Thursday, January 29, 2009

I read, therefore I am … part two

Woman 1/29/09

Having finally gotten the chance to watch Slumdog Millionaire recently, this woman struck me as having a great resemblance to Freida Pinto, the lovely actress who played the female lead in the movie. Perhaps resemblance is a misnomer. She looked like she could have been the older (albeit still youthful) sister to Ms. Pinto.

The face is familiar to many by now. Her hair was just as long, dark and wavy – reinforcing the perception that she shared DNA with the actress.

It was actually her shoes that caught my attention. A friend had pointed out to me her own “Uggs-not-Uggs”, and this woman had on shoes that could be described as such. It had similar tan color, approximate height, and light fur running up the sides of the boots. It was not quite as rounded in the front, and missing the Uggs label on the heel. As always tucked into the boots were a pair of jeans – these were your basic blue denim, though not skin-hugging skinny.

On her head was this mesh back Adidas baseball hat – perhaps it could be described as ‘trucker-not-trucker”. It was a very faded blue with the added patina of yellow. Like it was a tooth that just hadn’t been brushed. But the hat wasn’t frayed or showed signs of wear – just a peculiar color of supposed neglect.

Her winter coat was another double-take. At first glance, it was a simple black and white double-breasted wool number with black hood trimmed in black fur. The pattern of the weave looked like it was a modern herringbone weave of some sort. A closer look revealed that it was a plaid pattern of some sort, or at least a geometric pattern that from afar looked like a herringbone weave. Herringbone-not-herringbone.

For extra warmth, there was a thick chunky turtleneck sweater. Black, with the sleeves sticking out from underneath the sleeves of the winter coat.

Early in her ride, she pulled out a yellow magazine-sized deck that turned out to the Spring course catalog for The New School. Right there, the rush to judge pegged her as a young, hip, college student. Cool, seemingly label-less clothing, everything that was trendy but just a little less so – breaking her from the standard.

Just then, the catalog was put away, and she pulled her Blackberry from her bag. It was a large handbag- the size of a tote. There were this large pocket on the front panel, and each end of the bag had large pockets as well that utilized drawstring clasps. It was pale pink, and the sheen suggested nylon not leather. It looked quite interesting, and if assuming she was your typical NYC college girl; that bag could have been an Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie offering. As she put her Blackberry back into the handbag, the zipper pull of the main compartment flashed the brand; Stella McCartney.

The book she proceeded to flip through from end to end only added to my obvious premature and misguided judgment. It was credited to the Deen Bros. Titled Y’all Come Eat. She was flipping through this cookbook, written by the sons of Southern cooking maven, Paula Deen. This would have been the last thing one could expect her to read.

Looks like Freida Pinto. Dresses like she shops at Urban Outfitters. Carries a $1500 handbag. Interested in Southern cooking. Somewhere out there is a man or woman that worships the ground she walks on. May they find each other soon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I read, therefore I am…

Woman 1/22/09

Forget the fashion for a second. Another window into the personality of a subway rider is the material they are reading. Pair that with their outfit and you have a very good idea of who they are, or are trying to be.

She was reading My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black. It’s a comedy book, and written by a man who while a cast member of The State, was never on The Kids in the Hall. I admit I’ve made that mistake.

What kind of a woman reads that book? The kind that carries a tote bag that had cartoon illustrations of whimsical food items. There were muffins, pink glazed donuts, broccoli, lemons, and coffee mugs. The best ones were actually hearts with the letters BFF or bfo in the middle, like those candy Valentine’s hearts grade schoolers give each other. The canvas tote had red accents and straps with silver grommets fastening them to the bag. Curiously, the lining was exactly the same print. Reversible tote perhaps?

On her head was a big red knit hat. Worn almost like a beret – off her forehead. That hat matched the red hoodie she had on. Her winter coat was black wool with small white dot pattern. And her gloves were black cotton. The scarf was a plain white ribbed wool number. Her age really started to show with her grey faded skinny jeans and her black worn Chuck Taylors. I couldn’t figure out why she only had on ankle socks on such a cold day though.

Her shoulder length hair was dark brown. No bangs. At first glance, her face looked clean. But a second look revealed very subtle eye shadow – her own light version of the smoky eyes look perhaps? She pulled out a tube of Burt’s Bees lip balm and did a light application in the middle of her ride.

It struck me that if she was reading a different book, or none at all, she would have given off a Parisian or sophisticated French girl kind of vibe. Heck, she could have been reading Twilight, or even Harry Potter. Why did it have to be Michael Ian Black?

