In the late summer of 1967, the late Ronn Reinberg and I and two mutual acquaintances drove to San Francisco to see Cream at the Fillmore. When we arrived in The City, I shocked my traveling companions by expressing a desire to change before we headed for the venue. “Well,” said one, rolling his eyes, swiping his ugly unkempt hair out of his eyes, “aren’t we the fashionplate?”
Yes, as a matter of fact, we are, and have been for ages. You have read here before about how Audrey Mendelsohn forced me, while those all around me at Loyola Village School were wearing blue jeans with black shoes, to wear tastefully coordinated brown shoes and beige jeans. Later, at Orville Wright Junior High School, I longed for a Pendleton shirt with flap pockets of the sort surfers had made popular (and after which The Pendletones had named themselves, before they became The Beach Boys), only to discover that they were unendurably itchy. But I did get the prescribed Jack Purcell smilies.
After seeing A Hard Day's Night, I formed a band in high school. We bought plush blue velour turtlenecks of the sort Johnny Mathis and his friends had worn to the restaurant where I was an auto attendant the summer before. When I dared to wear mine to school along with my Thom McAn dagger-toed winklepickers, I was, of course, widely assumed to be gay. The fact was that I had begun dressing as I had in service to my avid heterosexuality.
As a university student, I might have worn love beads and attended class barefoot, but I secretly stockpiled a closetful of groovy mod attire, including bowling shoe-inspired footwear of the sort John Lennon had worn on the bland alternate cover of Yesterday…and Today. I bought an ankle-length kaftan at an Indian import place on Hollywood Blvd., only to discover that I felt a perfect idiot in it. I bought the requisite fringed leather jacket and wire-rim glasses, like those of John Sebastian’s that had emboldened Lennon.
As my university career groaned to an ignominious conclusion, I went through a brief, horrible dweeb period. Behold the T-shirt and stupid sub-Sonny Bono vest I wore to meet and interview my idol of the time! ‘Twas the embarrassment I felt hanging out with Townshend and the brothers Davies that got me in a hurry out of my dweeb period, and I will not withhold the credit due the brothers with whom I played briefly in Halfnelson before they rebranded themselves as Sparks. They hooked me up with the lady friend of theirs who administered my first layered (or shag, or, in the UK, feathered) haircut. I acquired my first blowdryer and shaved my wispy mustache.
The first thing I thought of when I learned of the fortune my first post-university employer, Warner Bros. Records, proposed to award me each week was that I would be able to buy the bottle green cabretta leather jacket I’d seen somewhere on the Strip after only four days’ work. I bought a pair of lime green, skintight trousers from a gay boutique a couple of doors down from Greenblatt’s Delicatessen, and was too embarrassed to wear them, except on stage, where I paired them with a green appliqué top much like those Mick Jagger had worn during the Rolling Stones’ famous comeback tour the previous year.
Rod Stewart emerged, in his wonderfully tailored suits and gloriously ridiculous coiffure, and I glimpsed my sartorial future. I began spending unimaginable amounts of money (sometimes over $50, but we’re talking early-‘70s dollars) at, for instance, Sniff, the boutique on Sunset Blvd. owned by the photographer Bob Jenkins, and overseen by an actual English employee! I wasn’t yet much of a musician, but boy, did I look good in publicity photos. Trying to get the rest of my band to sign onto the idea of being glamorous was like…here, let me think of a really colorful way of putting this…pulling teeth. How I envied my then-not-yet-friend Stefen Shady, who’d apparently put together his own band, Shady Lady, on the basis of their common love for clothes.
I’m no longer the fashionplate I used to be. It’s been a long time since I had sufficient disposable income to buy many clothes, but even if I were rich, I think I’d have to have everything made. (The record shows that during my three months of earning $65/hour as an interim art director in Manhattan, I spent every available minute at the Herald Square Daffy’s buying Italian sportswear.) The Kings Road in London, which used to be lined with fantastic, imaginative boutiques, and was a rock fashionisto’s idea of Heaven, is now lined with boring chain outlets. The likes of Todd Rundgren, who used to be gloriously fashionable, seem to have lost all interest. I can go to a site like sammydress.com and see 45 things I’d love to buy, but most of it is polyester, and I’ve yet to order anything from Asia that fit as I’d hoped it might. So I put on the zoot-length pinstriped sportscoat I bought in London in 2003, or the US Coast Guard dress uniform jacket I bought at American Rag in San Francisco in 1989, and feel much as I used to do in my ruby satin suit from Sniff, even while wondering how many more years I can expect them to last.
Or, I suppose, myself.