There’s something new in men’s fashion, out here in boonieburbia, and it’s refreshing. It’s color — bright, almost blinding color.
Fading away are the muted greens and browns of camouflage. The hide-in-the-forest, confuse-the-enemy look seems to be losing favor. Muscling in and coming to the fore are the neon greens and electric oranges that highway construction crews sport. Every so often, just for fun, I guess, you even see some screaming pink.
Nearly every place you go now you see these shades — if you can call them “shades” — flashing, bobbing and weaving in and out of the fast-food crowds, big-box checkout lines and Friday night football throngs.
Where guys once didn’t want to be seen, they’re now trying to be as obvious as possible. Perhaps the
human aversion to anonymity is kicking in. The look-at-me gene is reclaiming its rightful place in their egos. Camo doesn’t cut it.
So far, as near as I can tell, this has only manifested itself in T-shirts. I haven’t seen slacks or dress shirts or socks dyed the same hair-raising hues. No jackets, either, but that might change when cold weather sets in and coats come out of the closet.
And I haven’t seen women joining the trend — blue, purple or pink hairdos once in a while, but not the knock-your-shoes-off, high-tension tones the men are going for.
Not all of us, of course. Lots of guys are still happy to dress in the same old blue Levi’s, gray Dickies or khaki Dockers they’ve always worn. The executive types and insurance agents are still wearing their mostly button-down conservative straightjackets.
Some guys are required to dress in the new green and orange style because of their work, hazardous jobs where they could be hurt if they aren’t seen. They’re building roads, cutting trees, repairing utilities. They have plenty of good reasons to be obvious. They’re in harm’s way.
A color called “blaze orange” started showing up a few years ago in the interest of safety not on workdays but on days spent in the woods and fields. Knowing that deer are colorblind, hunting safety advocates realized that you could track down bucks and does without being mistaken for a critter yourself if you wore a bright vest or hat over your camouflage apparel. Too many hunters were being maimed or killed by their less-than-cautious compatriots who were prone to shoot before they were sure. The high-visibility garb drastically reduced that likelihood.
Concurrently or consequently, I’m not sure which, safety advocates for workers in hazardous professions reached the same conclusion about the utility of color on the job site. Working on a construction project or paving a road frequently put people in danger if they couldn’t be distinguished from their surroundings, so bright orange and then green became part of safety tool kit, joining yellow and white hard hats.
Those jobs are considered bastions of the male world, so the clothes had a certain symbolic value, too. Wear orange, be a tough guy. Dress green and show you’re a hard-drivin’ dude.
That’s where, I think, the colors began crossing the line into the “civilian” world, showing up in the clothing aisles of the megastores as everyday apparel, right there next to the stacks of T-shirts with sports logos and baseball caps with “CAT” sewn into the brows. Colorize your wardrobe and you could look like the hard-bitten TV commercial guy driving the oversized Dodge Ram out on the ranch — but stay safely seated behind the wheel of your Honda Civic.
The more things change, they say, the more they stay the same. We’ve gone through the cowboy look, the Wichita lineman phase, the burly bald Hulk iteration and now entered the bulldozer pilot period. We’re still Yankee doodle dandies, hanging on to the belief that clothes make the man.