Or maybe that was exactly the glance into her personality we needed?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fiddler on the Subway

Man 1/19/09

There are just times when you see someone on the train, and you try to piece together the reality of that person’s life. As a good friend of mine previously declared, “I’d like to live his life for just one day”.

He had a walker. Well, apparently it’s official name is Rollator – his was made by Drive. This was a midnight blue frame with black handles and wheels. The crossbar in the middle acted as back support, positioned just above the black vinyl seat that was also a cover to a cloth rectangular storage box. The loop-shaped brake handles locked all four wheels when pushed down.

In violation of the Prime Directive, I actually helped the old man by holding the subway door and pulling the walker into the train. He moved painfully slow even with the Rollator. And it couldn’t have been easy for him to get in and out of the stations, given his difficulty with the train.

The old-timer was probably almost 6 feet tall when not hunched over the walker. With white hair and well-developed beard that was more Fiddler on the Roof than Santa Claus. A prominent nose, spot-speckled face and bags under the eyes. His tweed cap kept most of his hair in place, but he had so much that the hair seemed to be sprouting from every which skin cell. Tevye, very Tevye.

The camel hair winter coat was the typical three button single-breasted number. But not much protection given that he only had a faded white shirt underneath. It was snowing that night, and his shirt was wet, maybe from the snow, so the fabric clung to his pink flesh. Given his more than 250 pounds of weight, that coat might have been warmth enough. Brown corduroys and maroon pleather orthopedic shoes completed the look.

There was this lanyard around his neck. It held two keys, a cheap plastic key ring ID tag and curiously a spiral green rubber wristlet meant for keychains. Basically, a keychain attached to a lanyard with two keys. And in his left shirt pocket, you could just make out the outline of a small cellphone.

Sometime into the ride, he asked a young girl sitting diagonally across the train from him if her handheld was a cellphone or a game? He didn’t recognize the Blackberry.

I spent the rest of the ride wondering if he was alone and why he would be out at this time of night on the subway, given his limited mobility. It was sad that he should be here alone.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Irrelevant Observation

Some of my pet peeves in watching subway riders:

Wearing two hoodies at one time – does that make you doubly cool? Surely your closet has another piece of warm clothing.

Putting on your make-up during the morning rush hour – couldn’t you be beautiful before you left home?

Women wearing shorts in winter – that goes for men too. We are not in Japan!

Tattoos on your head – well, its either fear, respect or I’m having that dream where I am sitting in a chair at Last Rites…

Loafers in winter – how do you walk in the snow wearing those things?

Fur coat, fur hat, just lots of fur – you should pawn that freaking fur, and take a cab or buy a car because your regal self is clearly above mass transit.

Leaving your paper for the next rider – unless it’s the NYT or WSJ, take the paper and put it in the trash. Those papers you leave cost 25 cents or are free. Besides the MTA recycles all trash, so no environmental guilt there.

Old Chinese folks wearing NorthFace winter jackets – yes they may be fake, but I’m putting my NorthFace stuff away. And selling my stock in VF Corp.

Panhandlers who never change their tune – There is a small man with a guitar and speaker in his backpack. “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Learn a new freaking tune!!! Ten years and two songs.

Anyone who smells bad – please. Shower, deodorant , cologne and clean clothes. Step 3 is optional. If you know how to ride the subway, you know how to follow this easy 4 Step program! Yes, the rules apply to panhandlers too.

Wearing your sunglasses in the train – I’ve tried that. And I’m not cool.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter in Hipster

Man 1/14/09

What’s so great about enduring American brands like Woolrich, Filson, and Carhartt is that some of their stuff is just iconic. One look and you know where that item came from. And with that, you know what the wearer is trying to say.

So, say you happen upon a 5’10” slightly built man in elf-green skinny jeans wearing what is obviously a Woolrich Stag Jacket; in that distinctive red and black Woolrich plaid, which also incidentally doubles as their logo. What is that guy trying to say?

Maybe he is just trying too hard. Red and Black plaid Woolrich wool jacket and elf-green skinny jeans- you just can’t make this stuff up.

On his feet were Nike Dunks. The SB lockup on the logo stood for Skateboard. These white Nike Dunks with purple laces, and purple trim. He wasn’t carrying a skateboard but rather a Timbuk2 messenger bag – his bag had the trademark tri-panel front done in green, yellow and red.

He also had on a scarf which looked like it was cloth just cut or torn from a bolt of fabric. The edges were clearly frayed and unfinished, and the fabric itself was too thin to be an actual scarf. Plus, it looked like he had about 3 layers of that wrapped around his neck. It might have been a small Prince of Wales check. And for extra warmth, he was also wearing a light green fleece with a white zipper.

