Bumbershoot Guide

Worn Out

Beauty Marks and Dirty Bath Mats: The Fashions of John Waters

Worn Out

EMBRACING MISERY The divine John Waters and John Waters’s Divine.

John Waters's films are sleazy and weird, with pileups of horrors and whimpering laughter, and lunatics everywhere, casually befouling things. The costuming is terrific. Characters appear so consistently marred and cheap, these looks represent the condition of their souls. In the early years, John writes in his book Shock Value, stylist Van Smith harvested "clothes found in trash bins outside the Salvation Army," dressed faces in dirt, and boiled wigs to encourage a dry, matted effect. Van's "only beauty hints are a lack of sleep, alcoholism, or drug addiction, and he stresses, 'Most importantly it helps if the actor has embraced misery as a lifestyle.'"

Van was also singly responsible for creating Divine's image, writes John. (Divine worked as a hairdresser before he got famous, and "his specialty was exaggerated, ridiculously complicated bouffant hairdos.") Costume highlights include Divine's ferociously pouffed wedding gown in Female Trouble—constructed of see-through lace, it reveals his pubic hair. And during the filming of Multiple Maniacs, Divine took a break to meet John's mother for the first time: "He was dressed in heels, wig, full makeup, and... a one-piece woman's bathing suit covered in blood."

John's own style is just as lively. There's his pencil mustache, of course, ritually enhanced with Maybelline Expert Eyes eyeliner in Velvet Black. Past ensembles involved high-water slacks, wrinkled polyester overcoats the color of meatballs, and "the most hideous cowboy shirts, ones with padded guitars on them, or shrunken heads, or my favorite—giant tarantulas," he writes in another of his books, Role Models, which also contains a full-chapter tribute to Rei Kawakubo, head of the delightfully absurd Comme des Garçons label. In John's collection of her work: a shirt with "pockets sewn inside, therefore making them impossible to use," trousers built to "literally unravel without falling apart as you wear them," a sports jacket made of white shag "that looks so much like a dirty bath mat," and another jacket seeming "sort of normal from a distance, but up close the blue material looks stained. Some might say with a semen-like pattern."

In yet another book, Crackpot, John details his hobby of attending sensational murder trials to gather fashion information. Charles Schmid Jr., for instance, "pompadoured his dyed, jet-black hair and wore a thick coat of pancake over his dirty, unshaven, handsome face." He also wore "white lipstick, and he designed a quarter-size beauty mark made of putty that resembled a hideous cartoon witch's mole. His ultimate accessory was the large, filthy bandage he wore on his nose for no apparent reason. Like all models, he wished he were taller, so he stuffed his boots with a three-inch layer of tin cans and rags."

The Manson family women were "the most style-conscious defendants I've ever seen," sometimes arriving in court in kicky white ankle socks, bright robes, or even a full nun's habit. "When Linda Kasabian (the star snitch prosecution witness) testified, all the girls mimicked her by wearing their hair in exactly the same style as she did and changing it whenever she did." And there's John Linley Frazier. Amidst proceedings, he'd shaved bald "the left side of his head, beard, mustache, and eyebrows. The right side of his face was still covered in a luxuriant growth of hair." recommended

Send fashion information to marti@thestranger.com.


Comments (3) RSS

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If I got my facts straight, isn't Divine also the inspiration for Ursula in the Disney classic The Little Mermaid?
Posted by arbitrary on August 31, 2012 at 6:46 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 2
As I've said before... "Before RuPaul it was Divine!" God Save the Queen!!
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on September 1, 2012 at 11:07 AM · Report this

Thanks so much for doing a piece on John Waters. What an unexpected pleasure. The man is one of my favorite people, ever, and was the first gay man I fell in love with, outside of my childhood friend, Paul. I own all of his books and cut my teeth on Pink Flamingos and especially, the brilliant Female Trouble. Long may he reign.

Posted by Velvetbabe on September 17, 2012 at 11:34 AM · Report this

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