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The Masculine Mystique

Come as You Are

To be a male clothing wearer in the early 21st century, you must do what men do, and wear trousers, whether or not the style fits you. Lessons in breaking through fashion anxiety to find yourself—in a pair of Comme des Garçons drop-crotch pants.

Daniel Zender for The Morning News

There are days when, for no particular reason, I pull out my drop-crotch pants. They are made from an inky black wool crepe, and when laid out flat, have an elegant geometry—like the lower half of a capital “A.” Along the waistline there are belt loops, a single button enclosure, and a zipper like any other dress pant, but just below is the dramatic swoop of the crotch, with the cuffs ending around mid-calf.

I put them on and go about the house doing chores—cook lunch, wash dishes, sweep the floor. I sit at my computer with a cup of tea and watch the volume of the crotch softly respire as I move my legs. On occasion, when the winter softens slightly and there is an anomalously beautiful day, I wear them outside with a plain white T-shirt and a cardigan. These are days that are full of the promise of what is to come, and nothing feels more appropriate than my drop-crotch pants. They are my feel-good pants.

As I walk around Seoul, an elderly grandmother or two look at them and search my face for an explanation. I catch glimpses of them in the side panel of a black SUV as I wait at the crosswalk, or in a store window lined with mannequins outfitted in suits and ties. When I see them, they flutter like a wild bird, and inexorably, I’m filled with joy.

I love these pants.

 

Blame the Victorians for making menswear boring.

Late in the 18th century, men’s fashion took a turn for the worse. The prudish, sexually repressed Victorian age threw a wet blanket over the Dionysian debauchery of the 17th century. The reign in France of Louis XIV, with his gloriously powdered face and wig, silk stockings of cardinal red, heels, and fine plumage of velvet, ribbons, and lace, would mark the zenith of aristocratic fashion. By the time the republicans executed Louis XVI, the flush of colors, fabrics, and accoutrements had already begun giving way to a darker, more muted palette. The Industrial Revolution changed the way people dressed, as mass-produced three-piece suits became more accessible. The bourgeois class ushered in a new paradigm where men were to be defined by their commitment to industry and work, not the elaborateness of their dress. Their sobriety was a direct rebuke of the excesses of the French aristocracy.

Prominent British psychologist J.C. Flugel, in his book, The Psychology of Clothes, called this moment the “Great Masculine Renunciation,” when men “abandoned their claim to be considered beautiful” and “henceforth aimed at being only useful.” The gender divide in fashion became more pronounced. Men had very important things on their minds, and could no longer concern themselves with the frivolity of fashion. Women—bored, empty, and vain creatures that they were—could distract themselves with bustles and crinoline like kittens chasing a ball of yarn. Fashion was cast as a narcissistic, superficial, and ultimately, female pursuit. Men, the story goes, had opted out.

In the 20th century, the suit had established itself as the male uniform. Men milled about offices in meditations of gray, black, and brown. There was a comfort in sameness—a certain egalitarianism. More importantly, there was power. When women began adopting pants and suits for themselves, they were making a symbolic and controversial power grab. They wanted to “wear the pants.” In the ’80s, as women entered the ranks of white-collar workers, mainstream women’s wear flirted more aggressively with menswear: Pants, pantsuits, and structured blazers with shoulder pads like the kind Joan Collins wore on Dynasty all became viable options in the working woman’s closet. Women found themselves having to balance looking serious (read: masculine) with being feminine. Some women wanted to disown the skirt altogether. As fashion writer Anne Hollander points out, “Certain feminists in the 1970s boasted that they did not own a skirt, as if to announce a withdrawal from fashion altogether, the way men had been believed to do.” Unsurprisingly, skirts and dresses didn’t have the same crossover appeal to men as pants did for women.

“The articulation of the genitals and legs is very powerful,” said Anna Akbari, the founder of a personal styling company called Closet Catharsis, told me when we met at Dogpatch Labs in New York to talk about fashion. “It’s an aesthetic assertion of the body.”

