Authenticity vs. Realness

Look, I dragged out my old Topsiders, too, same as the next guy. But I've just about had it up to _here_ with the obsession with "authenticity" that is the uncritical core of this dragging-on moment in men's fashion.

It ranges from picayune discussions of selvedge denim carried on over your dad's Miller High Life; to competitive fleamarket picking to rediscover the most obscure canvas tote bag manufacturer; to American-made worker boots for publicists; to the umpteenth reincarnation WASP-y preppy fashion, called Trad, just like it was in Japan in 1986. It's as if the Emperor could somehow be naked and wearing two NOS Izod shirts, small batch, reissued Duck Head khakis, and Japanese export Redwings at the same time.

It all reminds me of nothing so much as Jennie Livingston's documentary, Paris is Burning. Schoolboy Realness, Town & Country, Executive Realness. Here's the late, great drag queen philosopher [and accomplished body-stasher!] Dorian Corey:

In a ballroom, you can be anything you want. You're not really an executive, but you're looking like an executive. And therefore, you're showing the straight world that, "I can be an executive. If I had the opportunity, I can be one. Because I can look it." And that is a kind of fulfillment.

Your friends, your peers, are telling you, "Oh, you'd make a wonderful executive."

And just line this quote from Pepper LaBeija [above, in fur], legendary head of the House of LaBeija...

To be able to blend. That's what realness is.

If you can pass the untrained eye, or even the trained eye, and not give away the fact that you're gay, that's when it's real.

The idea of realness is to look as much as possible like your straight counterpart.

The realer you look means you look like a real woman. Or you look like a real man. A straight man.

It's not a takeoff, or a satire. No. It's actually being able to be this.

...up against the Trad guy in the Observer yesterday:
"When done right, it should almost be invisible," said John Tinseth, 52, an insurance broker and longtime traddy who's been writing a blog called The Trad--anonymously, until now--for the past two years. He was on the phone from his West 57th Street apartment, dressed, he said, in L. L. Bean khakis and moccasins and a striped yellow Oxford University rugby shirt.

"A guy should walk right by you and he'll have the whole thing down and you won't even notice," Mr. Tinseth said. "That's when it's done perfectly."

Authenticity is a pose, people, plain and simple.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: September 10, 2009.

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