Strange as it seems now, there was a time when I was responsible for writing a best- and worst-dressed list. I had no qualifications, I felt uncomfortable doing it, and I admired extravagantly those celebrities who had the gall to flout convention and throw themselves squarely into the “bad” category like early Christian martyrs among lions. I was reminded of this unlikely interlude in my career while looking at the fashions from this weekend’s MTV Europe Music Awards, many extravagantly ludicrous. Visible underwear! Macramé! Polychrome! Monochrome! Bieber! The mind boggled, the soul leaped.
A pilloried celeb is usually defiant, and understandably. There are varying degrees of ingenuousness often correlated to the degree of celebrity involved, but the gist is usually: haters be damned. The best of all sartorial retorts, though, belongs to the celebrated London macaroni and amateur of drama, Mr. Robert “Romeo” Coates, whose early nineteenth-century exploits are chronicled in Edith Sitwell’s peerless English Eccentrics.
Coates rode in a magnificent blue curricle shaped like a scallop shell, with many-hued wheels; the man himself was decked in furs and diamonds. Beneath the furs he wears a “blue surtout coat, handsomely ornamented with frog braid, and a high shirt collar, around which is tied a rich colored bandana handkerchief. His legs are encased in well-wrinkled hessian boots, whose tops are ornamented with large tassels.” Coates also carried a jewel-studded Romeo costume with him all the time, in case someone wanted him to leap up and give them a soliloquy. Or, for that matter, if they didn’t—which is part of why his dandified trappings came in for a certain amount of criticism. Here was his response:
In regard to the innumerable attacks that have been made upon my lineaments and person in the public prints, I have only to observe, that as I was fashioned by the Creator, independent of my will, I cannot be responsible for that result which I could not control. If the gentlemen who amused themselves in this noble way can derive either pleasure or profit from the indulgence of such desires, I regard the liberty of the Press as the keystone of that arch upon which our glorious constitution reposes in security; and I will not lightly question the extent of that liberty because envy, folly, or even a viler passion may stimulate a blockhead to violate the purity of such a privilege.
Oh, exhibitionists. The world would be a duller place without you.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.