Akbari holds a doctorate in visual sociology, and in addition to her job as an image consultant, also teaches a class at NYU called “Fashion and Power.” For good reason, she calls herself the “thinking person’s stylist.” She describes her approach as holistic, as she tries to find simple ways her clients can incorporate a greater fashion consciousness in their daily lives.

Her aesthetic philosophy is sensible, and sensitive to the anxieties people feel when navigating fashion codes in New York. Most people just want to feel comfortable in their clothes, and much of that has to do with reaffirming familiar gender tropes. “I have female clients who are interested in architectural styles,” said Akbari. “But I encourage them not to wear that on dates.” Instead, she advises women to wear clothes that will enhance their femininity, like skirts and dresses. According to her, women look more flattering in dresses because “there’s a mystification as opposed to an accentuation of the butt and thighs.” Akbari, it should be pointed out, was wearing a boiled wool dress cinched at the waist with a belt over black lace tights and cream-colored galoshes.

 

I could have used a personal styling consultation with Akbari when I was a new arrival to New York. My relaxed fit jeans and oversized hoodie were dead giveaways that I was “not from around here.” Indeed, I was from St. Petersburg, Fla., and I was both out of the South and out of the closet for the first time in my life. It was electrifying and also disconcerting to realize that the beautiful men I saw on television shows like Queer as Folk and Will & Grace actually existed in real life. Gay white men in New York had created a new strain of hypermasculinity that fused the exhibitionism of female fashion with the worship of manhood.

At least that seemed to be the case when, as a college freshman, I snuck into my first gay bar, XL on 16th Street, which was famous for having an aquarium urinal trough and even more famous for Samantha’s appearance at said trough on an episode of Sex and the City. When I walked in, I immediately felt out of place. As a laser-light show played across my retinas in the dim lighting, everyone looked like slim-fit shadows wearing button-downs or T-shirts, jeans or slacks. The clothes were an opportunity to show off the body beautiful, the hours clocked in at the gym. I was wearing wrinkled linen on wrinkled linen, a flowy blue and white button-down over wide-legged white pinstriped pants. This was a young Floridian’s interpretation of “going out” clothes.

I was wearing wrinkled linen on wrinkled linen, a flowy blue and white button-down over wide-legged white pinstriped pants. This was a young Floridian’s interpretation of “going out” clothes.

The bar in the center of the space was fully stocked with bottles of Absolut vodka and GQ models in tight black T-shirts.

One of the models asked, “What do you want?”

My mind raced. I hadn’t prepared for this part.

“Dirty martini,” I blurted.

It was the only drink that I could think of, something I had seen Samantha order on the show (different episode). It seemed sophisticated enough. However, I didn’t anticipate how briny or how alcoholic the drink would be, and I took spasmodic gulps as I paced around the moat/cruising area around the bar. I think I was the only chubby Asian-American guy there, and if I had met another, I imagine we would have avoided eye contact. On one of my rounds, heady from the vodka, I met eyes with a tall, dark, and handsome man in a tight T-shirt that strained at the chest. I probably looked expectant. He smirked and turned away. Wordlessly, I walked on.

 

In 1929 a loose collection of well-to-do British men—doctors, artists, and psychologists (including the aforementioned Flugel)—formed an organization called the Men’s Dress Reform Party. Their mission: to rescue menswear from its “rut of ugliness and unhealthiness” by promoting looser fits and more breathable fabrics. One member, Dr. Alfred Charles Jordan, a prominent radiologist, was known for biking to work in shorts, at the time attire only appropriate for Boy Scouts. Anti-shorts conservatives thought that shorts were lewd and that the MDRP was a bunch of aesthetically dysfunctional perverts out to ruin Western civilization. (The MDRP were in fact, imperial eugenicists intent on “saving” British masculinity through their sartorial reforms). One writer in the trade journal Tailor and Cutter warned, “A loosening of the bonds will gradually impel mankind to sag and droop bodily and spiritually... It is not so wild as it sounds to say that society will also fall to pieces.”

