For a long time I assumed that the arbiters of fashion decide on what the next trend will be by some random method, possibly covering a wall with every fashion from history and then throwing a dart and announcing that whatever it lands on, no matter how bizarre, will be the in thing for the next few months. You have to admit that the evidence is pretty compelling; how else can we explain elbow patches, Christmas jumpers, bow ties and countless other crimes against style and common decency that young people who frankly should know better have been perpetrating in recent years?
But I recently came to a surprising realisation: pretty much every trend of the last decade or so has seemingly been inspired by, of all things, cartoons and children’s TV. For example, duffel coats were meant to the in thing not so long ago, but Paddington Bear has been wearing them for decades. Wallace, of Gromit fame, was wearing a bow tie a good fifteen years before Matt Smith in Dr Who and whilst the US televangelist Jerry Falwell may have cited Tinky Winky’s handbag as proof that the Tellytubbies were part of a covert plan to turn the youth of America gay, we can now see with the benefit of hindsight that he was actually an early adopter, if not the originator, of the manbag.
But whilst those characters have only inspired a single trend each there’s one programme that appears to have provided the fashion world with a suspiciously high number of them in recent years: the Simpsons. For if you look at some of the garments that have drifted in and out of vogue recently you won’t fail to notice how many of them have previously been in some way connected with Springfield’s first family. Indeed, it seems that, despite wearing the same thing day in day out, the Simpsons are the unsung style icons of our uncertain times.
Let’s examine the evidence: first, there was the episode where Homer gets a job teaching an evening class and dutifully does what all middle aged lecturers do and starts wearing a jacket with elbow patches. Marge mocks him. The viewer is expected to mock him. But some years later, what happens? All the cool kids of London town start sporting them.
Then, last year, it was widely reported in the usual suspect men’s magazines that Hawaiian shirts would be the in thing that summer. This in itself is quite odd, considering you shouldn’t really wear one of those unless you’re going to an Ace Ventura theme party. Or you want to make it explicitly clear to the police that you’re a paedo sex tourist. But, once again, the Simpsons had predicted and warned against this trend some years earlier, and this time even Homer was opposed to it. Remember the episode where the family befriend a man who runs a kitsch homeware shop, played by John Waters? Well, once Homer becomes aware that he is gay he starts to panic that Bart will follow suit, with his main piece of evidence being that he sees Bart sporting a Hawaiian shirt. Distraught, he tells Marge what he has seen and adds, ‘the only guys who wear Hawaiian shirts are gay guys and big, fat party animals.’ Then, on the verge of tears, he adds, ‘and Bart is not a big, fat, party animal’.
Although Homer’s fears that Bart is succumbing to gaydom prove unfounded, his observations about the Hawaiian shirt do have some validity. And whilst, as far as I could see, Hawaiian shirts never took off last year as they were meant to, there’s no denying that it was another suspicious example of fashion tastemakers trying to hoist another idea from the Simpsons onto the unsuspecting public.
Then there was a recent issue of Esquire in which Matt Smith was pictured wearing a garish green and red check suit; not only did the colour clash almost certainly have the power to induce epileptic fits, it looked suspiciously like the one that Homer gets kitted out in when he goes to a soup kitchen only to be taken for a vagrant and swiftly reclothed by the priest in charge.
Based on these examples I’ve begun to wonder if the aforementioned fashion tastemakers who try to control and influence what we wear are deliberately playing some sort of Situationist prank on humanity for their own amusement, trying to see what ridiculous trends they can get the public to fall for and, with increasing frequency, taking their inspiration from the Simpsons. After all, the amount of influence that Homer and co have had in this area over the years surely can’t just be coincidence.
For every time a designer or stylist explains their reasoning behind why a particular garment is about to make a comeback, claiming they’ve carefully analysed the fashion world in the same way they would a stock market, there’s always a voice at the back of my head that says ‘Nah – they’ve just seen it on the Simpsons’.
Still, if this really is what happens behind the scenes in the fashion world, I believe I’ve come up with a way to catch them out. For, in the classic episode where Homer discovers that if he weights over three hundred pounds he will be classed as disabled and be allowed to work from home, he dutifully sets about putting on the required weight and eventually becomes too big even for his own generously proportioned clothes (and this is from a man who, whilst attending clown college, comments that the comedically oversized pair of trousers he’s given as part of his uniform are ‘the best fitting pair of pants I ever had’).
Fortunately, he discovers the perfect garment: a floral-patterned, loose-fitting poncho-style thing called a muumuu and, despite it looking like a cross between a tent and a dress, the sort of thing that you’d surely never expect anyone to wear unless Ric Waller were to have a sex change, starts wearing it around the house. Now, if I were to suggest that these will one day be worn by young urban trendies you might think I’d gone mad, but bear in mind you’d have said the same thing a couple of years ago if I’d told you that elbow patches and bow ties would shortly become popular. So, if in six months’ time you open your copy of Shortlist magazine to see a double page spread of male models posing in oversized floral ponchos underneath the headline ‘The Muumuu – This Season’s Hottest Style Trend!’ you will know I was right …