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Fashion Statements: entrepreneur on a roll

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We met Chris Latas behind the counter of Chris's Hot Dogs on North Halsted. His bright uniform seemed prepared to fill the service industry's standing order for deep-fry and quick-serve. But our Quality Control Fashion Inspectors had a few questions for the man in the paper hat. Was this outfit able to deliver service with a smile, or was it mixing up the orders?

The look rests on a bun-white T, hard at work since the 16th century when the leisured classes slipped into linen undies and workers got stuck with cotton. Even then, according to The History of Underclothes, exposing a swatch of tank top at the neckline gave casual admirers a hint at social status. Revealing the concealed evolved from Tudor men slashing their jerkins to 18th-century dandies unbuttoning a few notches of their waistcoats to the convenience of the built-in V-neck; these days we've come full circle to the slash-and-flash method of lingerie-baring.

Next on line: the candy-striped dress shirt, its convertible collar and studded placket buttoned solidly into the professional class. It's layered with a sweater vest, normally found sandwiched between professorial tweeds; this one's tomato red. The whole stack is smeared with a catsup-colored proletarian apron. The Dagwood-layered mound offers a smorgasbord of contrasts: laborer, businessman, thinker, cook. The combo basket hints that Chris, who after all is not only the guy holding the fully dressed frank but the man with his name on the sign, is hovering on the cusp of upward mobility, through dint of long hours and grease burns.

Up top Chris eschews the high-flying and highfalutin toque of his billboard alter ego (the chef hat's classic 100 white pleats represent the true master's ability to whip up 100 varieties of eggs) in favor of a hand-crafted variation on the traditional fast-food badge of servitude. His admirably efficient design, based on the enlisted man's "overseas cap" (which affords fold-and-go convenience) takes its sturdy brim from a Vienna Beef ("Not Just Another Hot Dog!! Not Just Another Hot Dog Stand!!) cardboard wrapper. The delicate crown is cut from the short-order cook's stock-in-trade: the ubiquitous wax-paper liner. Chris, who crafts his hats as wear and tear demands, finishes the look with a cut-out border, softening the line, improving steam-table comfort, and echoing the punched-out detail on the stems of his Roy Orbison shades.

The layers of hard work and professionalism, capped with entrepreneurial resourcefulness and accessorized with the Greek immigrant's keepsake timepiece, heat up a meaty Fashion Statement: Every dog has his day.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yael Routtenberg.

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