In the U.S. today, similar histrionics are evident in the language surrounding anti-sagging pants laws that multiple cities have passed under “public nuisance” codes. Proponents of the laws (who, let’s be real, are attempting to reign in what they perceive as a dangerous black masculinity) believe that bringing the waistline up to its “proper” place is a public good. Former Flint, Mich., police chief David Dicks called sagging pants an “immoral self expression.” Hahira, Ga., police chief Terry Davis went so far as to play a video demonstrating how sagging pants were a threat to public safety. A sagger could conceal an assault rifle in those baggy britches!

Black lawmakers responding to this trend sound like peevish parents trying to edify their children in the ways of proper etiquette. Gary Siplin, a black Democratic state senator representing south Florida, doled out belts to welcome students back to school under the umbrage of the anti-sagging pants law he sponsored. Siplin had that kind of exasperated dad tone that recalls President Obamas own remarks on sagging pants when he told Reuters, “The parents, the grandmothers, the professional people, they say, ‘How can they walk down the street showing their behinds?’ It’s not civilized.” It’s the end of civilization!

It is a way of saying, I do enjoy the occasional purple pocket square. No homo.

“The issue with men and fit has to do with power,” said Monica Miller, associate professor in the English department of Barnard, in a phone interview. For Miller, there is a crucial difference between fashion and style. Fashion is the context that we live in, the trends that cycle in and out. It is the industry, the magazines, and the advertisements that form the dominant paradigm. Style is what we choose to do with it.

In her book, Slaves to Fashion, Miller looks at the history of the black dandy—a figure who simultaneously reifies and subverts white standards of dress. “I’m a lot more interested in style and the way in which there is sometimes the possibility for a personal take on that fashion cycle,” she said. “What I’m interested in is how people are using fashion to say something about themselves.”

In this way fashion is a language of its own. We speak with our clothes. We use them to convey a picture of who we are or maybe more importantly, how we want others to see us. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alison Lurie draws out this connection in The Language of Clothes, where she writes that just as we have our own personal flourishes when we speak, we convey personality, emotion, and back story through our fashion choices. But while we use language as a way to express our inner thoughts and feelings, we also use it to make ourselves legible to other people. She writes, “If clothing is a language, it must have a vocabulary and a grammar like other languages.”

What is said of course, depends on the speaker. There are modern-day black dandies like Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of Street Etiquette who clearly revel in the appropriation of traditionally white signifiers, as evident in their practically giddy Black Ivy photo spread in which a dozen or so impeccably dressed men toss footballs, read, and lounge around in V-neck sweaters, letterman jackets, and newsboy caps. Street Etiquette is continuing a tradition that stretches back past the Harlem Renaissance, not just copying New England prep. “Even if a particular garment is designed to ‘control’ an aspect of a wearer’s presentation,” said Miller, “I do think that the body can alter that intended meaning.”

Street Etiquette is just one of many style blogs that crowd the internet. They are like a modern-day, digital version of the MDRP, and like the MDRP, they have a fairly unified vision of what menswear should be: a worn-in pair of Red Wing boots, with the soles sliding at a diagonal and the leather building up a grit; Ryan Gosling; a flash of orange socks in wingtip brogues; the urban woodsman; Ryan Gosling, again. The current sartorial zeitgeist marries the rugged manliness of a lumberjack with the tailoring sensibilities of a British dandy. It’s an updated masculinity for the urbanite.

Just as the MDRP had always hoped, men are reclaiming fashion for men, but ironically, they’re going back to the bespoke suit and oxford shoes. The diversity in menswear is in the minutiae of the details—the type of collar, the color of the stitching of a buttonhole, the length of the placket. There is depth, but not much range.

