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WE LOVE THE ’90s

How long do fashion trends take to resurface? Some say about 20 years (think of how cool ’70s bell-bottoms were in the ’90s). Others are more specific: “When you’re too old to wear them again.” The ’90s have been inching back sartorially, with grungy flannel, jelly sandals, and overalls reliving their heyday on shelves at Topshop and Urban Outfitters.Champagne Supernovas, Maureen Callahan’s history of fashion in the years after AIDS and before 9/11, circles around three figures — Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander McQueen — who glamorized the freaks-and-losers aesthetic and changed the then-hyperspecialized field into a free-for-all art platform. Callahan, the veteran style and pop culture journalis turned author, leads a panel discussion about this fraught, game-changing decade and its residual effects, which influence us today in ways far deeper than jelly sandals.

Tue., Sept. 2, 7 p.m., 2014

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Lorde

Lorde knew exactly what she was doing when she named her debut album “Pure Heroine,” the sort of pun that conflates Katniss Everdeen (the movie version) at her most plucky with Kate Moss at her most chic and maybe Courtney Love at her most shameless. The precocious Kiwi chanteuse has cultivated her image to simultaneously exhibit the three stages of White Girl Disaffection: warm-hearted rebellion, open-eyed ennui, and cloying attention seeking. That she backs this up with excellent lyrics, vocals, and productions that owe more to trap music than they do to teen-pop, alternative, or Celebrity Skin glam is a rousing example that postmodernity, despite its supposed rejection of Grand Narratives for fragmented cultural cliffhangers, still has some really amazing stories to tell. Lorde is definitely savvier than her years.

Mon., March 10, 7 p.m.; Tue., March 11, 7 p.m.; Wed., March 12, 7 p.m., 2014

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Evan Dando

Long considered a casualty of the ’90s, Lemonheads front man Evan Dando was famous for his long locks, addiction to crack cocaine, and dalliances with Winona Ryder and Kate Moss (though we all wish he would’ve married Juliana Hatfield). Such celebrity unfortunately mars the work: tremendously adroit slacker ballads about drug-cest (“My Drug Buddy”), death (“It’s a Shame About Ray”), and young love (“Allison’s Starting To Happen”), not to mention a laconic cover of “Mrs. Robinson” that puts Benjamin Braddock’s adoration to shame. In 2003 came the comeback, partially due to nostalgia, partially in desire for Dando’s particular brand of heartfelt self-hatred (see: Baby I’m Bored‘s Tom Petty-esque “Why Do You Do This Yourself?”) With the Candles.

Fri., Jan. 29, 10 p.m., 2010

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AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MUSE

There are a slew of reality shows attempting to crown the next great supermodel, whose title was once held by the likes of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Linda Evangelista. But what these shows are really doing is churning out cloned beauties with zero charisma. So, what better time to relive the past than with The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion, which captures the essence of fashion models from the last half of the 20th century while delving into fashion photography, clothing, and the ways that the best models defined and inspired their respective generations—from the ’60s boho beauty of Veruschka to the ’90s skin-and-bones heroin chic of Kate Moss. Presented by Marc Jacobs and the Costume Institute, the exhibition features about 70 masterworks of haute couture and ready-to-wear through video footage, photography, and advertising

May 6-Aug. 9, 2009

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A Stroll Through Fashion Week Shindigs

Many years ago, before the cutest among you were born, I coveted a dress at Bergdorf Goodman by Isabel Toledo. As I recall, it cost $88, but at the time, like Rose in Gypsy, I didn’t have 88 cents. So I did what any other American would do: I opened a Bergdorf’s credit card. Since the price of the dress far exceeded my weekly income, I soon defaulted, a situation brought painfully home to me when I had my hair cut at BG (hey, why not?) and, attempting to pay, was summoned to the store’s credit department, where they scissored the card right before my eyes.

This ancient history comes to mind as I slither into my gold chair, credit long restored, at the Rainbow Room luncheon sponsored by FIT’s Couture Council honoring Toledo, the first of what seems like hundreds of Fashion Week parties. I have a wonderful time at this event—Joey Arias, a friend of Toledo’s from Fiorucci days, channels Billie Holiday in half-drag! Reuben Toledo designs place mats you can take home!—even though I am as hot as a boiled lobster because, like a fifth grader on the first day of school, I insist on wearing my new Roland Mouret coat, bought at 75 percent off expressly for this occasion.

