Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now this is just silly - or is it?

Honkytonks, Melbourne, Friday 2 November. (Courtesy of my 3.2 megapixels of crap.)

I have posted about men's jeans before. Here's what I wrote about the genre of male trouser aesthetics that I called "arse amputation":
He is suffering from an unfortunate sickness that I like to call "Hipster's Trouser". It is what happens when subcultures collide. He is not wearing ultra-baggy homie jeans, yet he thinks it is cool to reveal two inches of underpant. I've remarked many a time on the black-stovepipe-denim-wearers at St Jerome's whose belts are mysteriously no help at all. Sometimes their waistbands even slip below the arse and sit underneath it. And from the back, it looks as though they've had an arse amputation.
And here's a picture of it from the front, where often it looks like only the penis is keeping the pants ahoist. Look at the guy on the right holding the camera.

But that still doesn't account for the question on everyone's lips, which is, "WHY WHY WHY?" It's easy to answer, "Does something as dumb as this even need an explanation?" There's a tendency to paint the wearers of these jeans as hapless fashion victims, although there's been much more criticism of women's low-riding jeans than men's. Here's just a taste:

Yup, as the Melbourne Fashion Festival comes to a close and the city whips itself into a lather over the usual catwalk parade of ridiculous, absurd and impractical clothes, it's clear Melburnians are paying no attention whatsoever. [...] I don't see a great deal of style around. I see the vulgarity of fashion that has left young Melburnians taking on a look that is shabby, slovenly and somewhat whorish. [...] chances are many girls and guys will continue to buy clothes that emphasise the huge gap between what they think they look like and what they actually look like.

But if we look at these sad, saggy creatures and consign their "bad taste" style decisions to Dick Hebdige's "place beyond analysis", we're doing what a familiar genre of style commentarydoes. We're not only creating arbitrary categories of 'good' and 'bad' taste; we're also creating a bogeyman of 'bad taste' -- saying that it doesn't follow the same embodied, pragmatic and affective processes that 'good taste' does. That it can only be observed with farcical incredulity and that people with 'bad taste' are fundamentally retarded in some way because they aren't ashamed of the way they look.

Sure, it's immensely fun and satisfying to be on the side of 'reason' in this fashion discourse. But I think it's important to ask why people wear their pants in this way. Because enough people do it to make the question relevant and interesting.

Of course, you also run the risk of being an Academic Wanker -- the rather hysterical sort who attributes improbable discursive significance to trashy or banal pop-cultural texts and practices, and equally improbable motivations to the audiences of and participants in these texts and practices. (Let it also be said that I decry the lazy journalistic practice of claiming all popular cultural studies is done by Academic Wankers.)

But let's forge ahead nonetheless. For me, this fashion is about the eroticisation of a certain kind of boyish male body. (Let's all pause a minute to thank MySpace for putting pictures of half-naked hipsters at the disposal of my completely detached analysis.)

See how low even the underpants sit? It's about the creation of a particular silhouette with a long body, narrow hips and slim legs. It says the wearer is not only skinny enough to wear such clothes; he's also so skinny they won't sit in place. And it's about a certain kind of preening body consciousness: you're always having to tug up your pants, thus drawing attention to your arse, hips and groin. But its artless slovenliness means it escapes being read as self-conscious, homosexual 'to-be-looked-at-ness'.

I'm not saying this is what the wearers of Hipster's Trouser consider while getting dressed every day. It's my gesture towards re-inserting meaning into a style that many commentators would say is just plain silly.

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