Suddenly, it's hip to be square.
After all the years nerds (otherwise known as geeks) have endured jokes about plastic pocket protectors, thick glasses and floodwater pants, they've gotten the ultimate revenge.These fashion rejects have become fashion icons . . . sooooo cool that designers have coined a name for their no-style style: "geek chic."
The elements of style for membership in dorkdom? For his new Versus line, Gianni Versace picked striped nylon mesh shirts and nonmatching plaid pants as the look of the moment, as well as super-trim, flat-front pants with an oh-my-it's-white belt and short-sleeve, big-collared sweaters with pencil pockets.
This summer Ralph Lauren brought back Hawaiian shirts teamed with loud plaid golf shorts to be worn with midcalf-length socks and sandals and those tacky little webbed belts, while Tommy Hilfiger resurrected the blue-and-white pinstripe seersucker suit (but this time you camp it up with white patent loafers sans socks and a lime green T-shirt). And check out his colorful new golf hats, the geekier alternative to baseball caps.
Calvin Klein, the king of minimalist design, had no trouble getting geeky, either. For both this fall and next spring, he has skinny, shrunken sweaters, ultra-slim suits and brown short-sleeve dress shirts tucked into dumb-but-cool-looking iridescent high-water pants (yep, you can see your socks) with a tab-waist (remember those old Sansabelt pants?).
Their inspiration? You don't need to be a rocket scientist (or have a slide rule) to see the correlation between sitcom reruns and today's fashion. Even more trend-setting are movies based on TV shows, like Paramount's "A Very Brady Sequel," which opens Aug. 23. The second campy film to be based on the "Brady Bunch" sitcom of the '70s, this one will star Tim Matheson as Carol's long-lost, polyester-clad husband.
For Matheson, the movie was a fashionable stroll down memory lane. "First, let me make it clear, I only wore the toga for my role in (1978) `National Lampoon's Animal House.' It's not exactly a flattering garment," laughed Matheson, a buffed boomer who grew up in Sherman Oaks and Burbank, and now lives with his wife and three boomlets in Santa Barbara.
Admitting he was more of a hippie than a prepster, Matheson toyed with a lot of fashion trends in his youth. "Sure, I wore flat-front khakis, but never liked the button-down shirt look, and it took me years to wear a tie. It was a look that was way too straight for me, but now it's so out it's in," the actor observed.
Not only does he like it; he's become a fan, of sorts.
"I like Ralph Lauren's style of clothing because you can wear it preppy or change the pieces around for a hip look. And I think that's the essence of today's Geek Chic, the idea of wearing things your grandfather wore, but updating it," said Matheson.
"Take the seersucker suit that's making a comeback. It looks just like one my grandad has, but with a pink polo shirt it's fun and very Pee-wee Herman. And those Hawaiian shirts they're wearing with loud golf shorts are where geek and neat-o meet up. They make me want to run out and buy a skateboard, or at least take a trip to `Gilligan's Island,' " he added.
Then there's that whole double-knit polyester look. In "A Very Brady Sequel," Matheson said he falls into a pond and the kids give him a fashion makeover, which includes a leisure suit with platform shoes. "I felt like Tom Jones and remember wearing them for about a day when they were popular the first time, but it wasn't me," he said.
Although Matheson has tried on a lot of trends - from surfer to grunge - and admits a current interest in the casually chic designs of Giorgio Armani, Jean Paul Gaultier and Issey Miyake, he thinks peer pressure is what keeps most men from becoming trendies.
According to Matheson, "They're basically scared of making a fashion goof and having a buddy say, `What were you thinking?' Even back in my school days, we looked at preps and said, `How lame-o.'
"But fashion has gotten better and isn't so humorless. As baby boomers are growing up, they're having more fun with fashion, reliving styles of their youth and breaking traditional fashion rules."