Monday, November 5, 2007

The tropical bohemian

By Miguel Paolo Celestial
Published in The Philippine Star, 23 November 2007

“I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets; my overcoat too was becoming ideal…My only pair of breeches had a big hole in them…I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!”

Thus said the seventeen-year-old French visionary poet, Arthur Rimbaud, famous for pushing the limits of the senses, in his piece “Ma Boheme”.

The rebellious artist—dirty, unkempt, and poor yet unconventional and highly creative—was a major symbol for the bohemian movement in Europe, characterized by unorthodox views usually pitted against the establishment. The goal then was to be utterly and almost absolutely different, similar to the non-conformist and iconoclastic avant-garde, which represented a pushing of the boundaries of norms.

In terms of fashion, “bohemian” or avant-garde have meant explorations into the unexplored, pushing ahead of everybody else and appearing completely new and novel. For menswear, this translates to going beyond any fixed classifications, such as punk, decadent dandy dressing, nonchalant poetic chic, hyper-futuristic preppy or androgyny—recent and recurring fare in fashion shows.

This implies that for the case of the Manileño bohemian—though decidedly non-aggressive and only relatively unconventional—he need not depend on chains, clunky necklaces, quirky pocket squares, bowties, vests or knit scarves to be different. Or even on the monochrome insisted on by punks, goths and even poets. In the tropical twenty-first century, to be stylishly different has come to rely on cut and new combinations in sheen, pattern or print and especially color. Accessories definitely help, like huge vanity glasses, jewelry or straw trilbies, as do hairstyles, but nothing beats innovative fashion statements in our single-layered, t-shirt-weather country.

Neither tatters nor leather coats are required for style, novelty or fashion-forwardness. Some males find it hard to wear lots of color or dare do neons, fluorescents and metallics, but well-coordinated patterns can often do the trick. Check your checks. Update your stripes and overcome your fear of polka dots and prints. Belts help, as do bags and caps. There are some secrets yet to be unearthed: paisley and florals found in outfits and not merely in handkerchiefs and tablecloths. And, of course, there is always more to the t-shirt. Anybody who can master that beats all the air-conditioned room-only fashionistas.