In the end, the grammar, meaning the form of the clothes, has remained the same. Suits are still “universal.” Pants are de rigueur. Much of the excitement surrounding menswear has come from the fact that self-professed heterosexuals like Mordechai Rubinstein are joining in on the fun. Rubinstein likes three-piece suits and dislikes “men who are getting too pretty.” It is a way of saying, I do enjoy the occasional purple pocket square. No homo. Men can reclaim fashion while still retaining their masculinity. While most are not as explicit as Rubinstein, they are essentially speaking the same language, the language of legitimacy, power, and respectability. As David Foster Wallace might have said, this is the Standard White English of fashion.

 

After college, while I was living in San Francisco, a friend took me to her favorite jeans store in Berkeley, Slash Denim. When I walked in, it was clear that the stacks of folded jeans were arranged in some logical madness only the owner understood. The owner, a woman in her 50s, with gray hair with mouse-brown streaks and a gravelly, smoker’s voice, asked us what we were looking for. I told her I wanted a pair of classic Levis. When she asked me what size I was I lied and told her that I was a size 33. She gave me a glance that said she had been doing this for 20-odd years and handed me a size 34, as these “tend to run small.”

I took the jeans, went behind the curtain, and unfurled them with a crack. A flat, denim sheet waved in front of me. How was my three-dimensional body supposed to enter this two-dimensional plane? I spent the next seven minutes trying to solve that puzzle—squeezing, heaving, and jumping my way into the jeans. Finally, I had reached that point that anyone can recognize, the moment when both legs are through and the fly is gaping, stretched to the limit. It is a clarion moment: These jeans don’t fit.

At this point, if you are a smart and reasonable person, you take the jeans off and ask for a larger size. Or, if you are anything like me, you press on. Just as there is only so much water a cup can hold, there is only so much flesh a pair of jeans can contain—what doesn’t fit, must spill out. It is the physics of pants.

I muscled each button through, until finally, I had triumphed. When I looked in the mirror though, I was crestfallen. I raised my shirt. My stomach leaned over the side of the jean—heavy, tired. I turned—maybe they would look better sideways? They didn’t. Horrified, I unbuttoned the jeans in a rattling cascade. My body collapsed with relief as I peeled the jeans off my body.

I quickly changed back into my roomier pants, mumbled “I’ll think about it” to the shopkeeper, and dashed out onto the sun-soaked street only to leave my friend stammering a more formal goodbye and thank you.

 

Invariably there is a tension between the assimilating force of fashion and our personal style as a signifier of self. It is the desire to belong versus the desire to be “who we are.” All of my life, I chafed against the pressure to assimilate, which I slowly, painfully came to realize was always a losing game—both as an Asian-American man and as a gay man. There would always be a gap between how I wanted others to see me and how they would actually see me, an impossible reach for a phantom ideal. I would forever be trapped in dressing room purgatory, wrestling with jeans that would never fit.

There is still a “skirts are for women, pants are for men” kind of simplicity to fashion. Menswear in particular is slow to change because it doesn’t have to.

In her seminal work, Gender Trouble, Judith Butler asks us to think of gendered bodies as “styles of the flesh.” She writes, “These styles all never fully self-styled, for styles have a history, and those histories condition and limit the possibilities.”

While Butler’s definition of “style” isn’t strictly sartorial, it still very readily includes clothes. There is still a “skirts are for women, pants are for men” kind of simplicity to fashion. Menswear in particular is slow to change because it doesn’t have to. When I asked Akbari if men would ever consider wearing something other than pants, she asked me instead, “Why would men want to give them up?”

At the bustling Uniqlo on Broadway, where shoppers can decide between a pair of slim-fit tapered jeans and a relaxed-fit straight-legged one, part of what makes the possibilities so specific is that a whole host of other decisions—historical, social, and cultural—have already been made before their present shopping conundrum. By picking a pant, rather than, say, a skirt, we continue to reinforce the idea that men should wear pants, because that is what men do. Not being able to wear something else affects our psyche, closes off a part of our humanity. But we don’t consider any of this. We just pick a pant.

