>What Happened to Standards of Appearance in this Country?

Posted: November 19, 2004 in Columns

>I live in a small town in rural northern Michigan, which is I think very representative of small town America across the country. Moving here after living in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles has opened my eyes to the way that most of the people in this country live by means of comparison. In my opinion, I have a good insight into Middle America and the middle class lifestyle (of which I am now a part), the benchmark of society in the United States. This is the home of the Green Bay Packer fan and NASCAR fever; huntin’ and fishin’ are religious activities. People here work on farms or in factories, and do much of the work that would make large metropolitan city dwellers cringe. There are no malls, no Starbucks’, and no Jamba Juice franchises. There is one “big box” store here, and it is the blue collar favorite–Kmart. The closest “big” city is over an hour away, and it holds a mere 16,000 inhabitants.

As a displaced big city person, I’ve observed a few fashion faux pas that exist in this segment of American culture which amuse me from time to time as I run across them while doing my grocery shopping or putting gas in my car. While I in no way claim to be a fashion expert, I consider myself enough of a “metro sexual” to discern which trends are in and which are clearly out. I figure I’ve seen enough episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to do a little free-lance personal appearance policing myself. The following are some of the guidelines as I see them.


Hair is the most often abused part of the personal appearance package and one of the most obvious clues as to the hip ness quotient of the particular individual in question. First of all, no male ponytails unless its part or your ethnic heritage. This means that Native Americans and other cultural groups who have traditionally worn their hair long are within their right to do so. The mainstream ponytail for teens went out with the glam rock bands in the eighties. Along these same lines, if you’re a man who has longish hair but not long enough to put in a real ponytail, don’t put it in a “baby ponytail”. These one or two inch “bobs” look sad and inadequate, and you will too. Wait until it grows all the way out to tie it back.

I have some thoughts regarding coloration as well. No male stripper streaks, guys. On women they can be hot; on men, they’re just plain scary. If you want to look like Vanilla Ice or a serial killer, it’s your choice, but I wouldn’t advise it. Furthermore, no Eminem hair unless you’re Marshall Mathers. You can duplicate his look, but not his success. It only makes you look like a wannabe. No frosted tips if you’re a man, either. This makes you look just as scary as they guy with the stripper streaks. You’ll be mistaken for a male prostitute.

I cannot stress this next point enough–no mullets, ever. This hairstyle was never cool even when it was popular. “Business” cut in the front and “Rock N Roll” cut in the back simply doesn’t go together. Another note, fellows: if you aren’t an Army Ranger, no Army Ranger haircut. You know which look I’m talking about; the cut where the hair is shaved on the sides and mohawkish on the top. It makes you look like a social outcast or Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. If you miss the lifestyle, re-up; if not, join the rest of society. Lastly, as a receding hairline sufferer, I ask this of all you men who have heads full of luxurious hair: Don’t shave your heads because its easier to take care of or you think it makes you look like Vin Diesel. Guys like me who have to shave their heads so we don’t look like we’re trying to perpetrate a comb-over can’t stand to see someone lucky enough to actually have hair shave it all off. It’s a matter of common courtesy to your follicly challenged brethren.

Women aren’t exempt from hair mistakes. For starters: ladies, don’t dye your hair blonde if the original color is even close to black. As soon as the roots start to come in, you look like Leather Tuscadero from Happy Days or some eighties singer along the lines of Pat Benatar. If you have to go light, get the roots done every two weeks. Also, gals, if you absolutely must dye your hair blonde, please don’t dye it that “almost white” color of blonde. Men like bleach blondes, but not women with hair whiter than their grandmother’s.

For members of both sexes, please, no feathered hair. This was cool in Junior High twenty years ago but now only reminds me of high-school burnouts who used to smoke behind the auto-shop. The eighties are over. The hair styles are never coming back. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, your toddler or small child has no say in his hairstyle. Don’t shave his head, give him a flat-top with one long braid like Anakin Skywalker, and for the love of God, don’t give him a mullet. This type of hair atrocity for children is tantamount to child abuse. For everybody, no matter what hair style you choose–wash your hair, (and the rest of your body for that matter), daily.

Non hair-related rules

No combs in the back pocket. Like I said—the eighties are over. No plaid shirts, unless you’re a lumberjack. I can’t think of any other time the plaid shirt would be appropriate. Don’t wear the pants you wore to your blacktopping job to go out to dinner. Do I really have to sit next to “tarpants” when I’m out to eat? If you’re still a little messy from work, go home and change or eat at KFC instead. No” wife-beaters” allowed outside of your own home. For those of you who are less enlightened, these are sleeveless shirts that used to be T-shirts before the wearer took it upon themselves to cut the sleeves off in a jagged fashion with the pair of scissors from the junk drawer. They make you look like you walked out of an episode of cops, and I’m not talking about one of the cops. A final word on T-shirts: shirts with sexually expressive logos or sayings are TACKY. Would you want your grandparents to have to see some punk at the mall with the F-word on their shirt? These members of the greatest generation lived through the depression and a world war and actually died so we could have personal freedoms of expression and are saddened to see us waste this gift on potty mouthed T-shirt slogans.

