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Saturday, March 05, 2005

It's Bobo's World, You're Just Living In It

The revolution has begun. Cast off your Chanel, throw down your Dior. It's time to dive into that dumpster and jump into the latest fashion craze lead by -- David Brooks?

Yes, the less than seminal work Bobos in Paradise, by the uber-untrendy and reliably cobwebby David Brooks, is lending its name to a new brand of fashion chic. The conservative NYT columnist devised the term to refer to the "bohemian bourgeois," those he saw as bashing materialism while at the same time letting Gucci use their backsides for billboards.

The bobo style look is defined by layers of mismatch, and owes a lot to Japanese street fashion -- threadbare thrift store sweaters and torn jeans over vintage silk slips, floppy hats and billowy peasant tops, slouchy coats and big sunglasses. The whole ensemble is accented with expensive accessories -- say a Rive Gauche bag, an Ann Demeulemeester alpaca scarf or an exquisite pair of Stella McCartney over-the-knee boots, just so everyone knows you're doing this on purpose and didn't simply filch someone's stuff from the dryer at the laundrymat.

Much of fashion is dictated by function, so you have to wonder -- what does bobo style say about the culture that nurtured it? During WWII when fabric was in short supply, skirts got tighter and hems got shorter, and the t-shirt sashayed onto the fashion stage. Now bobo style is being touted by none other than those teenage millionaires Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, according to the New York Times. Estimated to be worth some $275 million, only a few months ago they were doing magazine spreads in head-to-toe matching Prada.

It's a sign that conspicuous consumption is out, and an era of necessary belt-tightening is upon us. That as a nation we shouldn't feel good about flaunting privilege when the government is taking money out of the mouths of poor people and handing it back to a fiscal elite. And perhaps only on a subconscious level, it reflects a growing awareness that BushCo's cokehead-with-a-credit-card spending habits are something we'll all be picking up the tab on for a long time to come.

I'm going to guess that Brooks will miss the irony that the style he named is a reaction against the corrupt climate of unseemly wealth his beloved Preznit has done so much to cultivate. But that's probably not going to bother his high lords at the NYT a whole bunch. Missing the obvious has long been his stock in trade.