Smithsonian show looks in our closets

Smithsonian World: The Way We Wear PBS, Monday, 8-9 p.m. (check local listings). Narrator: James Earl Jones. Producer/director: David Grubin. ``You are what you wear,'' is the somewhat unnerving message of this peculiar edition of ``Smithsonian World.'' The program comes across as much an unpaid advertisement for Bloomingdale's as a scientific special about the costume rooms of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Dressing for success through history

``The Way We Wear'' examines the history of clothing in all societies, shows some outrageous examples, then proceeds to interpret the cultural values revealed by our clothing choices.

In the Middle Ages, people were required to dress according to their station in life. Purple, for example, was exclusively reserved for royalty.

Nowadays, according to ``Dress for Success'' author John T. Molloy, if you want money and power you'd better stick to solid-color suits and striped ties that cost at least $25. And never wear green - ``People won't trust you.''

A visit to several astoundingly expensive haute couture collections and the set of the movie ``Valmont,'' where costumes are used to re-create the movement of people of 18th-century France, round out this tour of fashion complexity.

Then the film takes on the role of an investigator as it queries merchandising experts as well as professional buyers and ordinary consumers as they make purchasing decisions - mostly at Bloomingdale's, which should be grateful for this uncritical promotion.

`Fashion' is another word for `business'

It is clear that the ready-to-wear clothing industry has changed a lot of the old rules about dressing, mainly because it is now possible to select from a greater diversity of garb.

To anybody looking deeply into this electronic closet of a show, it implies that buyers are confusing image with reality as they purchase gossamer illusion.

In the midst of all the superficial haute couture attitudes about fashion, marketing executive Bernard Ozer takes a lot of the ``highfalutin'' nonsense out of this program. Fashion, he explains with down-to-earth directness, is merely the generic word for the business of clothing.

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