After staring at Manhattan laid out in all its pristine splendor 65 stores below, I turn to greet Dr. Lisa Aerin, a dermatologist and couture client who is just the kind of Richie Rich I always hated until I actually met such a person. I adore Dr. Lisa, especially when she tells me that her Berry gets daily e-mail alerts telling her how the dollar is doing against the euro. (Even couture clients, it turns out, are watching their wallets.) And good news: Our economy is not the only one that’s sinking! Europe is tanking too, and the exchange rate, though still dismal, is actually improving.

Buoyed by the impending demise of the Old World, I make my way to Hermès for the opening of a Josef Albers exhibit, and soon find myself in deep conversation with a gaggle of fashion types, all of whom are fishing around to see if I’ve been invited to any of the more fabulous parties of the week. Calvin Klein on the High Line? Tyra at the Harper’s Bazaar soiree? Do I think Kate Moss will be at the Interview party at the Standard Hotel? I shrug. I’m not sure Kate’s in town, I manage weakly, though in fact unless Moss was mainlining in my bathroom, how would I know?

Still sweltering and refusing to relinquish that coat, I subway down to Christie Street, to the Paper magazine dinner at the Box. (It’s not like I’m invited to nothing. Just not all that much.) I love the Box, which looks like a down-at-the-heels turn-of-the-century bordello even though it was built from scratch only a year or so ago. At my table, a tiny girl in a spongy Balenciaga molded dress says she forgot to put on underpants and had to make an emergency stop at Baby Gap. I want to hear more, but there’s a floor show by the Citizens Band, a group of louche lefties who present a Weimar-ish cabaret, beginning with a sarcastic paean to gasoline in ersatz-Brecht tones. Digging into my peach cobbler, I notice that the table is sprinkled with pennies. I assume this is meant as a saucy critique of capitalism. But no, it turns out that the party is sponsored by Cole Haan, which is relaunching the penny loafer.

After the show, Citizens Band member Sarah Sophie Flicker, resplendent in a spangled, flesh-colored leotard and a glittery kitty-cat hat, exhorts me to join her in Florida to knock on doors and register voters. But Sarah, I moan, what would we wear? They’ll slam the door right in our faces! “Vogue T-shirts and jeans and little scarves!” she says. Then someone from the podium announces that the after-party is at Socialista (after-party? Wasn’t this a party?), the irony of which I am too exhausted to unpeel—and besides, I have to rush home to hear a certain dog in lipstick give a speech.

The next day, I skip the Andre Serrano dinner in honor of his photos of excrement because, frankly, having written the cover story for the Voice about this show, I am literally sick of the subject. (Besides, what would be on the menu: shit on a shingle? Shiitake mushrooms?) Instead, I go up to Barneys to celebrate its launch of a menswear collection named for a fictional character called Benjamin Bixby, an event hosted by Charlize Theron and Andre 3000. Charlize is nowhere in sight, and because I am a moron, I mix up Andre 3000 from Outkast with Andre J, the guy with a beard who wears dresses, was on the cover of French Vogue, and used to work at Pat Fields.

Barney’s Bixby character apparently lived in the glowing days of the Great Depression, since, in a feat of prescience—on the very day of this fete, the Dow is down over 300 points—the lines includes boat-neck pullovers emblazoned with 1935 ($350, made in China) and foppish hounds-tooth knicker suits (that’ll be a big seller).

Onward! It’s time to hoof it to “Art Fashion” at Christie’s, where an archive of old clothes collected by the duo behind the Resurrection vintage stores is on display. The sound of champagne glasses smashing in such close proximity to irreplaceable Courrèges coats and Poco Rabbanne metal dresses makes me quail with nerves, but the Christie’s people seem unperturbed. I only wish the crowd, mostly clad in boring little black dresses and towering heels, had spruced up more in the spirit of these wacky ensembles. And where is Agyness Deyn—misspelled as “Agnyess Dean” on the elaborate invite? Actually, maybe she’s here, since I am notoriously unable to distinguish one pixieish blond from the next. (I suffer from prosopagnosia, a/k/a face blindness—not a joke—but more on this subject some other time.)

Appetizers not quelling my appetite, I buy a bag of pretzels and hop on the train for the short ride down to FIT for the opening of “Gothic: Dark Glamour.” Despite the cult of darkness suffusing the atmosphere, the guests, unlike those dolts at Christie’s, have dressed for the event in lugubrious taffeta dresses, tight-laced corsets, and top hats, and are having a ball. And what do you know—here, amid the Victorian mourning suits and ghoulish Galliano gowns and chain-mail purses decorated with bats, is the real Andre J, in a glistening black and gold frock to match his glistening beard. “Life is good to me!” he says, injecting a bit of much-needed optimism in the cynicism and torpor that inevitably attends Fashion Week. “I’m still excited!”