On his head was a wool knit hunting cap, pulled low, covering most of his head. But one could still make out the black shaggy hair peeking out. His face was a Vincent Gallo redux; gaunt, sunken-in, and unkempt facial hair that’s not quite full and just a week past wispy. Actually, he only had the mustache and sporadic facial hair. Again, very Vincent Gallo.

I often wonder why people don’t dress true to themselves. Be authentic and the style will take care of itself. Then I realized my mistake. He was true to himself. He was a poseur. And with that, I felt very sorry for the girl he was making out with at the platform.

And in case you were wondering. She was dressed like she had an actual job in a real work environment. Quite the opposite of him.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Woman 1/14/09

As I learned from Batman, an enigma is “something that is not what it seems”. And this woman was definitely that, if you actually took the time to look carefully.

She was tall; well taller at 5’11” than me anyway. The height was compounded by the hair. It was a massive coil of dreadlocks. Not fat Rastafarian locks, but smaller though by no means less impressive dreads. And the colors. Her hair was grey and she had decorated her locks with additional strands made out of pink, blue or turquoise string. And her long locks were held by elastic maroon and green hairbands. Just the hair alone made her worth mentioning.

Based on the hair alone, your stereotypes would now start applying themselves to her liberally. But as they say in the movies, “this is where it gets interesting”.

The first inking was the Incase backpack. Black, non-descript and supremely square and functional. Then there were the boots. Not Doc Martens or army boots. They were black, and it looked like synthetic material. Very sleek and futuristic looking flats, with three large Velcro straps, no laces, and reaching to her mid-calf. The top of them was a lycra sleeve that hugged her calves. There was a subtle mark on the outside of the boot, but I couldn’t make out the brand. It wasn’t Chanel, but it certainly looked like Karl Lagerfeld could have designed it for them. I’d say those were boots that belonged on a fashionista.

The rest of her? A Northface winter jacket – actually the Nebula in black. Northface's bomber style winter jacket that has a hood trimmed in faux fur. It was the ribbed cuffs and hem that made the confirmation easy. And tucked into those boots were a pair of khaki colored utility pants. From my distance, I’d guess that the red tag label off the side thigh pocket was for Roxy or similar sport lifestyle brand.

On her ears were a pair of the Band & Olufsen earphones. Same pair I have. Still the most expensive pair of earphones I own.

And by the way, she had no piercings, earrings, or visible tattoos. Her face was clean and free of makeup.

So, you tell me. Is she the free spirit that her hair suggests? Or the label-loving fashionable woman that has about $1000 worth of clothes and accessories on her?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Man 1/14/09

What’s really rare in sartorial style is the person who dresses with a point-of-view. No, not those who dress as they want the world to see them, but those who dress as how they see the world. For most folks, there is no difference since they dress for work, comfort or indifference – my hillbilly friends mostly fall into those categories. That’s not to say they don’t want to look good. It’s just that there is no point-of-view to their sense of style.

This guy dressed like he saw the world through a very different lens. At first glance, the ordinary commuter would probably proclaim him a fashionista, but he was really more than that.

That gigantic fur winter hat which apparently is commonly known as a Russian Trooper hat. The Elmer Fudd version is slightly smaller and less verbose. Remember this guy has a point-of-view after all. And the hat was so large, it obscured most of his face from view.

He had on black corduroys cut like skinny jeans, which really made his black leather shoes stand out. These were pointed-toe black lace-ups but the leather was perforated – square holes. Making it look like he was wearing a Henley leather shoe. Very Euro.

It was maybe 20 degrees yesterday but like George Constanza, that hat must have been warm. He had on this biker’s leather jacket, though upon closer inspection you knew it wasn’t your typical Schott biker number. It was a designer number – shrunken fit, zips in the right places but small useless pockets that suggested form over function. And the leather was a natural supple versus the stiff leather that real bike jackets have when they look that new.

Underneath, he had on a black hoodie, and since both jacket and hoodie were unzipped, you could make out the black skinny tie over the black and white striped shirt with contrast collar that he was wearing. His other forms of winter protection – a muted multi-color knit scarf that hung lazily around his neck, and charcoal grey fingerless wool gloves.

Other than the hat, I’d say the other reason that made him stand apart from typical fashionistas was his bag. It was this medium sized old brown leather number that reminded one of the long gone Pan-Am days when a travel bag was essential. The small skinny shoulder strap and that dark mustard color leather. Best of all, it wasn’t a Puma or Le Coq Sportif retro bag. It was the real deal.

