The Darker Side of Fashion Theory

An anorexic adolescent girl with a penis,

pale skin and chest-long hair frizzle-fried with bleach,

displayed against a wintry grey drop for the magazine spread,

when outdoors spring is blooming, greening,

gilding skin and bronzing cheeks,

tries for pay to sell desire for summer sweaters

to young men who couldn’t begin to afford them

and would roast alive if they wore them in July.

Designer, marketer, photographer, editor, model, viewer

all know a twenty-something on the street’s

unlikely to purchase a thousand-dollar cardigan,

the magazine itself’s already bought,

and the delicate model’s hardly the masculine archetype,

so what commodity is actually being traded?


Here must be the logic:

Clothes sell best when skinny women wear them,

but straight men, afraid of looking girly, will resist

wearing men’s clothes modeled by women,

so the next best thing is to have them modeled

by a  pretty young man who looks—though everyone knows

that it’s sexist to say so—pretty much like a girl,

and then the straight boys will look because at first glance

the boy’s a girl, but be willing to buy because he’s

still a man despite that first impression, but still

won’t be able to afford the merchandise

if they are young enough to want it;

but in fact the dude holding the magazine

is almost certainly gay anyway, and though

he can’t afford to pay retail either, he’ll know

where to find the good sales and discount racks,

and has probably been planning some shopping already,

which is good because the model in the picture

is probably too effeminate to attract him,

unless he’s shopping for feminine clothes.

because he’s into drag or pondering a gender transition.



And so, the men’s magazine spread advertising

men’s clothes by male designers for sale to men

still manages to objectify women and perpetuate

a stereotypically narrow view of feminine beauty

while simultaneously exploiting a young man

who fits that idea of feminine beauty, rather than

the rugged masculine ideal, which the male readers

might view as  threateningly unattainable

or as dangerous competition.


And so, when all is said and done,

after viewing the magazine spread

by means of which wealthy fashion moguls

exploit the anorexic bottle-blond girl with a penis

exploited for his/her conformity

to an idealized version of feminine beauty,

some skinny gay boys will go buy

some cheap T-shirts from the sale racks,

and that, boys and girls, is how the fashion business works.


But the clothes are so pretty!


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper




The Next Stop’s a Cloud

Another no one in particular at first:

In his early twenties maybe,

height and build average,

hair blondish-brownish,

neither short nor long;

but to complement his

shorts, T-shirt, and trainers,

he wears a mad and toothy grin

that’s making some other passengers edgy. . .

Though there are seats, he stands–

hovers really–by the doors

at one end of the car,

then makes his way to the other end,

then returns to his original position,

where he begins to execute

a choreography set to music

that plays only in his head.

Not dangerous, just a little higher

than the city’s skyline.

The rest of us, mortal, merely

ride the subway;

but he, invincible,

though underground,

dances on air.


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper


He’s called Niall,

and he’s seated on a low wall

outside the cathedral in Edinburgh,

in a photo by J. D. Price.

twenty-something maybe,

probably at university,

dressed in layers of navy

with high-top brogues.

Wavy natural-blond hair,

roundish transparent-framed glasses

complement his clear white skin,

his smooth clean-shaven face

accented by wet red lips

that hint at a sensuous streak

otherwise kept from all

but his closest intimates.

Grey-blue eyes, cool but not hard,

suggest a degree of intellectual detachment;

not the type prone to emotional display,

but a sensitive soul with tenderer depths

than he would choose to reveal.

Obviously he can think,

but one wants to make him feel.


Note:  This poem was inspired by a street-fashion photograph by Jonathan Daniel Price for


Copyright 2014

T. Allen Culpepper