slips and shawls and size 10 pumps without causing much of a stir.

But in the end, it was just too much. The fashion world is just too fast, too furious. Too fashiony. Especially for a guy like me, who hates to even tie his shoes.

Don't panic: I'll still offer tips from time to time, and here's one to carry you safely into 2010, a year that promises to be an almost-anything-goes haberdashery grab bag:

Know that in the arena of men's outerwear, a cape's not what it used to be.

True, this has been the case for, oh, 150 years or so, give or take.

But in the fashion world, in this era of red carpets and paparazzi and phones that can transmit on-site photos, can you be too careful?

I think not.

You remember the cape. Edgar Allan Poe. Washington Irving. Batman.

Used to, they served as overcoats and blankets, a loose-fitting garment handy in the days before tape measures and London Foggers. You could borrow a guy's cape and no one cared if it fit you like a choir robe.

But these days, there are not a lot of cape guys around. And this is a good thing. At some point, the cape, like the top hat and cane, began to overstate how you felt about yourself. Once the unassuming windbreaker was invented, and the zipper, capes were living on borrowed time.

I realize we men are, for the most part, worthless. If we couldn't mow grass and hang Christmas lights, most women would shoot us like snakes.

And we don't really know how to dress. "After five" means take off your shoes, not put on a tux, right?

But now and then, a blind squirrel finds an acorn.

Somewhere between the 1800s and now, we had the sense to ditch the once-popular cape. Oh, Thomas Jefferson could wear one. Even George Jefferson could wear one, but he had "attitude," something most modern-day men who wear clothes don't keep in stock, yet something you'll definitely need by the bucketful if you're going to flaunt a cape. Wear one these days and you'd better make sure you've lettered in football. At noseguard. For the Green Bay Packers.

Let's sew this thing up here with the bottom line:

Did you get a cape for Christmas? If you did, and you are wondering what to do with it, let me ask you:

Are you a professional wrestler?

Are you a superhero?

Are you Benjamin Franklin?

Do you have a Harry Potter fetish?

Are you a count, or a vampire, or both?

Are you a paid entertainer on the costume party circuit?

Are you the member of a marching band?

If your answers are "no," then get that cape and take it back to the cape store. Get a pocketknife instead.

My final bit of advice to you as Assistant Fashion Editor is this: We all have limits. Know them. Not everyone can wear everything, but we can all wear something. A good example here is the famous Headless Horseman (pictured above, in character) from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." You remember him.

Windblown and daring on horseback, the Headless Horseman looked great in a cape. Spectacular, actually. But in a cap? Not so much.