Fashion Statements: still revolting after all these years | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Fashion Statements: still revolting after all these years 

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We caught this guy on his lunch break sneaking out of a Loop tower and heading for Buckingham Fountain. His outfit was swapping shop talk with the working masses--buttons battened down, tie firmly knotted, and creased trousers assuring fellow professionals he reports on time to an orderly desk each weekday.

But our fashion lexicologists know the language of apparel isn't always apparent. Tugging at the loose threads, they unraveled a subtler and more subversive Fashion Statement.

If you tossed this outfit in the wash, the British undergrads would clog the drain. Take the shirt, made of Oxford cloth (the only survivor of a group of patterns that included Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale) and stitched into an Ivy League style. It's tucked into a pair of black cotton pants baggy enough to be descendants of Oxford bags, rakishly oversized trousers that strolled under the ivy during the long afternoons of 1925. The thesis carries right down to the shoes, classic low-cut lace-ups known, after a few centuries pacing those well-worn Oxford paths, as Oxfords.

The blue-and-red tie, of the regimental sort based on British army insignia, squares with our man's Rhodes-scholar-wannabe fidelity to things educated, elite, and English.

But the red zip-front Boy Scout jacket, thrift-store fresh, shifts allegiance from Britain to America, elbow patches to Band-Aids, work to hooky. A target-sized patch revering George Washington on bended knee at Valley Forge earnestly pledges to honor God, country, and well-stoked campfires. But on the job, the jacket strikes a sarcastic pose, equating board meetings with pack meetings, CEO with den mother.

How decode this dress code? Piling on uniforms for a layered look, stuffy English underneath, unruly American on top, celebrates our national tradition of insubordination in a Fashion Statement cribbed from Revolutionary orator Patrick Henry: "If this be treason, make the most of it."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yael Routtenberg.

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