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John Waters on Fashion

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A long standing fan of director / writer John Waters, I am delighted that the Pope of Trash is appearing with greater frequency in periodicals these days due to his new book Role Models. I'm going to brush aside the content of the book (though it looks awesome!) to concentrate on the style of Mr. Waters and his aesthetic philosophy. In his Flavorwire list of advice for "functional freaks" he dispensed some wonderful fashion advice:

"You don't need fashion designers when you are young. Have faith in your own bad taste. Buy the cheapest thing in your local thrift shop -- the clothes that are freshly out of style with even the hippest people a few years older than you. Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents -- that is the key to fashion leadership. Ill-fitting is always stylish. But be more creative -- wear your clothes inside out, backward, upside down. Throw bleach in a load of colored laundry. Follow the exact opposite of the dry cleaning instructions inside the clothes that cost the most in your thrift shop. Don't wear jewelry -- stick Band-Aids on your wrists or make a necklace out of them. Wear Scotch tape on the side of your face like a bad face-life attempt. Mismatch your shoes. Best yet, do as Mink Stole used to do: go to the thrift store the day after Halloween, when the children's trick-or-treat costumes are on sale, buy one, and wear it as your uniform of defiance."

I love this whole thing. Every sentence. Every suggestion. (Well, I might question "ill-fitting is always stylish." Though a great fan of belting things too big for me, I strongly believe that tailoring to fit your body makes everything look good. We'll let that one pass, John.) The suggestion of wearing band-aids as jewelry reminded me of rather trashy D-actress Bai Ling, a regular fashion victim/goddess of Go Fug Yourself. In addition to favoring dresses that reveal her nipples, Bai also regularly sports what the Go Fug Yourself ladies refer to as her "Band-Aids of Truth" that have various nonsensical phrases scrawled on them with permanent marker:

They're delightful in their ridiculous whimsy, non? I think John would approve of her nipple and band-aid antics.

I myself have been experimenting with turning clothes inside-out, upside-down, and backwards. I love to reveal the normally hidden construction of garments -- stitches are so cool looking, why would you hide them?! I also like the connection to the fashion sustainability movement. By the simple act of pinning or rotating a skirt, one can create a fresh "new" skirt without spending a dime and without discarding a perfectly functional garment. For her recently completed Uniform Project sustainable fashion experiment, Sheena Matheiken wore her one dress (same style, 7 copies for laundering) in infinite permutations by alternating creative and colorful accessories. She collaborated with her designer friend to create the staple dress "so it can be worn both ways, front and back, and also as an open tunic." I don't believe it can be worn upside-down, but it's a pretty good start:

I very much enjoy John's suggestion to raid thrift stores for costumes. While I don't generally seek out Halloween costumes like Mink Stole, I absolutely raid the prom / bridesmaids section of Goodwills. Like costumes they have generally been worn only once, and I firmly believe one can never be too fancy (and therefore one can never have too many fancy frocks). I literally wear some of these prom dresses as nightgowns and I recommend it. Um, I also realize that I totally have a homemade blue gingham dress that I am positive was made for a high school production of either Oklahoma! or The Wizard of Oz. Jealous much?

<Ahem.>

Back to John. On his own style icons: "Rufus Wainwright always has a look. Joan Kennedy always looks startling. Kate Moss has never looked bad in her life. And the Jackass boys. If ever there was a gang of boys I could hang out and get fashion lessons from, it's them. And, oh! Kitty Carlisle Hart."

When asked about his preference for the Three Stooges over Charlie Chaplin in a recent Salon interview, Waters said,

"They're more fun, and they have a better fashion sense. I hate people who wear top hats, they look like assholes, but Moe with his bangs? He inspired the shoe-bomber fashion. The shoe bomber looked exactly like him. Imagine if you got on the plane, and he sat down next to you with Moe Howard's haircut and shoes with big fuses sticking out of them and dynamite. Trying to light the match and it wouldn't go off."

I respectfully disagree with this one. While I do think people in top hats can look like bourgeois assholes, Chaplin wore a bowler which was a democratizing sartorial symbol that blurred class lines, and which looks fantastic in my opinion. And while I can get behind a lot of questionable fashion, I'm not really feeling the Moe / shoe bomber haircut, hilarious as it may be. Call me fickle.

Waters is an avid contemporary art lover. "Good contemporary art makes people angry," he has said, and "the art I like is always what at first makes me angry" (he sites the messy Cy Twombly and Mike Kelley as favorites). I think he'd agree an element of outrage is true of good cutting edge fashion, too. In his NY Magazine interview from November 19, 2006 he said, "My whole look is 'disaster at the dry cleaner.' Usually it's Japanese." For his plein air interview for NYPL in Bryant Park last night he wore slim, short Comme des Garçons tuxedo slacks, a black Junya Watanabe jacket with a bold blue black and grey geometric pattern, pointy orange Paul Smith shoes and socks, and GAP boxers -- which was pretty much what he said he was wearing for the NY Mag interview 4 years ago. Even if you don't care for his style, the man has consistency, and though I'm originally a vintage purist, I've grown to appreciate -- nay, love -- fashion that infuriates and confounds. I'd add Netherlandish Viktor & Rolf to his Japanese designers who consistently deconstruct and shock. Waters loves that he can wear a costly designer shirt to Baltimore a bar and have people pity him that he can't afford a shirt without oil stains and tears, and he always has difficulty explaining to his dry cleaners to leave untouched his uneven hems and holes. Though he can afford to pay retail, he recommends you stain and rip your own clothes for the same look. This dovetails with Waters' distinctly anti-snob , anti "high" culture philosophy, I think.

Junya Watanabe S2007, Viktor & Rolf S2010RTW, Comme des Garcons F2007:

As genuinely enthusiastic as I am about John's fashion advice, I suspect most find it humorous more than words to actually live by. This is confirmed by the well documented numbers of actors who have literally cried when they've been introduced to their wardrobes for Waters' movies.

So I'll leave you with John Waters' most deliciously smarmy trademark, his Little Richard-stolen mustache (which, he claimed, is the reason he doesn't want to have an open casket funeral-- he doesn't trust anyone else to draw it on just right):

Enjoy.

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