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High Fashion

Say what you will: Among the fashionable elite, some bad behavior is considered completely, utterly glamorous and some is not. Throwing your cell phone at an employee? Decidedly non-glam, even if you show up to serve your eventual sentence, picking up trash, in a wasp-waisted coat and spiky red-soled Louboutins. Allegedly raping underage girls? So totally non- that fashion designer Anand Jon, who was arrested on March 6 for just such a crime, will, even if he is acquitted, likely never recover his reputation. Being convicted of stock manipulation and securities fraud like shoe mogul Steve Madden, and getting sentenced to 41 months in prison? Not only non-glam, but really, really boring.

But snorting and smoking and even shooting drugs? The suits who own your business may be tearing out their gray hairs, but they should take a chill pill: A history of drug abuse may actually enhance the naughty allure of your brand. Last month, Marc Jacobs’s office confirmed that he was heading straight from the Paris runways to an unnamed facility in Arizona: “Marc made the right decision,” Jacobs’s longtime business partner Robert Duffy told Women’s Wear Daily, representing the buttoned-down, serious side of the industry. “He’d been sober for seven years. When he relapsed, he wanted to deal with it right away.”

He may be rushing to rehab, but his affection for drugs won’t harm his street cred. After all, the designer, despite being 44 years old, is still considered a boyish young American, whose cool quotient is as high in the rarefied capitals of Europe as it is on Main Street. And what do sexy young American guys do? They have sex. They get high. And they have skinny, wiry bodies, which the use of illegal substances can help them maintain. (The importance of this, sadly, cannot be overstated. Just before he checked himself into rehab, people were saying of Jacobs, “He looks great! He’s so thin!”)

High or sober, Jacobs must be exhausted: He designs not one but three collections, two under his own name and the third for Louis Vuitton, where he introduced graffiti scribbling and infantile flower decorations to the moribund century-old LV monogram. His most recent Marc Jacobs collection, shown last month in New York, featured a stunning lineup of languid 1930s-ish lovelies, as if the Finzi-Contini family had left the garden en masse and arrived at the Lexington Avenue armory where the show was held. So will his wicked ways besmirch the appeal of these $5,000 ensembles?

No way, says Paper magazine’s Mickey Boardman, a famous player on the downtown fashion scene and a veteran of rehab twice over, who celebrated 10 years of sobriety on April 1. To this day, he credits drugs with “releasing inhibitions, getting us in touch with ourselves, getting back in touch with your childhood. I love the idea of being elaborately styled on the outside and an elegant mess on the inside. The people with the most fascinating style are drug addicts!” he reminisces.

Those released inhibitions, so crucial to the decadent allure of fashion, are at the same time terrifying to the moneybags who stand to lose millions when their corporate figureheads misbehave. But any hasty decision to just throw the miscreants overboard is complicated by the fickle nature of consumers, who are just as likely to embrace as condemn the fashion industry’s bad boys (and girls). After all, being caught on camera phone inhaling cocaine didn’t exactly hurt Kate Moss. Though the initial response of her many employers was to dump her—H&M, Chanel, and Burberry all gave her the heave-ho—less then a year later she was back on top, touting for Calvin Klein, Virgin Mobile phones, Longchamp, and even Burberry again (they were quick to forgive).

So immutably fabulous is Moss, with her 1940s monkey fur jacket and her art deco diamonds, that she reportedly hid her drugs in a $100,000 gem-encrusted Fabergé egg. Her hollow-eyed expression, wan pallor, and waifish physique may have inspired young women all over the world to starve themselves, but her decadent appeal is nothing new. Way back in the 1860s, iconic artist model Lizzie Siddal (she was discovered in an English millinery shop; Moss was found at Kennedy Airport) died at 33 of what was commonly believed to be a laudanum overdose. (Her fiancé, the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was so distraught that he buried a book of his poems in her signature copper hair; years later, thinking better of it, he exhumed her coffin and retrieved his musings.)