Let’s talk about hats for a minute. Hats must be free of grease unless you’re actually working on your car. If you absolutely have to wear a ball cap when you leave the house, keep a nice clean one for such occasions. You could even try to match them to your shirt color, guys. It’s not that hard. No hats with nylon mesh in the back, either. I know these trucker style hats have had some limited popularity, but it’s a really hard look to pull off even if you are Ashton kutcher. And if you are a non-urban dude, your hat’s bill must be facing all the way to the front, or all the way back–no “in-betweeners”. Ghetto dwellers, you’re exempt from this one. They created the look and it works for them only. Little Jimmy from the lily-white Chicago suburbs whose dad is a doctor and his mother a lawyer doesn’t have the street cred to pull this look off. No cowboy hats unless you ride a horse and herd some type of livestock. There is no such thing as an “urban cowboy”, just people who want to drive a BMW but pretend that they were country before country was cool.

Accessories are not exempt from the style police. For starters, no wallets with chains unless you drive a Harley. Are you really that afraid to lose the wallet? No flip-flops for boys unless you’re at the beach or taking a shower, at a campground shower, or in a locker-room. Silly rabbit, flip-flops are for kids. Remember: the key to whether you should wear something is the appropriateness; ask yourself whether the item you want to wear fits the occasion for which you are wearing it.

This next one will sound harsh, but here goes: if you aren’t within 5 pounds of your ideal weight, NO LYCRA EVER. I think we all agree on this one. Hey, before you get mad, I’m in the non-lycra wearing category also. Along similar lines, ladies–no clothing that lace up the side unless you’re in a music video. This type of garment often exposes skin from parts of the body that we may not want to see. No polyester ever—leave these items for the senior set. No circles in the back pocket from chew cans, EVER. It’s bad enough to participate in such a disgusting habit; you don’t have to advertise the fact. This is just as bad as rolling up a pack of cigarettes in your T-shirt sleeve like one of the kids from The Outsiders or West Side Story.

No belly shirts if you have love handles. You aren’t fooling anyone into thinking you are thin. Go to the mall any day of the week and you will see more pudgy midriffs than you can stomach (pun intended). The weight guideline applies to other garments as well. If you don’t have the body for it, nobody wants to see you in a bikini or a Speedo. You can hide more in a one piece or swim trunks and look even sexier.

We need to discuss piercing and tattoos. I know that they are popular these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they work for everyone in every form. First off, no one wants to see through your ear lobe. The giant shower curtain ring-sized earlobe stretcher is just plain gross. We aren’t part of a South American tribe, people. Also, restrict the weird piercing to where I can’t see them, because no one really wants to see that you pierced yourself through your chin or someplace else completely whacked out. By the way–does this feel good? Don’t you people snag those pieces of metal on our face in you sweater whenever you put it over your head? OUCH! Oh, and if you ever want to have a job where you don’t have to wear a name-tag, don’t tattoo yourself on your neck, your lower arms, your hands, or your face for God’s sake. I don’t care if you do it, just don’t be mad when you don’t get that job at Microsoft and have to resort to stocking shelves at Sam’s Club instead.

Remember the appropriateness rule. No full camouflage unless you are on your way to, from, or actually hunting. You can wear your cool Old Navy camouflage cargo shorts, but not your full bow-hunting outfit from Outdoor World to go out in public. Similarly, no blaze orange unless you are in like situations. If you are afraid of getting shot by a high powered rifle while walking down the main street of your town, you need to have a talk with your local sheriff. This next one is for all of those people who idolize athletes like Lance Armstrong a little too much: if you aren’t a professional bike racer, race car driver, or snowmobile champ, don’t dress like one. Nobody is sponsoring your weekend 12 mile bike ride from your house to the mall and back. Similarly, if you think NASCAR is cool, that’s fine. I personally can’t see the excitement in watching guys named Darryl turn left for three hours, but some folks find that stimulating, which is fine. You don’t really have to put that #23 flag on your car year round or decal the outside of your garage door with your favorite driver’s number, though. Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t going to come to your town, see that, and commit himself to driving even better. Save the fan signs for the race-track.

I know what you’re thinking. Who does this guy think he is–the fashion police? What happened to freedom of expression? I answer those folks this way: how come people in the middle ages didn’t need personal appearance freedom of expression? Nobody had purple hair or pierced noses. That’s because they had respect for the rest of humanity who had to look at them every day. Sure, they would have been burned as witches if they broke conformity but maybe that was for the best… Okay, I’m obviously going to the extreme here but can’t we all just try to show a little class when we groom ourselves and go out in public? Americans already have a pretty bad rep with the rest of the world community as “The Ugly Americans”. Do we have to look like ugly, ignorant, sometimes even scary dorks as well?

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