July 6th, 2006

Black Rock City

"Khaki is the New Black"

The other night at Requiem, a dear friend of mine and talented costumer (whom shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) was, at one point, mocking a couple who showed up dressed like west county tourists. "Mock the yuppie tourists" is, after all, an ancient and honorable game in goth culture, and I imagine everybody would be disappointed if none showed up to mock. Teasing her, I put on my most fake innocent face, tilted my head mockingly to one side, and sing-songed, "What, didn't you hear? Khaki is the 'new black.'"

I was not even vaguely prepared for the several minute spray of bile and vehement rage that I got back in return.

I think that she was partially kidding, that she was exaggerating her emotional reaction for comedic intent (and to be heard over a throbbing darkwave industrial dance beat). I think she was. I'm never sure, after all; that's the definition of my disorder, and it was somewhat dark. But I'm about half sure. But one thing that did become clear from the words of her rant was that khaki "means" something different to her than it does to me. Now, this is perilous ground for me to be walking upon. I'm never more likely to screw things up than when I worry too much about what my clothes are "saying" to the people around me. It puts me off balance, drains attention that I should be putting into more important things like reading the immediate reactions of the people around me, and saps the confidence that I need to substitute my own sense of personal Style for my neuro-atypical inability to perceive Fashion.

But I got this much: When I see khaki, what I think of is desert commandos roaring across the Sahara in jeeps and Andy Warhol holding court at The Factory, bohemians and beatniks, Jack Kerouac on the road and Ernest "Papa" Hemingway wrestling a marlin, B-17 pilots and astronauts, "Indiana" Jones and Travis McGee in their separate tropical killing zones, "Trader Vic" Bergeron and Don "the Beachcomber" Beach, Vice City and Black Rock City. When she sees khaki, what she thinks of is the mandatory uniform of corporate office drones in veal fattening pens, telemarketers, and minimum wage part-time big-box retail sales clerks.

I'm not going to let her opinion stop me, though. I smartened up a little last year, and even more this year: when the weather gets warm, I'm wearing khaki, and that's that. You have got to be such a fashion victim as to merit immediate medical intervention to wear dark colors, let alone in heavy fabrics like denim, in a St. Louis summer. I have a very vivid memory from a January about 10 years ago of flying down to Miami on business for one of the most famous international financial services companies in the world. Since I was going to be working with the top executives in a regional headquarters, I wore my best suit, which, like those worn by virtually every guy in St. Louis, was charcoal gray. After walking half a block from my hotel, I felt like I looked Amish. After walking a block, even in January, I realized why everybody of both genders and all social levels in Miami was wearing white, khaki, and pastels, because wearing anything else under tropical sunlight is moronic. And with the last vestiges of the Little Ice Age drifting into distant history and global temperatures climbing back up towards the norm, well, as my current favorite song says: "Don't bother to fly (to your paradise) / 'Cause the tropics will come to you. ... So you better get used to the heat / Burning a hole in the polar sheet, / Yeah you better get used to the heat."
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