Wednesday, September 21, 2011

De gustibus non est disputandum - One must not dispute about taste

A glimpse of Bostonian Fashion

I was brought up with a strong sense of aesthetics and design which - blame it on the Latins and or the Ancient Greeks - I used to perceive as a skill in which one needs to train. It is not by chance that I took my first degree at the Istituto Europeo Di Design. Yet, reaching an agreement with my mother on matters of taste and look has never been easy.
De gustibus! (Full Latin sentence: de gustibus non est disputandum. One must not dispute about taste) would come out from my mother's mouth each time I dared to wear something different, funky, a bit too casual or simply not classy enough to make people in my parents' entourage think of me as a good person. Believe it or not, there is still such a stereotypical idea (not only within the circle of the elderly Turinese) that if you don't dress classy (i.e, old-fashioned Turinese Lady style) and don't look chic, you can't be a "persona per bene" (a good person). I remember going to a party in my home town and hearing this: "Wow. You have an English look now!", simply because I was wearing a pair of casual shoes. It is a matter of taste. Some have it, others don't. Meaning, if you don't have taste, you are a peasant = rough = you are a bad person.

As a teenager, I would hear the comment De gustibus from my mother at least three or four times a day. Later in life, almost every time I was going to visit my parents in Italy I would invariably hear: "mamma mia come ti sei conciata!" (Good Lord, what have you done to yourself to look so terrible?) While I was living in the UK, my black leather jacket and 70's style jeans covering half of my pointed black boots became part of my identity but also a serious punch in the face to my mother, who was always hoping to see me come home in a nice tailleur (suite) or a classy silk dress, ready to sit with legs graciously crossed. No, Instead, there was me, wearing a dirty pair of jeans, masculine pointed boots and a tank top! What a disappointment I must have been to her. And there she was, giving me a dirty look and saying, "Sembri una puttana!" (You look like a whore!)" She seriously used to say that and I used to get really angry with her.

Still now, my mother asks my father to persuade me to change clothes before taking me to a friends' dinner party. "Enrica, you look like a clown, I am not going out with you like that! Where did you get that from? That top looks so cheap! You should feel ashamed of putting on such thing. I don't want to go out with a construction worker! We won't go anywhere if you don't change clothes!Going to see my parents is always likely to turn into a big argument on style with me surrendering in the end.

Funny how perspectives change. Now that I live in Boston, far from home, I cannot help complaining about how people look here, just like my mother does in Italy.

Let me tell you this first. You need to understand that, in the city where I grew up, people are over-dressed and wear make-up even when they are picking up tomatoes at the grocery store. There,  you see women of all ages constantly making a big effort to look good (with highlights, an evenly distributed tan, shoes with high heels that I was wearing when I was 22, jackets with matching scarves and golden earrings with matching bracelets) - Everything has to match! - You see women like these pushing the stroller. Their child, if she is a girl, she is wearing a nice hair band or ribbons matching her dress and her shoes. If he is a boy, frankly, the closest analogue for an American would be a baby version of a well dressed gay man. Whether they are drinking espresso at the bar, driving their car or throwing their trash in the big container outside, everyone there is constantly trying to make an impression on you.

Look at Me!

Back in Boston, I can't help noticing the differences. All I see at the playground, in the streets, at coffee shops - I understand children need to run and play in the dirt - is babies in blue and pink PJs with trucks or bears printed on them and toddlers in sweats in washed out colors. Colors: pink and fuscia for girls, blue, green and brown for boys.  No jackets, no cardigans, no pants!

As for adults, I keep coming across some very peculiar fashion ideas here in Boston: hoodie monsters, the women who don't realize that leggings should be worn with tops long enough to maintain a little modesty and that mini-shorts don't do a favor to most butts, the big bulky trekking shoes (I admit I wear them too but out of guilt) or the plain clogs worn with pants that are not long enough. In cold weather I also see North Face and Patagonia uniforms on every seat on the metro (hoodies, jackets, fleeces and whatever has a North Face logo). I don't understand. Wasn't Boston supposed to be the heart of prep style? Or perhaps I should accept the idea that things like the occasional sub-dued Polo, the T-shirt with the whale and the sweatshirt with the black dog from Martha's Vineyard, worn together with a $400 purse by Badgley Mischka (which doesn't match with the rest of the clothes), is all that it takes to stand out from the crowd? I wouldn't have the slightest concern on this if only the people making such choices didn't start acting as if they were Anna Wintour.

I don't know why but the Bostonians really seem to be obsessed with adding and mixing clothes that don't go with each other. Sandals!— with socks. Bulky Trainers - with  dresses. Baggy sweatshirts! - with ballerina shoes. Buttoned Shirts! tucked into PJ pants. And finally, my favourite... Knee Length Skirts! - with half leg leggings underneath. Perfect combo for a dinner party!

The Carnival of bad taste does not only happen in the suburbs. In Boston there are some weird seasonal trends going on as well. It only takes a short tour on the T to spot them:  shorts with winter shoes, flip flops with winter coats, and Uggs in summer (where does this come from?).

Not long ago I went to dinner at an expensive restaurant - I was still wearing my beach clothes! - After the initial embarrassment on my face when I entered the place, I soon realized that in comparison with the other people sitting there, I was overdressed for the occasion. So I immediately relaxed and had a wonderful dinner.

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