This limitation of options suggests that fashion isn’t the universal form of self-expression that the industry says it is. I can’t help but wonder, expression for whom? When the language of fashion is dichotomized into two distinct gender categories—male and female—where is the space for bodies or styles that don’t fit? After all, languages are plastic. They can be bent, molded, subverted. What would fashion look like if it could shake off the ballasts of gender, sex, and sexuality? What would menswear look like if it could shed its anxieties around masculinity? More importantly, what would I look like?

I think you can see where this is going.

 

Drop-crotch pants are, ontologically speaking, the anti-pant. Your initial reference is probably MC Hammer “U Can’t Touch This” pants which, yes, are a type of drop-crotch pant. What defines a drop-crotch pant is, loosely speaking, a dropped crotch. Where the inseam of your average pant forms a point at your groin (actually called the crotch point) and asserts the genitals, the inseam of a drop-crotch pant stops short anywhere from a couple of inches below the groin to a couple of inches above the ankle. Recently, commercial brands like Gap, led by more fashion-forward retailers like Top Man, have released their own versions of drop-crotch pants, where the drop is so slight that the pants seem to be more of a reference (or an appropriation) of sagging pants; they have a slight skater feel to them.

Then there are the crazy, unapologetic drop-crotch pants where the drop is so great that the material hangs, billows, and drapes in between the legs in all sorts of unbecoming ways. “They’re almost like culottes,” Izzy Tuason, the blogger behind The Dandy Project told me over a spread of pastries at brunch. When I asked Tuason to describe drop-crotch pants, he responded with one word: “Asexual.” Rather than display one’s manhood, drop-crotch pants create mystery—a bit of feminine mystique, if you will.

I first started seeing them en masse while I was first living in Seoul a couple of years after college. When I saw them, I was acutely aware of my American-ness. I felt the need to separate and define myself against this fluid, sprawling Korean masculinity that seemed to disregard the gender prescriptions we Americans hold so dearly. I didn’t want to be mistaken as one of them—a drop-crotch-pants-wearing pansy (a fear that was, no doubt, heightened by our shared ethnicity). I laughed, Don’t you know how ridiculous you look? Then I wondered, in a shy, secretive way, if I couldn’t also try them on.

I remember the pants most distinctly on a friend I had made in Seoul. His name was Byung-kwan Yim, but his friends called him Kwansei. He was an architecture student and a buyer at People of Tastes, a hip boutique in an arts district in Seoul. He had taken to wearing blazers with neat pocket squares and tailored pants as a way of projecting authority in his new role, but told me, on the sly, that he missed his drop-crotch pants. One day (he must have had the day off) we happened to run into each other. I was probably wearing my usual formulation of Americana—jeans, a button-down, and brown leather boots—when I saw him coming toward me in polka-dot drop-crotch pants. I’m not even sure what else he was wearing, and frankly, I didn’t care. All I could see were those pants—cheeky, spirited, fun. They were magnificent.

“Where did you get those?” I asked.

“Comme.” he replied.

Kawakubo called her label “Comme des Garçons”—French for “like boys”—because she wanted to free women from the constraints of sex. She would also give this gift to men.

“Comme,” I quickly learned was short for “Comme des Garçons,” a label founded by Rei Kawakubo in 1969 in Tokyo. By the end of the ’70s, the label had quickly established a following of women known as “the crows” in Japan. Her first shows in Paris in the early 1980s are surrounded by the whiff of apocrypha: severe, all-black looks with unfinished hemlines and missing buttons; models in bruise-colored makeup and square-toed rubber flats; apoplectic editors. There was no sex, no beauty, no glamour. Western critics called it “post-atomic” and the “Hiroshima bag lady look.” She had the gall to shred and tear luxurious fabrics. Coats dragged along the floor; her sweaters looked as though they had been ravaged by moths. Her sense of proportion, the body, and gender were all off. She hated women. She hated fashion.

