TODAY'S PAPER
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Opinion

Fashion weak - what a laugh

Fashion Week wrapped up in New York last week, concluding

an eight-day survey of offerings such as wicker-embellished dresses by Cynthia

Rowley, perforated leather dresses by Francisco Costa and, according to

Style.com, something called "bubble fur." But for those of us whose sartorial

range is more limited, a new book by the editors of Glamour magazine provides

the invaluable - and very high-school-like - service of imparting critical life

lessons while making fun of people.

"Glamour's Big Book of Dos and Don'ts" is a compendium of the magazine's

regular feature of the same name. A staple of the publication since its launch

in 1939, the page took on its signature look in 1963 when it began shooting

photos of ineptly outfitted people on the street and hiding their identities by

covering their eyes with a black bar.

The "Dos and Don'ts" are great fun, mostly because they might be the

closest the print media has to a public stockade.

The "Don'ts" are ominous cautionary tales. A freak show of overexposed

bellies, visible panty lines, ridiculous color combinations and sandals paired

with socks, the "Don'ts" represent the quickest possible route to making us

feel better about ourselves. By gawking at the poor judgment of others, we can

momentarily forget that we once wore parachute pants to a college interview or,

perhaps as recently as last week, donned "a strangely striped top."

Unlike the "Dos and Don'ts" page in the magazine, the book makes an effort

to drive home the idea that we've all been "Don'ts" at one time or another. The

very "Do"-ish Cindi Leive, editor in chief of Glamour and lead author of the

book, writes candidly of her own "Don't" choices, including a puffy-sleeved

taffeta prom dress in 1984.

Invoking a spirit of togetherness, she notes that "Dos and Don'ts"

photographer Ronnie Andren, who's spotted fashion stooges all over the country,

sees at least four "Don'ts" for every "Do." "If you recognize yourself hiding

under [the] black bar," Leive writes, "remember, we're laughing with you, not

at you."

A couple of things come to mind here. First, I, for one, am laughing at,

not with, you, and I suspect I'm not alone. Second, four "Don'ts" for every

"Do"? That seems a little low. A recent stroll turned up no fewer than 20

"Don'ts" for every borderline "Do," at least in my estimation.

These days it seems the whole country is a Glamour "Don't." It's not

unusual to see large amounts of flesh draped over sausage-like miniskirts,

thongs rising up beneath them like a rogue sidewalk vine. Aside from the

unfortunate cellulite-to-fabric ratios, the way people dress these days makes

even a high school yearbook from 1978 look like a copy of French Vogue.

It's tempting to say we've become too casual for our own good, but the

truth is an alarming number of us have mastered the unlikely art of being

overdressed and underdressed at the same time. We pull on jeans that look like

they survived a mortar attack and pair them with jewelry that could start a

brushfire if it caught the sun just right. We emulate 14-year-olds, even if

we're old enough to remember the Nixon administration.

No wonder, then, that today's wardrobe advisers are more like boot camp

sergeants than the haughty, aloof fashion doyennes of the past, and thank God.

With fashion taking many of its cues from prison culture, adult entertainers

and the peculiar permutations of the teenage brain, we practically need

military force to keep us in line.

"Glamour's Dos and Don'ts" is an instruction manual, an equal-opportunity

scold session and, for residents of cities where "Don't" photos were taken, a

nail-biting exercise in denial or dread. But take heart, all you "Don'ts" out

there: Instead of laughing at you, maybe we should be trying to catch up.

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