BE A ROCK STAR, or just look like one. Sounds superficial, but one can't deny the power of sartorial panache. Would we feel the same about Elvis if he'd never worn pencil-slim hip-huggers and his shirts unbuttoned? Or John Lennon if he'd opted for nondescript bargain glasses instead of his classic round specs? How about Kurt Cobain without his affected I-don't-give-a-damn cords and tees? Even Puff Daddy sans mink coat (which hides his revolvers, surely) might just look like another scrub. Clothes may not make the entire man, but they're not trivial, either. With that in mind, I set out recently to make over two male friends.
Makeover candidate No. 1: Michaelangelo. Occupation: music critic. Despite his namesake, Michaelangelo doesn't seem to be very visually oriented—at least not when it comes to himself. (He did plenty of visual appreciation while we were shopping, checking out cute, well-dressed women at Westlake Center.) Stuck in the grunge state, he usually shows up to work in wrinkled T-shirts and jeans. He hasn't shaved in weeks, and with bags under his eyes from late-night club-hopping, he sometimes resembles Salman Rushdie in exile. Maybe this is what rockers look like in real life, but that's not what we're going for. We're going for gloss, flair, pre-White Jumpsuit Elvis. When I suggest a makeover, he's putty in my hands: "I'll do whatever you want." Wow, can more men tell me that, please?
I call Michaelangelo on Saturday at 1pm. He is brushing his teeth. "I jus goh up 10 mins ago," he says with a mouthful of toothpaste. I pick him up and we drive around Rainier Valley, where we come upon G.N. Hair Studio (2603 S McClellan, 723-1446). When we enter, I feel like we're on the set of an Oliver Stone film: The place is filled with svelte Vietnamese women with long hair. One of them swiftly takes Michaelangelo under her wing, putting a plastic cape around his neck. She tackles his beard with a buzzer. I tell her that we just want a trim, not a squeaky clean look, and she leaves a perfect two-day stubble on his face. When she starts trimming his hair, it's as if his face is blossoming. For the first time, I notice how nice and intelligent his eyes look. "You look great already," I enthuse. He gives me the typical guy response: He pretends not to care.
Next we head downtown to Barneys New York (1420 Fifth, 622-6300). All the salespeople look like models, more elegant than their clientele, who look a bit frazzled (probably from overspending). There are a couple of tables full of silk ties in every color and pattern you can imagine. A bright pink one catches my eye. It has tiny flowers all over and looks like it could have been used for an empress's kimono. We marvel over the ties and the price—$95 seems to be the average. Then a trim, blonde woman in a black skirt and blazer asks us if we need help. Michaelangelo tells her that we're on an assignment, but that due to our limited budget, we can only try on the clothing and take pictures. He smiles, but the woman is not amused. She tells us that photographs are not allowed in the store, that we need approval from the company's headquarters in New York. We're practically being escorted out the door. Outside in the drizzle, I feel like Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley, so close and yet worlds apart from the glamorous circle of Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Lesson: Never go to an exclusive boutique and tell the clerks you have no money, duh. Self-effacing humor will not win them over.)
We head to the Bon March頨Third and Pine, 506-6521), where the clerks are less attentive. There we find some snazzy jackets by DKNY. I pick out a dark blue mid-length coat, but when Michaelangelo tries it on, it looks like a lab coat. I stifle my laughter as I pick up another DKNY jacket in a more traditional length ($495), which comes with a pair of wool dress pants, plus a white rayon-cotton weave shirt by Perry Ellis ($62). I wait for him outside the dressing room as he tries on the outfit. When he opens the door, he looks great. He's dressed up, but with his shadow of a beard as well as his own horn-rimmed eyeglasses, he manages to avoid looking square. In other words, he looks like himself, except that he no longer looks underpaid. I snap a few pictures of him inside the dressing room, and quickly pack up the camera as a clerk passes by the slatted door.
Makeover candidate No. 2: Albert. Occupation: software development manager. Albert dresses mostly in Calvin Klein, Gap, and Polo. Nice, but a bit too label-dependent and could use some experimentation with eclectic thrift-store finds. The goal here is to dress him down a bit to dress him up. We also don't want him to look like he works for Bill Gates.
I feel like an expert at this already. Albert's makeover should be a breeze, and it is. We go to Buffalo Exchange on Capitol Hill (216 Broadway E, 860-4133), where not only photographs are allowed, but we have the option to borrow the clothes for further use. Quickly, I pick out things uncharacteristic of Albert (who was named after Einstein)—a two-toned nylon jacket by Diesel ($18); a slim T-shirt ($6) from the women's department (a bit of gender-bending is always sexy); marine blue John Fluevog shoes ($38); green and white suede Puma sneakers ($22). Albert says that he's surprised that everything looks "normal" here. What was he expecting? He tries on the outfit, first with the Fluevogs, which are too big for him, then with the Pumas, which are perfect. I fold the T-shirt under to show off his abs. He says that he wouldn't go outside looking like this, but admits that the tight tee makes his biceps look bigger. I tell him he looks hot and unruly, like Beck. All right, so he really looks more like one of the Backstreet Boys, but hey, it's a start.
Soyon Im is a staff writer at Seattle Weekly.