All this talk of blazers and what with it being, after all, New York Fashion Week, it seems an appropriate time to talk about what I wear. Although it doesn’t form the totality of my wardrobe, almost every day I wear the same thing: a long blue coat, a pair of either tan or aquamarine chinos, a pair of canvas chukkas, a pair of aviator sunglasses my Uncle gave me, a scarf my Mum bought from Paris, and one of maybe seven shirts.
On the tail-end of 2010 and throughout 2011, my vanity reached painful levels. I couldn’t walk past a reflective surface without checking my hair, something I bonded with several people over, people who I’m sure it’s no coincidence were revealed to be fairly dull assholes. I was on television and getting asked to speak at conferences. I took lessons on how to act from the schools of Kanye West and Tracy Jordan. I was, essentially, Tom Haverford, a very inconsequential person who on most days felt like the most consequential person in the world. The upkeep on that level of vanity, though, is paralyzing social anxiety. I could barely leave the house without at least a glass and a half of wine because otherwise I’d stand in front of the mirror for hours literally sweating because I was afraid of what people - friends, but especially strangers on the street - would think if I wore the ostensibly wrong thing. Talking about it in the kind of tone I might use to discuss a mental illness feels slightly disingenuous considering I was essentially trying to choose what to wear, but then something tells me that when you’re drinking just so you can leave the house, something’s legitimately not right.
Treatment began with culture heroes like James Murphy and Craig Finn, who look ordinary but are extraordinary. Following LCD Soundsystem’s final show I wrote “[Murphy]’s a little chubby, his face reminds me of a badger, and his hair is always too long to be neat but too short to be rock’n’roll messy.” And look, I like James Murphy’s music a reasonable amount, but my impression of him as a person is someone who’s both clever and hard-working, and not a bad-looking guy but someone who dresses mostly in ill-fitting t-shirts and suit jackets. Molly Lambert once wrote “You can easily take that David Lee Roth chestnut about how rock critics like Elvis Costello because they look like Elvis Costello and replace it with James Murphy or The Hold Steady,” and I imagine that being true. But for me, at least in regards to their approach to appearance, I liked them because they didn’t look like me yet they were still very successful at doing what they wanted to do. And especially because the uncertainties involved with being a musician are not unlike those involved with being a music critic, those men were ideal role models.
This also coincided with the commencement of infrequent bouts of exercise because although the dopamine etc. was nice the transient self-esteem boost from looking in the mirror and thinking “Daaamn, that is a body that deserves to be seen” ultimately gave way to the existential dread of wondering what the productive use of good looks is in a field where physical appearance is almost totally irrelevant, and in fact whether it might even be a detriment, given that once the author of a fairly prominent snark blog c. 2009 told me something to the effect of “You look too nice to be mean on the internet.” But it was also about shedding pretense and becoming comfortable with myself as a writer. I assume everyone who does anything that follows in the footsteps of an idol experiences this although I can assume with far greater clarity that it happens to all young critics who read Lester Bangs at an impressionable age, but accepting that you are not your heroes in style or dress or perspective is unquestionably one of the most crucial steps in the process of personal growth, and that understanding that with conviction is something that will immunise you from the inevitable reductions people necessarily make in their summation of you as a person. At least for me, getting called out on pretense is the Achilles heel of the ego. Invariably when someone tells me what I’ve done sucks it’s because I’ve done it for some performative reason I don’t even really believe, and that’s why I think conviction is at the heart of invincibility. Anything you write is inevitably an expression of yourself at that moment, so if I know that everything I write is incontrovertibly what I believe - and it’s subject to change frequently - then I feel no amount of shame being refuted or challenged, because at least what I’ve relayed is honest. When you can’t abide pretense, putting any effort into dressing extraneous to comfort is very difficult.
Where do I get off writing this? I mean, who am I? Fucking nobody. Just someone not especially precocious who works pretty hard to be less shit at writing about music every day. This is not to delegitimise folks who take an interest in men’s fashion, or fashion in general, several of whom I know and who manage to be both good-looking and hard-working. And what with this being a post of inextricable, perhaps insufferable personal interest, I haven’t even touched on the issues of privilege accompanying the false dichotomy of looking good and doing good. This is just to say: having one consistent look is grounding - it means I get to spend fewer minutes sweating how I look and more sweating how many Likes this post will get.
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