This fall, fashion's high holy season, I thumb through the fashion equivalent of the Pentateuch -- that is to say Vogue, Bazaar, Elle, W and Vanity Fair -- to see what's new.
What's different this year is that an aesthetic of bad taste has made "luxury" the catchphrase for self-anointed fashionistas. Shoes and bags come in dyed-to-match ostrich skin, and sacrificial alligators are being transfigured into pants, stiletto boots and belts. Grunge and heroin chic are out.
Instead, the look of the moment is "cocaine chic," harking back to the early 80s, when "doing a line" didn't refer to the formation of, say, the chicken dance. This is all fine with me. I mean, I've never been particularly inclined to "powder my nose," but I'm sure I can look the part if the moment calls for it.
However, my pilgrimage to Bloor Street to freshen up my fall wardrobe bewilders me. The season's "must-haves," which normally reside in the exclusive boutiques, can now be bought cheaply in proletarian stores. The Gap, which sells clothes for khakis-and-white-oxfords-wearing drones, is now also a purveyor of patent leather baguettes. The baguette, normally a stick of French bread, has had a metaphysical transformation.
Any bourgeoise worth her Manolos knows that a baguette is the essential purse, small enough to sit ever so stylishly under the arm. When my friend bought hers, the saleswoman whispered to her conspiratorially, in the indefinable Euro accent all luxury saleswomen share, "Just the right size to fit your lipstick, your cellphone and a credit card, non?"
Once upon a time, however, luxury meant you stood out in a crowd. Now, with the Internet, collections from the big designers are shown in Milan, Paris and New York, and within hours the images are transmitted to retail chain-store design teams and the copycat garments are on the shelves of Club Monaco or Zara almost simultaneously.
As a further complication, men have turned into desperate fashion acolytes. In times past, a man got away with a few suits and a supply of shirts, and his only means of self-expression was the strip of fabric he noosed around his neck.
Casual is the norm now, and it has opened up a very expensive can of worms. Jeans are casual, so are wool trousers, and for that matter so is a sarong. It can be very bewildering. Faced with this, I once showed up for work looking more like I was ready to spend the weekend boating with the Kennedys in Hyannisport than carrying out my responsibilities in the attorney-general's office.