I left my house this morning wearing a pale blue polo shirt, jeans, and black P.F. Flyers, with in-the-ear headphones inserted exactly where they belong. I had a laptop bag harnessed to my back, and in my left hand I carried a tangerine-colored environmentally conscious nylon shopping bag. Inside the bag was a change of shirt for a photo shoot later this evening.
On days like today, I feel like some kind of frail, shivering over-bred dog. It's frustrating to feel this way--a soft-fleshed, near-sighted capitalist, incapable of holding my own in a serious street fight, and possibly incapable even of fleeing a fight because my sneakers were designed without solid arch support and force my gait into a kind of flat-footed duck walk. And all plugged in like that. Like a high-placing species on Darwin's "high alert" evolutionary list. My style is thrown horribly into relief by the environment in which I live, which is populated by West Indian men with workboots caked in plaster and old timers with knobby walking sticks and hands cracked like decades of peeling paint. My feet smack-smack-smack the pavement without rhythm, as I proceed to the subway, past adults in Muslim prayer robes, past crackheads fingering the coin return slot on a payphone (a payphone that gets a surprising amount of play), past a guy sitting on a milk crate, and wait on the platform as a layer of self-conscious flop sweat glosses my face.
Over the last year, more and more domesticated animals have settled into my neighborhood. I wonder if the others see their style as I do--a ridiculous affront to tradition. Sometimes I see guys who are even more over-bred than me, and I roll my eyes at them, like a dachshund regarding a chihuahua and thinking, "give me a fucking break." A couple weeks ago, while navigating the shadowy aisles of my local supermarket--a store so poorly designed and weirdly stocked that my love for it is unconditional, because there is no other choice--I turned a blind corner on the refrigerated dairy section and there, accompanying two semi-fashionable young ladies, was the most precious breed of white guy you could imagine. Skinny, feminine, short hair with long bangs drooping over his oversized glasses. Knee-length, slim fit denim cutoff shorts. Black dress socks and white canvas Pro-Keds. He was sitting on the floor of the aisle, artfully composing a digital photograph, perhaps for his blog, perhaps for his Flickr page, perhaps just to email his friends with a caption like, "omg how kitsch is this???" I was, and still am, highly judgmental and had a difficult time containing my scorn.
On Saturday night, I had a conversation with someone about how maybe style has become ridiculously isolating these days. This is especially true for men, I think. And I don't know exactly how I feel about it. On one hand, I'm very happy to see people with an interesting sense of style. For instance, I'm really drawn to all the young, black kids I see wearing coordinated day-glo colors, like some kind of hip-hop butterflies. On the other, sometimes style feels less like a fun, personal expression and more like a total disregard for people who might weigh more than you, or have less money for cell phone technology than you, or might be more than five years older than you. When I see it in my neighborhood, my heart sinks a little. And when I see it in myself, I write very long blog posts about it.