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BUFFALO FASHION 101
OUR ADVICE COLUMNIST SIZES UP THE QUEEN CITY'S STYLE SURROUNDINGS

Q.There's an old saying that goes, "clothes make the man." Is this true? Should it be true? And if the saying were applied to regions, what would it say about Western New York?

A.Whoa. Wait just a minute now. That's THREE questions, not one. What do you think this is, AFS's early bird, one-day-only, door buster, buy-one-get-two-free with double coupon sale? Sort of like the one at which you bought that tacky outfit that no one else would buy at full-price? Honey, have you never heard the old saying that goes, "You get what you pay for"?

AFS's question was rhetorical. Of course you do not know HER saying, because you live in Western New York, and 'round these parts, value is measured not by a special formula of attractiveness, quality of materials and manufacture, uniqueness, serviceability or practicality, but in how many coupons the register spews out after you swipe that discount tag on your key ring through the universal swiping thingy. In other words, you want to get what you DON'T pay for.

What AFS is taking the scenic route to say here is that, yes, clothes make the man, and the woman, too. And, yes, within reason, they should. And what does that say about Western New York? Oy.

Americans -- with our haughty edge of rugged individuality honed during a couple of decades of let-it-all-hang-out, do-your-own-thing, question-authority, balk-at-1980s designer-labels and never-pay-retail, fool -- have really taken the whole concept of dressing as a way of presenting ourselves to the world and dragged it backwards and inside out through a rusty barbed-wire fence.

AFS does not want anyone thinking they need to take the aforementioned saying to heart verbatim. Of course material things don't make the man -- of course the intrinsic value of a human is measured by what's on the inside, not the outside. But doesn't it sort of seem that some people are so worried about being measured by what they obviously think is an ugly inside, that they go out of their way to ugly up every single aspect of the outside?

AFS contends -- and this is from personal experience, so hold your stinking letters -- that for every person covering up insecurities with outrageously expensive au courant clothing, there are three more doing the same thing -- albeit not so handsomely -- with clothes that they found at hobo jumble sales down at the rail yard.

Lots of people don't want to be judged by their clothes, so they respond by looking as ugly as humanly possible. OK. Hmm. AFS must have forgotten to take her post-modern-irony-in-the-form-of-meaningless-nonsense pill today, because she is just not getting the point here.

Ideally -- and we all know this doesn't happen, which is why were are all just a bit sympathetic with that girl with the pierced scalp wearing some rumpled long johns from her grandfather's chifferobe -- we don't judge people by their clothes; but their clothes give us signs about who those people are; about how they feel about themselves. And so, AFS wonders, what does that pilled acrylic sweater from 1984 say about how you feel about yourself? If you think we are getting that you are 20 years younger than you actually are, you are WRONG.

We in Western New York have a bad case of wearing our lack of regional self-esteem on our dropped-shouldered, man-made-fiber sleeves. This makes AFS sad, and if AFS ain't happy, ain't no one happy.

AFS thinks one of the answers to the question "Why Not Buffalo?" is "because we dress like cow-town rubes." We could have a rhinestoned, sequined fluorescent green county budget, a school system that attracts students from all over the globe, caravans of armored cars hauling greenbacks from Albany, low low low taxes for businesses, and year 'round 60 degree temps, but as long as we are still wearing our Super Bowl XXV sweat shirts out to dinner, Buffalo is not coming back. It just isn't.

Too harsh, you say? Perhaps. Why, even AFS has bad days, when she doesn't acknowledge co-workers in the hopes that she will be invisible to them and they therefore will not notice she is wearing these darn black pants again. But even on those days she knows she isn't fooling anyone. Just like you know you aren't fooling anyone into thinking you DIDN'T pick up your outfit today off the bathroom floor.

So many of our self-ascribed campy, kitschy, quirky style high notes send out a far different message to outsiders than we think they do. Think about it. Fluffy mall bangs. Stirrup pants and leggings. Our Dingo boots from college. Sweat suits with the word "sassy" emblazoned across the butt. What in the world do we think we are telling the world by wearing these things?

Now, obviously, Western New York's economy is not booming, and there are too many pink slips around (not the kind you can wear) and there are many things more important than buying a new wardrobe right this minute for many of us.

On the other hand, a closet -- free of all those clothes you wore while watching "Dynasty," a little spit and polish, a trip through the fashion Delta Sonic that is "What Not to Wear," and maybe something new to wear if you have the extra scratch ... ? Then maybe people will say "Why not Buffalo? They're talking proud."

Ask FIRST SUNDAY keeps resisting the temptation to do a greatest hits column until she exhausts her fresh material. Write to her at: Ask FIRST SUNDAY, c/o The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240. Her e-mail is magazine@buffnews.com.

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