The man dressed like he had a point-of-view.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happy Birthday

Woman 1/13/09

She was seated with her back against the subway map; her eyes closed and a pair of cheap black headphones over her ears. Her short black hair was parted to the right, starting just slightly left of center. Really chic cut, and probably long enough to cover her eyes and ears if she really wanted.

It was this colorful paper bag that caught my eye. It was one of those glossy paper shopping bags – medium sized. It was this multi-color number that had just as many stripes as it did polka dots. The words Happy Birthday were printed sideways- vertically up the height of the bag with the stripes as a background panel. And there was this pinwheel in the middle of the bag, sitting on top of all those polka dots. It just had the word Happy, printed in a circular pattern like the rings of a ripple effect.

I was wondering what made someone carry such a conspicuous bag when I caught a glimpse of a small tag on the handle. In what may have been her own handwriting were the words, “To Jackson. Happy Birthday. ” So, the bag was the wrapping to a gift.

That gift itself remained hidden from view. There was a small clear plastic tab sticking out above what was a black box. Not enough to tell. Was the gift for an adult or a child? Hard to tell with that bag.

The rest of her was pretty basic. A cream winter wool coat – possibly J. Crew or Banana Republic. A nice thin gold colored scarf around her neck. Blue pinstriped work pants over a pair of black Ugg boots. Her handbag was from Louis Vuitton; in that black and brown checkerboard print done in their usual pleather.

She left the train at a major residential stop in Brooklyn. There are no other trains there to connect to, and given the way she was dressed, it came as a surprise when she exited. I wonder where she worked. After all, pin striped pants over black Uggs was a unique combination.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Irrelevant Observation

Winter Trend 1/13/09

Not too long ago, I spent a week in Tokyo during the first week of the calendar year. Unbeknownst to me then, that very week is when the Japanese do two things: going to temple and shopping. The temple bit was interesting because they were not following a Lunar or other any religious calendar. The shopping bit was actually downright scary because nothing was technically open except for retail stores and the entire population of Japan took their shopping time seriously. Imagine the entire population of your city crowding into all the retail stores at the same time, and you start to get the idea. Now multiply that by ten, from the folks visiting who want to shop too. That’s Tokyo during that week.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, now that we have established that I probably viewed a larger portion of the Japanese population in that week than normal, I can go ahead and make the generalizations based on that limited exposure.

I never noticed fashion trends on that scale before and in Tokyo, it quickly became obvious that Japanese women in winter like their boots. Short, tall, flat, high heels, leather or otherwise. Japanese women love their boots in winter. And to fully show off their boots, they take to wearing short skirts or winter shorts. Mind you, the skirts and shorts are usually wool, and designed for warmth, but still not what comes to mind when one thinks of winter wear. Every other woman in Tokyo was wearing boots. Old, young, chic, plain, fashionistas, mountain witches, grandmothers or granddaughters.

In NYC, this winter has revealed another similar ubiquitous trend. Uggs. Yes, Ugg winter boots. Classic tan, new black, or edgy fabric ones. Worn with jeans or tights tucked into them. Sported by White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, locals, tourists or otherwise. The stylish, the plain, the ugly, tall, thin, short, fat, the young, the youthful, the old, and old-yet-young-at-heart. Uggs are everywhere, and they cannot be stopped. One brand. One shoe. Many variations and admirers.

Next time you are on the subway or just roaming the streets of NYC. Take a look around you and keep count of how many Uggs you see on the feet of women. As am I writing this now in Starbucks, there is at least one woman wearing them.

Walk the stores, and you’ll see them everywhere as well. Heck, Wal-Mart and Target are even selling Ugg knock-offs, and I guarantee you there are thousands of those that have been sold as well. This is not an urban phenomenon. It really is everywhere.

Guess we’re not immune from these kind of sweeping trends either.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Woman 1/12/09

She looked like a young Carol Kane. The Carol Kane of Annie Hall days, still with youth and naiveté. I wonder if she knew? She had the same Russo-euro aristocratic features. This angelic porcelain white face with almond eyes and a small delicate nose. My guess is that she was in her late teens or very early twenties.

Her hair was definitely Carol Kane. All light brown curls – this gigantic mop on a small figure. Her’s was pulled up into a bun today, but there were still curls and plenty of fizzy strays struggling to get free.