But you don’t have to go back 150 years to be convinced of the seductive power of dissipation. In the 1960s, it seemed as if half the female population wanted to look like the gamine Edie Sedgwick (an heiress who would be dead of a barbiturate overdose at 28 in 1971) or the attenuated Talitha Getty, renowned for her caftans and ethnic jewelry (she succumbed to a heroin overdose four months after Sedgwick’s death). By the 1990s, this fascination with anorectic space-cases even had a new name—heroin chic—and everyone up to and including then president Clinton inveighed against it: “You do not need to glamorize addiction to sell clothes,” Clinton offered. “It is not creative. It’s destructive. It’s not beautiful. It is ugly. And this is not about art. It’s about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society.” Well, no argument there. But short of glorifying death, isn’t extolling thinness, and wantonness, and a louche outside-the-law attitude a huge part of high fashion’s appeal?

Still, there are those who believe that the world is changing, that almost a half-century of anti-drug commercials on TV has finally permeated the world of the catwalks. Roger Padilha, the creative director of Mao Public Relations, who has produced fashion shows for everyone from the sophisticated Pete Som to the raucous Baby Phat, says these days, the young designers he represents are dreaming not of wild coke-fueled romps but of Target deals. But just in case one of his clients still has the desire to get trashed, Padilha isn’t taking any chances: He advises his charges that if they go to a fashion party and are holding so much as a glass of champagne, they should hide it behind their backs when the photographers show up. Padilha refutes the notion that the bony customers who crave shredded Dior dresses and stringy Balenciaga bags want to appear as if they just crawled out of an opium den. “They might want to look like they’re at a party with Kate Moss, but I don’t think that their dream is to live a jet-set drug-addled lifestyle.”

Maybe not, but even Padilha is forced to admit that Moss had undeniable star quality in those cocaine-snorting phone pics. “That picture was gorgeous! Her hair! She looked incredible,” he says. “I understand the fantasy. But if you’re going to buy into the fantasy, it can’t be just the glamour side. What about when she wakes up the next day with boogers in her nose and tears streaming down her face, upset about something she can’t even remember? She probably wouldn’t look so great in pictures the morning after.”

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Dirty White Boy

Most new English records are the bastards of Mark E. Smith and Mark Knopfler, but there’s a bit of Moby Grape and Aerosmith on Down in Albion from ex-Libertines’ guitarist/singer Pete Doherty’s current full-time band. Though Big Audio Dynamite’s Mick Jones is the producer, there’s less double vision or head games here than you’d expect. “Can’t tell between death and glory”, runs the “Under Pressure”–hysterical power ballad “Fuck Forever,” then the descending guitar run at 3:38 reminds you that Sandy (Blue Oyster Cult) Pearlman produced Give ’em Enough Rope. “Sticks on Stones”, on which Jethro Tull’s Barriemore Barlow is credited on gong, is Sandinista! with more complicated vocals—a high-tech production technique makes every syllable appear to have been recorded at a different distance away from the microphone.

Former Primal Scream singer Kate Moss also appears—Doherty’s biggest scrap with nosebleed-altitude fame since exposing a nipple at the Super Bowl. His own vocals are Ian Hunter as Paul Westerberg’s Tin Machine replacement. (“8 Dead Boys”—oy vey, babys!) There’s a “Love Hangover” break in “32nd of December”, and even the post-punk track works—bands who cite Entertainment! and Metal Box really mean Joshua Tree and The King of Comedy OST, but “Pipedown” works in a Pogues kind of way.

Aside from the Loop-y Ride of “Up the Morning” (what the Boredoms have been trying to do ever since they discovered college radio, namely the Blur of “Sing” and “This Is a Low”) and an acoustic-reggae prison ballad, Down in Albion is a nonstop series of climactic riffs and free-associative commentary, Rocks (with more tempo changes) overlaid with a dark Night in the Ruts mood. The slight departure from the Libertines’ robotic precision may alienate those large sections of the U.K. public whose music choices consist mainly of ringtones, but Babyshambles still draw crowds that combine the best qualities of Deadheads and straight-edge. Pretty hot-blooded and urgent, for foreigners.

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Hey, Nice Drainpipes!

Despite endless magazine spreads telling women what silhouettes they should wear to flatter a particular body shape (are you “bottom-heavy”, “short-waisted”, “narrow-hipped”?) there seems to be a consensus, which changes about twice a decade, about how jeans should fit.