Kawakubo presented an entirely new grammar to fashion—one that was not wedded to the constraints of sexuality. Where Western fashion believed in proper proportions for the body, Kawakubo said that she was “bored” by body-conscious clothing. She disallows her pattern makers from using standard patterns, and instead, forces them to build each collection from scratch. This approach results in highly unusual, counterintuitive pieces like coats with bell bottom sleeves that almost graze the floor and dresses made from rumpled vintage scarves. In the fall of 1996, Kawakubo sent down a collection panned as the “Quasimodo” or “tumor” collection, named after the cushions she inserted in between the dress and the body in awkward, random places—across the torso, between the shoulder blades, on the pelvis. In a time when we try so hard to hide our fleshy lumps and bumps, here she was, stuffing them under sheer tulle for all the world to see.

In Kawakubo’s mind, the point of fashion isn’t to make you look sexy or desirable. “Comme des Garçons is a gift to oneself,” she said in the October 1995 issue of Vogue. “Not something to appeal to or attract the opposite sex.” The Comme woman has much more important things on her mind. She is interested in the architecture of fashion, the space in between the fabric and the body. These were shapes and proportions that gave women a new language within which to express themselves. Kawakubo called her label “Comme des Garçons”—French for like boys—because she wanted to free women from the constraints of sex.

She would also give this gift to men.

 

Last summer, I took a trip to Tokyo, the heart of Comme country, to see it for myself. I went to the Comme des Garçons flagship store in the Aoyama district. From the outside, the store looks like a high fashion spaceship, with curved windows covered in frosted blue polka dots. When you walk through the double glass doors, the effect is no less futuristic. The interior has a liquid cool; leaning, white walls snake around the space and cordon off the numerous brands—Homme Plus, Play, Shirt—into separate sections. The staff members were not the young, 20-somethings with sleek bowl cuts I had imagined. Instead, I counted only one bowl cut, on a woman wearing a floor-length ruffled skirt. Most of the salespeople were middle-aged men with scraggly goatees and bedraggled hair. One, wearing an oversized denim blazer over sagging silk brocade pants, could easily be mistaken for a colorful homeless person in Manhattan. He was helping a customer decide between different denim drop-crotch pants that all looked too big, but somehow, just right.

The men’s fall/winter ready-to-wear collection was already on the racks, like artifacts in an exhibit. I walked with my hands folded behind my back, noting the interesting use of fabrics, occasionally oohing and ahhing. I gingerly fingered the arm of a blazer with a denim front piece and lapel and arms, back, and collar made from a black, diamond-patterned knit that looked like lace. In an epiphany that was so obvious as to sound trite, I realized that clothes were literally constructions; that they were made of discrete, moveable parts that, if changed or shifted, could create something entirely new.

That hybridism is a significant part of the Comme design philosophy. Different pieces of dress shirts—the cuffs, collar, yoke, and placket—are made from diametrically different materials and patterns like corduroy and gingham or silk and denim. By deconstructing clothes on a material level, Kawakubo constantly challenges what we think constitutes a “whole”—blazers will have cutouts along the arms and sides; pants cut in the shape of an infinity symbol with a peek-a-boo slit up the leg. The corresponding women’s collection on the racks during my visit last summer showed pieces that were literally split down the middle, skirt on one side, shorts on the other; trench coat from the front and shorts from the back. Both this and that, and somehow neither.

I felt as though I had tumbled down a high fashion rabbit hole. These were clothes that spoke of different ways of being that I didn’t know were possible. They were intellectual, witty, and thoughtful. They took clothes apart from the seams, and put them back together, slightly altered, and in doing so unhinged the links between sex and gender and sexuality to imagine a new kind of body.

This gesture towards a radical individualism is, in Kawakubo’s mind, something that goes beyond gender. After showing her 1995 spring/summer menswear collection, she said, “Spiritually, there are no more differences between men and women. What is important is being human.” She returned to that theme with her most recent collection for fall/winter 2012, entitled “Neither Man Nor Woman,” in which she dressed men up in polka-dot trench coats, capris emblazoned with roses, and blazers with deep scoop necks.

My initial instinct was to run. To say that these clothes aren’t for me, that they were for someone more adventurous and artistic and free-spirited. I’ll just stick to my green madras J. Crew button-down, thank you very much. And yet, I turned and looked again. How vibrant, how exciting. They dared me to try them on.

