Geek Chic

A fashion trend that has for some time been a trend – so long as to no longer be considered a trend – involves attire so hopelessly incongruous and out-of-fashion that it’s fashionable.

Wearing a paisley shirt with plaid pants. Hurt your eyes just to read that, didn’t it?

It’s the kind of clothing worn by all those high school kids called “geeks.” Nerdy stuff that only the hopelessly unaware and awkward would wear.

Weirdly-length pants, usually pegged (itself a nerdy term), that insist one inquire: Are those short longs or long shorts?

A baseball cap worn sideways, but not backward. Admittedly, an old example. One probably made famous by hip-hop musicians and singers. That’s a goofy parody of characters once restricted to the cast of “Our Gang”-“Little Rascals.” Maybe Spanky, possibly Alfalfa. Some kid perpetually wearing a turtleneck sweater.

Oversized glasses, like the ones once worn by glamorous 1950s Italian movie stars. Sophia Loren. Gina Lollabrigida. Of course, no matter what (or how little) either one wore, they were glamorous.

Revealing underwear. Not necessarily skimpy. But revealing. At least two categories apply.

Waistbands prominent and high, drawers droopy. Once upon a time, this sartorial faux pas (falling pants or a rising waist) was covered-up by shirts that were tucked in. Something else no one does any longer.

Bra straps proudly on display; in colors starkly different from the so-called “top.” Just to make sure everyone notices. Previously, this kind of foundation support would have been carefully tucked inside a sleeve and, if necessary, safety pinned.

Gelled hair, including a proudly erect cowlick. Definitely Alfalfa. Better, one supposes, than the Mohawk style that gained brief popularity with the emergence of the punk scene in the late 1970s. And arguably worse than the carefully styled look favored by what used to be called metrosexuals.

The late Tom Wolfe coined the expression “radical chic” as a satiric way to mock the well-to-do about their trendy but insincere and absurdist downtown politics of the late 1960s. Wolfe took no prisoners when lampooning the artistic-social elite whose very wealth belied their grassrootsiness.

Much later (1980), Long Island boy Billy Joel remarked: “You can’t dress trashy till you spend a lot of money.”

The kid who was once upon a time mocked for his attire, is now emulated for it. Fashion faux pas transitions to fashion perfect. The worm turns slowly and in unexpected directions.

What’s out is in. But to genuinely appreciate it requires mastering at least the thumbnail history of couture.

As for Geek Chic, we’re no longer certain who’s being lampooned.

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