Fade to White

The blinding light of haute couture.

IT'S 4:30 IN THE afternoon, in the already-dark intersection at Seventh and Pike—where metropolitan development has entirely blocked out the light of day—and a young man is walking to work dressed entirely in bright white. Not tan or beige or a creamy monochrome: a blinding, brain-throbbing white. Dress shirt and undershirt, pants and belt, socks and sneakers—white, white, white. He looks like some sort of lunar projection, the way this guy seems to conduct light; it's a headache to look at him. He looks like a ghost, like a photographic negative, like an inversion of natural law.

Turns out, this is an inversion: White, apparently, is the new black. Seattle Times columnist Jean Godden reported last month that "the big fashion statement this year—here and elsewhere—is going to be white on white." According to Godden, style writers for a prominent national newspaper had "been in town interviewing local arbiters about the white-on-white fad." So Jean's reporting got a little muddy when she cited as supporting evidence the white tiles she's seen in the bathrooms of new local restaurants and the abundance of whitefish and potatoes in Ballard; she's a nice lady, and now it's starting to seem she's actually hit on something.

Details magazine corroborated her findings recently with the news that designers like Calvin Klein, Comme des Gar篮s, and Gucci are "whitewashing" their spring lines to create a "cleaner, crisper look." And Esquire has followed suit, so to speak, with a style issue featuring a spread devoid of color.

Where do these things get started? Last season it was color, now it's the lack thereof. Does it have to do with Sept. 11, with our postapocalyptic attention turned to doves of peace? Is cocaine fashionable again?

Back in the cloudy here and now, girls are going pasty, too. "White on white is definitely in for girls," says local model and fashion fetishist Molly Ehmer, "but it's got to be in a certain form. The feminine shirts need to be very fitted, and they need some '80s flash. Puffy sleeves, maybe some lace. Unfortunately, with pants, we're going with this whole sailor bell-bottom thing." (Ehmer would like to see a peg-leg-pants-and-stiletto-heels look, but it's just not happening.)

But the guy on the corner of Seventh and Pike, it should be clear, isn't wearing Gucci. He's wearing cotton, and he's not wearing it out of deference to fashion—he's wearing it because he works at the Cheesecake Factory. Not that he minds, armed with the knowledge that, at least for now, he's head and shoulders (and pants and shoes) ahead of the hipsters. But he must know what's coming and be counting the days. How long will he be the height of haute couture? What will his excuse be six months from now—still white as a dollop of whipped cream, pure as the driven, well, you know.


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