article

01.19.09

But Can We Still Have Fun?

For all their glamour and appeal, the puritanical Obamas remind me of parents who came home early and crashed the party.

Plus: Check out Fashion Beast, for more news on the latest runway shows, hot designers, and trends emerging from the tents.

A fresh quandary has settled over inauguration festivities: How does one balance glee and gloom?

The Obamas have added to the angst with intimations of a new Puritanism in our dire future. It will get worse before it gets better, Obama keeps telling us. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day of Service, we’re all supposed to volunteer, as Michelle has been reminding us via video.

For all their glamour and appeal, the earnest Obamas convey a sort of parents-who-came-home-early vibe. Holy Shiite! They’re home. Quick, somebody, where’s the Oust?

Loving but firm, they are Mr. Principal and Mrs. Math Teacher.

Loving but firm, they are Mr. Principal and Mrs. Math Teacher. We will do our homework. We will pick up others’ litter and protest Darfur. We will live frugally and eat low-glycemic carbs and carry our groceries in recycled-burlap totes.

But will we have fun? Do we still get to shop or did the terrorists win? Is it kosher to dine out when somebody somewhere might be hungry? Can we justify manicures and tasteful highlights when others are vainly looking for work?

Finally, the question no one wants to ask: As we trudge through melting snow in sub-freezing temperatures to stand in lines at badly lighted, expensive balls where we don’t know anybody… dare we wear FUR?! Dare those coming to celebrate The One who promised to save the planet, realign the stars and calibrate the tides wear that least-conscionable symbol of compassionless wealth?

Intrepidly, I donned layers and hit the pavement to find out. First stop: Georgetown’s Smith & Hawken, the store with everything no one actually needs. In tough times, I figure a store that boasts the best bonsai clippers will be among the first to feel the pinch. More importantly, S&H is where Gerald works.

Gerald knows everyone and everything related to Washington’s luxury class, but he is also discreet. No names. You could waterboard Gerald—or make him watch Chris Matthews’ Sunday morning show—and he wouldn’t tell you what Laura Bush or Teresa Heinz Kerry bought last time they were in. (He might hint that Sally Quinn doesn’t need another catchepot.)

“Oh, listen, honey. The only people who complain about furs either can’t afford ‘em or look bad in ‘em.” (I should have mentioned that Gerald gets quickly to a point, sans sucre.) As for the economic crisis: vicious rumor. “We’re doing so well, we’re thrilled spitless!” The Georgetown store had met its monthly quota by mid-month. To what does Gerald attribute such slush?

“Optimism. People are just happy and excited and they’re buying what they want.” And, yes, a man and woman were just in wearing two fabulous matching fur coats.

At Le Pain Quotidien down M Street a few blocks, where vegans sipping green tea have been observed evolving into higher life forms, I counted seven fur coats among just 26 customers. If you can wear fur with impunity at LPQ, you can wear it anywhere. Across the street at the Four Seasons, recently renovated to within an inch of its life and now bereft of its former soul, the restaurant hostess reports that the coat-check has “lots of furs.”

Conclusion: Furs are out of the closet this week.

OK, so it’s not an exhaustive, investigative report, but you can’t expect much gumshoeing when it’s seven-ish degrees in the sun. I did check by phone with Andriana Furs, a local shop that Friday launched a significant four-day sale. Their newspaper ad features a happy, vaguely familiar family of fur-wearers: An African-American Dad, Mom, and three girls. (The third one was to throw us off.)

Life in the Age of Obama can’t be distilled to a coat count, surely, but there are fewer expressions of the luxe life than a fur.

Downright Republican, they’re the ultimate status symbol of those who have too much. This bone-chilling week, they are perhaps just a surer way to avoid frostbite.

As of 12:01 p.m. January 20, America's days of prosperity, now recognized as having been delusional, are officially over as we prepare to embrace the austerity of hope. Luxury will be the new uncool; extravagance the new faux pas. Soon, we’ll all be riding bikes and selling apples. Faces will age the way they’re supposed to as plastic surgery becomes prohibitive even for the relatively well-off. We’ll all look like Walker Evans portraits, our faces drooping into frowns as the Botox fades.

But not yet.

For at least a few more days, it’s New Year’s Eve in Washington. On Wednesday, we shall all eat cake.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and author of Save the Males.