The dinner was called for 8 p.m. The hosts were casually dressed, as was the help. One guest, a young man, who didn’t know the hosts, arrived in what could only be described as hot pants. He sat down and put his BlackBerry on the well-set dinner table as if he were at a Starbucks. Then he checked messages and texted throughout dinner.
The hostess looked chagrined. Was this man nervy or simply clueless?
It’s a question that comes up often in these socially rudderless times. Of course, we can always blame everything on celebrities, who set standards based on ego, not etiquette. At the last U.S. Open, where some players might as well have been in a strip show in Vegas, Venus Williams, in a black corset, seemed to be in competition with Britney Spears as she ran around exposing flesh-colored panties that made her look like she was mooning us. Does it occur to Lady Gaga that while wearing a meat dress is fine for an awards show, baring her crotch at her sister’s high school (along with a beekeepers’ veiled hat to cover her face) is not?
Then there’s Marc Jacobs in ads for his new men’s cologne. He’s nude, legs splayed open with oily, tattooed and buffed body on full display but for his privates, covered with a bottle of Bang, a peppery, woody fragrance. He decided it was more appropriate than posing in a shirt. “I thought, O.K., I feel comfortable,” Jacobs has said.
Which is fine for him. But what about the rest of us? It’s one thing when it’s a model you don’t recognize in an underwear ad. But when it’s a highly regarded designer whose collections are known for creativity, not sensuality, isn’t it just overshare?
“But he’s so talented and he works so hard,” one magazine editor told me in his defense at a recent fashionista baby shower, where men in diapers served Champagne. “He should be able to do whatever he wants.” Well, yes, because it is a free country, and the spiritual home of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” But most people I know are scratching their heads at Mr. Jacobs in the buff, and then they’re looking the other way.
“I liked him better when he was a nerd,” one public-relations executive told me.
“Who wants to see it?” a designer of women’s wear added.
Not Miuccia Prada, who calls the tendency to show too much flesh “the desperation of the sexy.” In the case of Marc Jacobs, I would call it a midlife crisis.
As for that young man in the teensy-weensy shorts at a seated dinner party, I would say he needs to learn when hot pants are simply not pants. The difference has to do with the occasion. A fashion director who showed up for afternoon cocktails at my weekend place in teeny shorts and heels that made her look like a pinup girl definitely had nerve, but was within the parameters of acceptable. It was still daytime, after all, and we were outside in the warmth of a summer’s day. At his recent runway show, Ralph Lauren showed tiny suede shorts that would take nerve (and money) to wear, too.
But not to a seated dinner. Even in a graceless society, that’s my rule. Like too much cologne at the table, clothes that are too provocative deflect from the point of the meal, which is communion, conversation and tender meat on a plate, not on a chair.
“Can you believe he wore hot pants to our dinner?” one host asked later.
Yes, I can. And I’m also relieved that summer is now officially over.
It’s getting chilly out, folks. Let’s get dressed.