What really cemented the Carol Kane association in my mind was her sense of style. Or should I say her dress sense. It was below 30 degrees today, and the woman is wearing a short above-the-knee skirt. Granted it was a cotton knit skirt, but then again, it was also Astro Turf green. She was wearing tights to ward off the cold. White tights, and these thermal socks pulled just to the bottom of her calves. And Asics running shoes. Her main defense against the cold was her winter coat. This was either used – Goodwill not vintage, or stolen from some Grandmother’s closet. It was a pea coat style winter coat, that was a faded light plum (almost sandy); double breasted with a fur collar. It was also about two sizes too big for her, which made it hang like a sack on her shoulders. Coupled with her white tights and small head, it could have swallowed her whole.

You could see the deep blue knit sweater peeping from her coat sleeves, and it nearly matched the big blue knit scarf wrapped around her neck. Clearly, she had a thing for knits – or did she really just raid some old woman’s closet? At least the Asics shoes were her very own.

There was very little else in terms of dress about her. No finishing accessories, maybe some light eye shadow and lip gloss.

She brought out her book for the trip. It was An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. Her hands were so small with fairly short well-kept nails, though not obviously manicured.

She had a small tote with her. A blue canvas accented with black straps and a black bottom panel. There was this Obama button that I had never seen before; just the word Obama in caps, reversed white on a black background. The tote itself read: Everyman’s Library Celebrates 100 Years.

The time came for her to exit the train. She put on her tiny black leather gloves and slowly made her way off the train and towards the exit on the platform. She was walking with a slight limp, favoring her right side.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blue Collar

Men 12/29

You know you are a blue collar worker in the NYC subway when…

You and Your Buddy:
- Have to sit across from each other; never side-by-side, in fact, you best not be on the same side of the car unless you can help it.
- Talk loudly making sure everyone hears your conversation.
- Don’t make eye contact with your buddy unless you are talking to him directly, and even then, not really.
- Have to spread your legs as wide open as possible so as to let your manhood have its own zip code worth of space.

Your Attire is up to Code:
- Timberlands – tan, lace-up work boots; caked with dust or mud.
- Hooded sweatshirt. One is mandatory, two if it’s cold outside. No bold prints or patterns though.
- A nylon bomber is permitted if the weather is below freezing, but only if paired with the hooded sweatshirt.
- In place of the bomber, any Carhartt jacket will do.
- Jeans. Dirty, lightly faded and preferably loose fit, though regular is preferred.
- Baseball cap or plain beanie optional.
- Facial hair in some form; goatee, five O’clock shadow or mustache.
- A flannel shirt. Or, for the one who are not managerial material, a long sleeve Henley.

Your Conversation consists of:
- Your wife and how she nags at you
- Another buddy’s new truck
- Beer
- Naps
- The Jets or the Giants
- The Yankees or the Mets
- No mention of basketball whatsoever, because basketball is not blue-collar enough for you.

It’s cliché, but from what I’ve seen, this is describes these guys to a tee.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pink Baroness

Woman 12/23/08

Well, she had on this winter hat. First, the style: rather like a World War 1 aviator helmet. The Pink Baroness but more like a cross between a real flying ace and Hello Kitty.

The hat was a white wool crocheted hat that covered her head exactly like that aviator helmet would. You could only see her face. No hair, no chin. The white wool hat was rimmed in pink and there were a few pink wool tuffs on the hat. Like random pimples on a white bald head. And there were these two pink flower petal shaped cut-outs attached near the front, though again, not in any sort of discernable pattern. It looked self made; in fact, I hope it was.

The pink rim of the hat really made a contrasting frame to her porcelain white face. She had brown eyes and slight freckles. Her hair was hidden under the hat, and the chin and neck were also hidden from view.

Of course, one would never expect someone wearing this hat to only feature this whimsical piece in their outfit. She also had these eye-catching Wellingtons on. They were accented in pink. The top was had a pink rim, and the bottom of the shoe had a band of pink going around. The shoes were dark navy blue with small white polka dots.

The thing is, her look really worked for her. The basic blue jeans were slightly faded and tucked into those Wellingtons. She had a great winter coat that was a dark navy blue wool. It almost had a poncho-like fit, and the fur collar was folded over creating this wide lapel. There were only 3 large buttons on the front, and no other pockets, features or accents. To my un-trained eye, I’d say it was either vintage or Marc Jacobs.

Curiously, she wasn’t carrying a handbag. It was a messenger bag, again, dark navy blue. It was made of cloth, with some gold hardware and lots of zippers and compartments on the front. But quite a feminine looking messenger bag. Reminded me of the bags produced by Porter.

She was reading Half Moon Street by Anne Perry. Does that tell you anything?