Magazine | October 10, 2016, Issue

Crass Couture

Donald Trump will be the first president to use a four-letter word in a press conference. Ten years later, we will look back on his tenure as an era of refinement and elegance because he said “Excuse my French” after he dropped the effenheimer. Trump’s critics on the left will find his candor refreshing, though: At least he’s acting like everyone else. C’mon. Everyone swears. Does the pope swear in the woods if he hits his finger with a hammer? Sure.

Why is the pope in the woods with a hammer?

That’s a stupid effin’ question. It’s a figure of effin’ speech. Ya eff.

Ah, you think: Right, of course. New York values. The celebration of crude, inarticulate people as champions of honesty and refreshing directness. None of that Dreadfully sorry old chap, would you mind if I could squeeze through and get off the elevator? Awfully, deucedly kind of you, my good man Bee-ess. Think what you say, that’s the ticket, and what we’re all thinking these days is Eff to the Power of Ten + You. Right?

Wrong. To people raised in polite societies, the brigade of Truthful Cursers just look like uncultured boors who rely on a vocabulary of six words to express the rich panoply of human effin’ emotion. But at least they wouldn’t use those words in front of their mothers — or so you hope. Even the most unrepentant slopmouth knows there’s a time and a place. You don’t scream obscenities at little children. You don’t curse like a meth-addled sailor with Tourette’s at a nun. There are still a few standards, tattered and thin as they might be at this late date.

Well, has a question for you: “Would You Try Fall’s Most Intentionally Offensive Trend?” In previous eras this might mean a checked blouse with striped pants, or white after Labor Day. But in an era when fashion models walk down the runway wearing $9,000 outfits that consist of trash bags held together with duct tape, ugliness can’t be the offense. No, it’s naughty words. On the shirts! For everyone to see! Isn’t that delightful?

“The latest trend,” says the website, “is for clothes that are loud and proud: Take the Vetements Fall 2016 show, where a model wore a clean and crisp white shirt with You [Effin’] [Excremental Aperture] printed on the front.”

Yes, that’s something you’re supposed to display to strangers as you walk down the street. Quite the inversion of Will Rogers’s remark that a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. We continue:

Vetements isn’t the only label parading its bad attitude. For Fall 2016, Alyx showed a black shirt that read [That Very Bad Word] You in crooked bored-in-class scribble colored in with shocks of highlighter yellow, sky blue, and fire-engine red. . . . Lotta Volkova wears a shirt that is emblazoned with Barbie Is a Slut, while the model Valter Törsleff has been known to don the New York–favorite tourist tee [Bleep] You, You [Bleeping Bleep].

That’s directed at tourists? Apparently a real New Yorker looks at that and thinks, You can’t possibly be talking about me. But if you are, [Bleep] you, you [bleeping bleep].

A cultural face-plant in the mud wouldn’t be complete without someone to describe the pratfall as if it were a ballet maneuver. And so:

A sweater by Lingua Franca that reads Party and [Bee-Ess] . . . best represents the current craze: the dichotomy between the vulgarity of the words and the preciousness of the medium. “It’s a cashmere sweater with a ’90s rap lyric. It’s that duality that makes it interesting,” says [Vogue fashion-news editor Alessandra] Codinha.

Picture an abandoned building in Detroit or the hollowed-out shell of a Lower East Side tenement. Two old men sit around a fire in a trash can, grilling rats.

“You know what I miss about the good times?” one says. “It’s not the food or the ready availability of medical care. It’s the interesting dualities.”

“Roger that, Slim,” says the other. “I remember when a fella had a reasonable expectation he’d see a provocative juxtaposition between the material of a sweater and the sentiment expressed upon it. I’d give anything for those days again.”

No, that probably won’t happen. The only people interested in a duality that superimposes a moronic “lyric” upon a high-end fabric are the people whose job consists of judging photographs of skeletons marching down a catwalk wearing outfits made of chicken bones and bicycle chains.

The next step will be toddlers’ sizes, and the edgy parent will dress his kids in shirts that say “I don’t give a [bleep]! Oh wait I just did.” And it’ll be so New York, so un-bourgeois. The certainty that someone in a less important city — you know, all the other ones out there — would be offended is what makes it so delicious. [Bleep] you, you [bleeping bleep] — that’s the mark of a sophisticated culture.

At some point, as noted, President Trump will slip during a press conference and say he doesn’t give a bleep, or the terrorists have messed with the wrong bleeping people, and there will be a great squee among the clever: The word has been spoken by a president, and thus is finally legitimate. They’ll have to come up with a new one to express their edginess. Something just as blunt and immediately recognizable, something with the same one-syllable punch that can also be conjugated.

I say this to anyone planning a time-travel trip into the future: If you land in New York in 2116 and hear people saying Trump you, you Trumpin’ Trump — well, now you know why.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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