When I did, it was like having sex for the first time: exposing, daunting, awkward. I had chosen something relatively tame (I didn’t quite have the audacity to try on what I really wanted, namely the drop-crotch pants): a blue and red flannel button-down pieced with a dark blue gingham yoke and back. The length of the sleeves seemed too long and the white v-neck T-shirt I wore underneath looked sloppy. When I went to tuck in the shirt, the salesperson stopped me and shook his head, “That’s Comme style,” he cheerfully announced. I saw then that he too was wearing a t-shirt underneath his button-down. That would be the response every time I protested that something looked baggy or oddly proportioned. That’s Comme style, they would say.

These clothes didn’t require the same attention to fit, and in a very profound way, asked me to look at my body differently. As someone who always wanted to be thinner and smaller, I had to accept my body for what it was. Imperfections and inconsistencies were all just part of the style.

“Fashion design,” said Kawakubo, “is to allow a person to be what they are.”

 

Whatever pessimism I have about menswear, globalization, and masculinity can be momentarily alleviated by one stunning photograph. Recently Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist, snapped a photo of Ryo Miyamoto standing against a grey brick wall on 15th Street in Manhattan. Miyamoto is wearing layers upon layers of fabric: a blazer over a quilted vest over a long cardigan that hangs over a quilted skirt pulled over white pants. The colors are warm and deep—olives, burgundies, dark blues. It is confusing and arresting and makes you look twice, think twice. Miyamoto found almost all of the pieces scavenging the dusty racks of thrift stores around the city. The entire look cost him less than $100.

In a correspondence via Facebook, I learned that Miyamoto is a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He cites Dries van Noten, Kawakubo, and another avant-garde Japanese designer, Yohji Yamamoto (who is, not incidentally, Kawakubo’s ex), as his guiding influences. When I asked him about the skirt, he sent me another photo of him wearing his mom’s black second-hand dress over black pants. The effect is not unlike a drop-crotch pant. He wrote, “I consider skirts as same as scarf or hat, just an accent for the look.” He doesn’t look at a thing merely for its social significance, but rather has the ability to see it for its potential to be something entirely new.

“This democratization of fashion has gone more in line with creating an individual brand for yourself,” said Akbari in a follow-up phone conversation. “You can combine different sources of high and low, local and foreign influences. It has afforded us the opportunity to diversify our appearance in a really amazing way.”

I do not think of myself as the type of person who can create an “individual brand” for himself like Miyamoto or Tuason, or the slew of other staggeringly creative types that populate the blogosphere. Fashion, whether I liked it or not, was something I had to participate in. And if I was going to do it, I wanted to do so on my own terms.

 

When I went back to New York last fall, I went to the Comme des Garçons Black store, Comme des Garçons’ diffusion line of signature Comme looks that will last, apparently, as long as this recession. It’s a raw, white space and the smell of plywood lingers in the air. It feels like a pop-up store. I had been obsessing over whether I should buy a pair of drop-crotch pants. I had weighed the pros and cons before finally amassing the courage to get a pair of my own. In the unisex section, the drop-crotch pants hung on the hanger like a smile. I tried them on. When I looked in the mirror, it took me a moment to register the man in front of me.

Fashion is aspirational. While often it is an expression of how we want to be seen, it can also be a statement of how we want to see ourselves—who we want to be. And, for the first time, somewhere in the murky black expanse of wool, I caught a glimpse of that person. The man in the drop-crotch pants was the kind of man I wanted to become: expansive, flexible, complex. A man who was witty, smart, and a little weird. A man who wasn’t afraid to be himself.

Vincent, the salesperson, was wearing the washed polyester version. In a soothing, gentle voice he asked, “How do they fit?”

“Perfectly.”

Alex Jung is a writer who is constantly shuttling between his two homes, Seoul and New York. He is a big fan of whiskey, offal, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. You can follow him on his Tumblr. More by Alex Jung