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Fashion Statements: Vlad the Retailer

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We met the Count at Diversey-River Bowl, stocking up on Halloween treats. His party hearty gear and malevolent grin growled upscale bachelor bash. But our Fashion Cryptologists--still curious, if cautious--wanted to know more . . . maybe more than was good for them.

Count Miller models his attire on that of his blood brother, Count Dracula. Or at least on his bloodthirsty public image. The reputed original--Vlad "the Impaler" Tepes--dressed four centuries too early to swoop around in black tie. Traditional Dracula drag, as we've come to know and fear it, has more in common with leading London attire in the last gasps of the 19th century, when Bram Stoker restoked the vampire myth.

Blue bloods of the era opted for basic black. Edward (aka Bertie), prince of Wales, commander of the world's largest wardrobe, insisted that high-flying nightlife be conducted in funereal trousers and tails, a refined version of the proletarian split riding coat. (Boys could get away with the cropped spencer jacket, named after Earl Spencer, who once inadvertently ignited his tails.) One Mrs. Humphrey, the Miss Manners of her day, warned that a man in the wrong hat risked being "condemned more universally than if he had committed some crime."

But bad-boy Bertie trenchantly transgressed every fashion don't in the book. His carelessness, of course, became canon. Thus the cutaway coat modeled by our Count; the missing midsection allowed clumsy Bert to mount an unsteady steed more gracefully. Thus the vest with its bottom button sprung--still persistent today--which accommodated the portly prince when indulging himself at table.

Full dress dressed down after 1886, when Griswold Lorillard waltzed into the Autumn Ball at the Tuxedo Park Club in Orange County, New York, wearing--of all things--his smoking jacket. The scandalously comfortable look was dubbed the tuxedo and enthusiastically endorsed by society sorts, waiters, and marching tuba corps.

Despite the tuxedo's cross-cultural currency, the Count of the house of Miller adheres to old Bertie's draconian dress code, still slinking around in tails and opera cape, complete with its massive wingspan and blood-red lining. Perhaps the vampire's vogue for old-world evening attire is meant to underscore not only his noble heritage but his nocturnal schedule. Crested pj's might also do the trick, though with less finesse.

Count Miller chooses the classic spooky do, described by Stoker as "growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere." This version is slicked back in the "plastered" style fin de siecle aristocrats brought home from their wife-seeking adventures in America. According to Diana de Marly's Fashion for Men, it was achieved by applying a dab of pomade and a heavy linen mummy wrap.

Still, not every detail is period perfect. The contemporary Count ventures out in pedestrian soles, rendering his look less Victorian (which would have called for riding boots) and more mainstream. His trousers, front creased (frightful to Bertie) and deeply pleated, are strictly business, 1990s style. Our antihero turns out in black tie with Armani-style air tie, somewhat haphazard haberdashery. Then again, the guy gets dressed without a mirror.

The most modern accessory, of course, is the case of brand-conscious beer, an odd choice for one with such pointed taste in beverages. As Bela Lugosi explained in 1931: "I never drink . . . wine." While Count Dracula's raison d'etre was to suck blood from the necks of fair ladies, Count Miller's mission is to suck money from the wallets of young men by convincing them that sucking down beers will charm young women into sucking . . . whatever.

The Fashion Statement, its fearsome formality updated for the working stiff and accessorized with a potent potion, echoes the look's many lives: "Dressed to kill."

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

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