Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

By Christian M. Chensvold

NOT LONG AGO, when people wanted to have a good time, they thought about places to go where they could dress up. Now they think about places to go where the dress code merely forbids nakedness.

Brian Zero, 27, is tired of casual: it's too simple, too common. In a culture whose prevailing sartorial aesthetic is dressed-down comfort clothing, what's a poor nonconformist to do?

Why, wear suits of course.

"Suits have become rebellious," says Zero, lead singer of the local punk band Siren, "especially vintage ones." He incites stares of mild curiosity as he sits sipping tea in his light grey suit and hat, adorned with such eye-catching details as a tie bar and pocket square. But Zero, who once had hair the color of broccoli, also sports two highly noticeable hoop earrings that form an ironic undercutting of his formal attire. He insists he's not trying to look like a parody of a stockbroker--when Zero wears a suit, he's dead serious.

Resisting a kind of gravitational pull towards conformity that often comes with age, Zero likes to think of himself as "a parrot amongst the crows." But he admits, "If I were to walk outside one morning and everybody was dressing like me, I think I would change my clothing pretty fast."

The vintage-clothing customer is much more educated today than a few years ago, avers Hot Couture clothing store owner Marta Koehne. "Most people who come in here now know when they're looking at a piece from the 1930s, especially people who want to do a certain dance era or are into '50s music and have a '50s car." Koehne has a small but dedicated portion of her customers who buy clothing specifically for the Bay Area swing scene.

"There really is a desire to touch the time by touching personal items of the time," says Koehne.

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From the May 15-21, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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