The "culture" pages of most newspapers have been trying of late to outdo one another in praising the show "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy." By now most everyone knows the premise: five gay men, of allegedly superior taste, "make over" a straight man. I will leave the broader sociological implications of this to others; what most interests me is their take on clothes.
It is appalling. The five style mavens themselves dress like stereotypical urban hipster homosexuals. And what they recommend to their charges is arguably worse than what they wear themselves.
(I should point out, for the sake of strict accuracy, that only one of the gay guys is the fashion maven. The others are responsible for other matters, such as grooming and interior design. But they all weigh in on the clothes, and their taste is pretty much the same.)
Take a recent episode. The "Fab Five," as they modestly call themselves, go to work on a dude who is about to propose to his girlfriend. His mode of dress, I admit, could use some refinement. The Fab Five take him to the venerable Ralph Lauren flagship store in upper Manhattan. I started to get my hopes up—plenty of classic clothes to choose from there! But is that what they reach for? Oh, no. For the poor man's wedding, they recommend a pink dinner jacket(!). Now, in 1925, at the Casino in Nassau, a coral dinner jacket might have been just the thing to wear, once, as a sort of highbrow joke. But to a wedding? Not if you want the marriage to last.
For the big proposal, they put the guy in a black suit. Leave it to modern style mavens to reject black for a dinner jacket, but embrace it in a suit. Oh, do I long for the days when black suits were confined to their natural Habitat—smoky Manhattan dance clubs south of 14th Street. (Memo to all straight men: black is not a good color for a suit. The reason it looks good in formal clothes is that there are no other colors competing with the simple and elegant contrast of black and white. Black overwhelms other colors; it is too severe. If you want a dark suit, you're much better off with navy or charcoal grey. Or even dark brown.)
Anyway, under the suit, they have him wear a white French-cuff shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The point of this is—what, exactly? Will our straight guy be performing surgery? Changing a tire? Wait, I Know—washing dishes! Couldn't he wait until he got to the kitchen sink before he rolled up his sleeves? And why, if according to "Queer Eye" rules, the sleeves must be rolled up, does the shirt have to have French cuffs?
Finally, they add a cashmere sweater (black, of course) under the jacket, presumably to make the dude sweat like a pig so that he'll smell nice and ripe when the big moment arrives.
It goes without saying that they don't have their charge put on a tie.
All in all, the point of the show seems to be to have five ill-dressed homosexuals take one ill-dressed heterosexual and put him in clothes that make him look like…an ill-dressed homosexual! In another episode, they took Jay Leno—no paragon of style, but a man who dresses reasonably well—and made him look like (you guessed it!) an ill-dressed homosexual.
Now, since few American men are gullible, stupid, or rich enough (the clothes may be bad, but they are not cheap) to follow this advice, I am not so worried that the show will have a directly negative influence on our country's general appearance. What does worry me is the phenomenon that John Derbyshire has termed "straight flight." The more that interest in clothes is perceived to be a gay phenomenon, the sloppier straight America will look. Steve Sailer, commenting on this same show, recently put it this way:
Does this kind of thing make gays more "mainstream" or, in the minds of more than a few straight guys, does it make more "gay" such previously unsuspect activities as tucking in your shirt, combing your hair, shaving on some non-random schedule, occasionally picking your dirty clothes up off the floor, and not blowing your nose on your t-shirt? Obviously, a higher percentage of gays perform such basics of civilized living than do straight men, but I would bet that the percentage of straight guys who follow basic rules of neatness goes down the more you remind them of that statistical fact. Because nobody wants to be accused these days of being "homophobic," it's hard to get anyone to admit this, but it sure looks like single straight men are acting more slobbish each year to assert their masculinity.
Not that "Queer Eye" is pushing classic clothes—not even close. Actually, that might paradoxically make things worse. If the Fab Five's sartorial standard were Astaire-esque elegance, my guess is that this would only serve to further cement the (imagined) link in many minds between homosexuality and dressing well. As things stand, at least men can see the fruity concoctions whipped up on "Queer Eye" and take comfort from the fact that they have no relevance at all to what most men in most of America actually wear.
Still, the effect of the show on American style cannot be good. The classic male get-up of tailored jacket, dress shirt and tie is in precarious straits these days. Partly this is because the suit is nearing the end of its natural life-cycle—the journey that all garments make, from their origin as informal sports clothes to their death after being relegated to butlers' uniforms. Other factors are in play as well, too long and exalted to go into here.
Please, let's not add another.