In my short life, I’ve gone through numerous denim philosophies. There was a time when I only wore light blue Gap jeans, which I would “French roll” so the cuffs were about two inches above my socks. Then came Farlo’s, stretchy legging jeans—some with zippers at the bottoms. When I could, I stole my older sister’s perfectly shredded, tapered Levi’s, long and bunched at the ankles. Later, I gave up on flattering my figure altogether (a form of rebellion?) and wore, exclusively, men’s Lee’s in a 40-inch waist, synched with a belt around my hips. Though, according to my mom, I was free to express myself however I wanted, on one occasion, she blurted out a distraught “Why are your pants like that?!” A more lady-like version emerged from this trend: Sailor jeans, which were a must-have in high school. They were cut low on the hips, wide in the legs, and flared to cover almost your entire shoe.

We all know what happened next: thong-flaunting boot-cut jeans captured the hearts of Americans in the late 90s. The amazing thing about this trend was the way it was hyped to flatter any figure. The slight flare in the legs balances and minimizes big hips, jeans pushers said. Yet, if a lack of hips is your problem, it will somehow enhance them. The low waist elongates the torso! The boot-cut lengthens the legs! Apparently, these were miracle jeans. But in the last couple of years, with an alarming number of new designer denim brands flooding boutiques and department stores, young women have been altering their Paper Denims, their Joes, and their Ernest Sewns to fit tight around the knees and stay slim through the ankles, which none of them did. Just as retro slouchy bell bottoms in the early 90s gave way to the “hipster flare”, a return to Rock ‘n’ Roll has finally destroyed the boot-cut.

Today’s denim craze is still, for the most part, low on the hip, though there are always rumblings that this is about to change. Denim designers have finally caught on to hipster boys and girls and are pushing “Drainpipes” or “Cigarette” jeans. Sometimes, they’re simply called “skinny jeans”—but what if you’re not skinny? Sure, these things look great on Kate Moss, but how much coke does one have to snort to fit into them? Being un-skinny myself, I took to the streets to try on pair after pair, and didn’t stop until a lump began to form in my throat. Here’s what I learned:

Dark and Lovely, and Simple
No one should be subjected to the sight of herself in a light colored version of anything skin-tight—trust me. Even Scarlett and Sienna wear their drainpipes in dark blue or black. But a lot of black jeans have contrast stitching, which can be tacky (Diesel makes a pair for $140 that would be great if there were less back-pocket embroidery). Earl Jeans’ “Sienna” ($160) are very dark blue and pleasantly plain. X-Girl, despite a penchant for giddily ornamented clothing, makes simple stretch jeans in dark or faded black for $118. They come in sizes zero, one, two, and three. If you wear a waist size bigger than 30 or 31, don’t torture yourself—move on.

Like it Raw
Thick, stiff, “raw” denim will keep you cozy, if constricted, all through the winter months. I was pleased to see a longer, leaner version of my legs in a pair of Denim Bird jeans, but when I turned, I realized I had traded in my butt for these new limbs. Word on the street is that these jeans are never to be washed and should be purchased very tight. Apparently, they will expand where they need to as they wear in.

Cheap and Chic
If you feel like a sucker lusting after—or actually purchasing—$200 jeans, you should. There’s nothing less Rock ‘n’ Roll than that. Do like the punk kids have for decades and head to Trash & Vaudeville for a pair of “Stretch Fucking Jeans” (from a company called Lip Service) in black. A return to simpler times, they come in small, medium, and large, and cost $53.

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Did Kate Moss Stash Her Stuff in a Balenciaga Bag?

Did Kate Moss stash her stash in a droopy, squashy Balenciaga bag? If she did, she is in good company—all during Fashion Week we saw editors brandishing various versions of these saggy sacks, though we can’t vouch for the fact that they concealed any anything stronger than Valium or Mylanta. But you don’t have to be a drug-addled supermodel—who no doubt gets her purses for free—or a desperate fashionista willing to spend over $1000 to carry the carryall of the season (what W magazine recently dubbed, in a rare flash of wit, “A Bag Called It.”) We are thrilled to report that we’re seeing ersatz Balenciagas all over town these days: There’s one in the window of Strawberry on Union Square, several good examples at the frenetic Foxy Lady on 14th Street, a rack of miniature models across from the escalators at the Astor Place Kmart, and still others for 10 bucks from a guy selling stuff from a cardboard box on the sidewalk across from Penn Station.

But what exactly does this have to do with poor Kate, you might ask? Plenty. Moss, as has been widely reported, has just been dumped from the H&M ad campaign for her pal Stella McCartney’s collaboration with that proudly downmarket venue, and Burberry and Chanel, two of her rather more exalted employers, are purportedly sick of her too—all just because she was photographed doing a line at a party.

