Xander’s Fashion Sense
I was looking for images to accompany a BtVS post I’ll probably never write, because I completely lost my train of thought over the myriad images of Xander’s bold, patterned shirts. Honestly, kudos to Nicholas Brendon for pulling it off (or, rather, putting it on). Each is so very…eye-catching:
I mean, the above episode, “Earshot”, originally aired on September 21, 1999, nowhere near Christmas to come close to explaining the red, white and green holiday wrapping paper of a shirt.
In comparison, the above shirt’s (photo credit: spikebuffy) pretty mild. If you don’t think it’s supposed to be contrasty, though, just look at the outfits of all the other students around them: they appear much more subdued, almost monotonic. And next to Xander, Buffy is looking tres stylish in a sexy LBD with a strategically-placed thigh-baring slit.
You know the Producers’ line: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it”? Well, Buffy certainly is. Flaunting it. And Xander is covered up like he’s dressed for a completely different USDA-regulated hardiness zone. As if he’s subconsciously covering up his inadequacy by…covering up, buttoning up, and bottling up.
OK, that last one’s not so bad, really. Checkered and striped are sort of traditional patterns, right? For shirt designs that think outside the box, check out the following (I kinda like the purple one, actually):
For double the fun, both SuaveXander and ScruffyXander display(*) the same fashion sense! (*Mostly. SuaveXander has at one point put on a blazer to look sharp, if memory serves.)
And of course there’s paisley! Against a similarly ornate-patterned, warm-toned couch, no less:
As a bonus, here’s newly-chipped Spike, his humiliation made complete by being forced to wear Xander’s totally-non-threatening Aloha shirt (the “official” name for the now-ubiquitous so-called Hawaiian shirt). The final nail in the coffin of Spike’s carefully curated and cultivated “evil Big Bad” image:
But seriously, what does Xander’s fashion sense tell us, other than that he wasn’t a snappy dresser?
Well, we know about his family, the neglect he’d long suffered at the hands of irresponsible, alcoholic parents. He had to pay rent to live in his parents’ dingy basement after high school, and he worried about affording his own apartment. Clearly, his family wasn’t rich (something for which he’d been mocked by Cordelia at one point).
He had nobody to splurge on him, no cool male role model to emulate, and little money of his own. His childhood memories include not getting the birthday present he wanted (a firetruck at age 7), so I doubt his family had had vacationed in Hawaii for him to have gotten Aloha shirts as souvenirs. Were they, then, another traveler’s castoff? His clothes, given those constraints, could’ve easily been hand-me-downs or thrift-store purchases.
There’s another explanation, of course. Xander, the comic-book-reading, scifi-loving, outsider geek boy, the self-acknowledged social outcast (as confirmed by “Queen C” Cordelia), was dressing exactly as he wanted, or at least as he was (within budget): His fashion choice offered an accurate portrayal of his personality, his identity: quirky, non-conforming (a historical association with paisley), down-to-earth, and fun. Far from superficial, he paid no attention to fashion trends. He worn his ugly shirts unironically, totally unself-consciously, and dare I say it? Absolutely adorably.
The flashy, bold patterns reflected his sense of humor as much as his desire to be noticed, to stand out. (There is something ironic and thought-provoking in the high school reality that Xander still got ignored by most people, almost as if he were invisible — a theme Joss explored in the episode “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” — while dressed in the most outlandish outfit.) The vibrant, feminine colors (purple, red, magenta, etc.), and the floral motif (Aloha shirts) make him appear less masculine — which unfortunately for Xander, rendered him not, as a teenage boy no doubt desired, appear to teenage girls as an assertive and highly-desirable date, but as an awkward funny guy relegated to the tragic friend-zone. For the “jocks” that occupied the coveted tip of the high school male social pyramid, Xander’s unique style only reinforced the fact that he was not one of them.
Rumor has it that Joss had at one point intended for Xander to be Buffy’s romantic interest. By Hollywood stereotype, however, he was dressed on the show as the supporting character: no iconic item to anchor his style, confirm his status (like Giles, for example), no billowing long coat or mysterious black ensemble befitting of a male lead (Angel, Spike), no expensive power suit (the W&H lawyers on AtS) to intimidate or inspire awe. He was dressed as the plucky comic relief: the one who’d stand by the the protagonist, get the best jokes in the script, but not the girl. And as the true friend and ally: nonthreatening (therefore trustworthy), unpretentious, and authentic; someone who didn’t give a damn about how he looked, but cared deeply about getting the job done. As his clothes attested: you could count on him to say what was on his mind.
Somehow, Xander’s fashion sense allowed him to be simultaneously relatable, unique and endearing. Because when your best friend is giving you a hug? Who cares if he’s wearing an ugly shirt?