Holy Grail: David Bowie’s Parachute Pants

In retrospect, I probably should’ve used my Grail on something else – Camille Rowe’s go-go boots, say, or anything Dior. I even considered Richard Pryor’s purple bomber from the regrettably racist Silver Streak. But I’m fickle; I tire of chiffon and crêpe de Chine, six-inch heels aren’t ideal for walking, and bombers seem like such a potentially tacky fad. Which, ironically enough, leads us to David Bowie’s equally questionable parachute pants from his Isolar II – The 1978 World Tour, or, as Wikipedia describes them, “huge baggy white pants.”

There you have it. My Holy Grail, in a nutshell: “huge baggy white pants.”

I don’t know who designed them. I don’t know what material they’re made of. I’ve never seen them in person. They’re currently part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s wildly successful “David Bowie Is” exhibit, which will be touring Tokyo and Bologna come 2017 (@matheymail: anyone wanna chip in for an Uber to Japan?).

But there’s something about these pants, or at least the way Bowie wore them: belted, with a white T-shirt tucked in and a sailor hat askance on his head. The juxtaposition of prepster, tennis-whites-dandy and minimalist, architectural severity treads that fine line of androgyny for which Bowie was so famous. The curvature of the silhouette, how his already minuscule waistline (rumor has it that it measured a mere 26″ at the time) is dwarfed by the sheer enormity of the garment, evinces a womanliness, and yet the pants’ boxy shapelessness also suggests a certain masculinity.

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There’s also the mythos of white pants. I have a bad relationship with white: it stains, it wilts, it reminds one of death, of drowned lilies, of Emily Dickinson tending to her immortal garden. But mostly, it’s high-maintenance. As an early riser, I usually get dressed in the dark so as not to wake my roommate. I shove my daily rejects back into their drawers, or leave them on the floor. I drink coffee every day, and sometimes the barista at Starbucks fills the cup too high. I trip. I drag my feet. I never know when it’s going to rain.

And yet, here is a pair of white pants that have borne witness to it all: the highs and lows of addiction and depression, the collapse of a marriage, the rollicking lifestyle of a self-righteous rock ‘n’ roller. If they can withstand David Bowie on tour and live to tell the tale, they can certainly last an unkempt university student.

For many fashionable people, a Holy Grail means something specific from their near-encyclopedic knowledge of any number of designer collections. But I’m afraid I’m just not very fashionable. For me, fashion is my dad’s colorblindness. David Byrne on the screen. My old Nancy Drew hardcovers.

I like clothes best when they feel like they’re part of a performance. For me, style is just a part of who I am today – tomorrow, I’ll be someone else. And isn’t that what the mystique of David Bowie was all about?


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