Which got us thinking: But isn’t Kate’s louche, vaguely dirty-girl glamour what these advertisers are paying big bucks for in the first place? We have always thought that the success of the Balenciaga bag, along with other récherché styles of the moment, is due to its echo of ’60s chic, exemplified not just by its languid fringes, but by the fact that it’s made of the kind of thin hyde which first gained currency during the Summer of Love. (Back in those days this cheap leather was imported from Afghanistan, along with those famous Afghan coats, so odoriferous you had to keep them on the fire escape.) That’s why everyone from an 80-year-old dowager, too old for the ’60s the first time around, to her 14-year-old grandchild, wants the Balenciaga bag, real or fake: Drug use notwithstanding, this is a bag that says “Swing my fringe and you’re a swinger.”

Still, make no mistake: What made the famous ’60s icons who wore this stuff the first time around—dead waifs like Talitha Getty and Edie Sedgwick—so desperately alluring, so powerfully seductive can be explained in one word—drugs.

We believe that huge, mega-million dollar fashion houses craved the frisson of cool they got when they hired Kate, just the way it was fun to hang out with the bad kids in high school. Until, of course, the party got too rough, and like H&M, Burberry, and Chanel, you called your dad to get you the hell out of there.

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Windsor Knot: Camilla’s Wedding Ensemble

Pity poor Camilla. Not only did the pope schedule his funeral for her wedding day, forcing her to change the date after a 36-year courtship, but her prospective mother-in-law refused to come to the ceremony, deigning to attend only what was billed as a religious blessing, wherein Charles and Camilla had to stand in front of a whole bunch of people and acknowledge “manifold sins and wickedness.” Throughout, queenie wore a nauseated expression on her face for which the expression “pickle-puss” was invented.

When the big day finally, finally arrived, Camilla managed to acquit herself, sartorially at least, quite adequately. (And may we pause and take a second here to say we’ve had more than enough of late night talk show hosts, no beauties themselves, slagging on Camilla’s appearance? This is what a normal woman looks like, boys. Get over it. Look in the mirror.)

We were especially happy to see that the bride topped off her sky-blue and gold ensemble (courtesy, according to CNN of “a local-based couturier in Kensington”) with a truly nutty chapeau by madcap milliner Philip Treacy, a guy you usually associate with wacky chicks like ur-fashionista Isabella Blow rather than a fluffy-haired, horse-loving matron.

And it was heart-warming to see the dim Charles, always so lost and sad-looking, finally marrying someone he actually liked, rather than a bulimic teenager forced down his weak throat by an antediluvian social system that should have disappeared by around, say, 1789.

So Charles was happy, Camilla was happy — but oh, those tour buses shuttling RichieRiches from the church to the reception, where, according to Fox news, they’d be treated to “a finger food event” — could they have made anyone happy? It was all a long way from the marriage of that other palace home-wrecker, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, when her naughty affair with Edward the Eighth threatened to bring down the monarchy (too bad it didn’t).

The Duchess of Windsor would have never worn a Treacy hat. For her nuptials, she donned a constipated Mainbocher sky-blue suit (do we sense a pattern?). Wallis, by all accounts a real harridan, lived by a million inane rules, one of which was that you should always polish the soles of your shoes. (Bet she wasn’t the one doing the polishing.)

Oh well, maybe Wallis just didn’t understand about the British tradition of funny hats. (She was, after all, an American, having dumped her tubercular first husband and fat-cat second by the time she hooked up with Edward.)

In addition to a marked affection for silly headgear, the English indulge in other fashion peculiarities. The days when Mayfair was full of tweedy, Barbour-jacketed, Wellington-booted Miss Marples, up from the country for an afternoon of shopping are sadly over, but English girls, no matter how rich, still evince a penchant for a rather raffish rattiness. Despite the looming presence of every international boutique on Sloane and/or Bond Streets — predictable Pradas; claustrophobic Chanels; dogmatic Diors — one never gets the feeling that the newest, late-model Vuitton causes the same frission of desire in the drawing rooms of Ladbroke Grove as it might on Madison Avenue.

Instead, the Brits excel at the kind of consciously unconscious mixing of high and low, new and old, that Kate Moss is so famous for, though most Londoners have to make this work without Moss’s trademark cascade of art deco diamonds. The results are often rather more offhand than even Moss would dare: pilly old sweaters (a century-old staple, hanging on despite the fairly recent introduction of universal central heating) pulled over a cheap High Street skirt with maybe a pair of expensive but scuffed upmarket boots, and of course, to top it all off, an Eliza Doolittle-worthy hat.