I’m no fashion plate. When it comes to clothing and accessories, I’m a member of the “less is more” school of thought. My only indulgences are designer jeans and kitchy t-shirts. The defining element of my wardrobe is probably my undying devotion to Puma sneakers. Not real exciting.
Still, my lack of inspiration when it comes to my own clothes does not disqualify me from being a fashion critic. And so, having qualified myself by spending upwards of two years on semi-continuous poker tour, I bring you my guide to poker fashion.
The following are just a few of the mainstays of poker fashion, presented in no particular order.
The Hoodie. Previously found only in the closets of robbery suspects and Bill Belichick, the hooded sweatshirt is now the singular item that can rightfully be called the official attire of the poker player. Whichever companies produce these things owe a great debt to the poker boom. Look around any poker room and you will hardly be able to keep count of the ubiquitous hoodies slumped around each and every table in the room. It does make some sense, as hoodies serve a dual function. Casinos are cold and poker players don’t want to exhibit tells. Hoodies solve both problems in one fell swoop. They’re warm, and when worn properly (hood on, hunched posture, sunglasses optional), no one can see muchof you. I particularly like when older guys wear them. It’s like playing poker with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Non-Ironic Goatee. Where I come from, the goatee went out of style in the mid 1990’s. It has made a small comeback–along with the mullet, trucker hats (see below) and skinny jeans–among hipsters, on whom goatees are a sardonic throwback. But amongst us regular folk, the pattern of facial hair commonly known as a goatee is decidedly out of style. The poker world, however, never got the memo. Sadly, the likelihood that a poker player is sporting a goatee seems to be inversely proportional to the likelihood that he is otherwise attractive. Maybe this is actually a good thing, as the goatee’s primary purpose may be to deflect attention from butt ugliness. I am not sure.
Tracksuits. Emerging from the shadowy confines of the wardrobes of guidos and retirees in Florida, the tracksuit now appeals to a third category of person: the poker player. These things have become almost as popular as hoodies. I’ll admit it, I’m a tracksuit proponent; I own a few warmup jackets. When playing poker, I personally wear the top half of a tracksuit quite frequently. Like the hoodie, a partial tracksuit serves multiple purposes: it’s warm, it has pockets for your junk, and you look ever so sleek and athletic wearing one.
Sports Jerseys. Fifteen years ago, sports jerseys were throwback chic. But when hip-hop culture went mainstream, so did the sports jersey. Now everyone and their mother has a T.J. Houshmandzadeh uniform top. Jerseys are quite popular within the poker populace, which is not surprising, as the demographic that likes sitting on his couch watching sports all day happens to intersect with the demographic that likes sitting around playing cards all day. For whatever reason, the sports jersey is particularly popular with the morbidly obese—another category of person that there is no shortage of in the poker world. Apparently the fact that 300-pound men wear teal shirts on a football field makes them a natural fit for gigantic poker-playing fatasses.
Huge Headphones. If you’ve ever played serious tournament poker, you know that many players drown out the chatter at the table by listening to music. I’m not a proponent of this, but after two years of politely listening to inane babble, I can understand the appeal. As of late, especially amongst younger players, it is no longer enough to wear the earphones that come with your iPod. Nor is it enough to upgrade to nice, mid-sized Bose headphones. Instead, what you apparently really need are gigantic hubcap-sized headphones, bigger than the ones that plugged into 1978 HiFi systems. These things undoubtedly cost thousands of dollars. Four digits to look like an asshat. Quite a bargain!
Cowboy Hats. Discovering that many grown men wear cowboy hats on days other than Halloween was quite a revelation for me. What can I say, I’m from New York City; we don’t see many cowboy hats around here. Out in Vegas (and probably in Tunica, but I’ve never been), a lot of people wear them. This strikes me as unusual, since the original functions of the cowboy hat (to wit: protecting your face from the sun, fanning campfires, waving to other cowboys across the plains, smacking your horse’s ass) have no application in poker. The one reliable function cowboy hats seem to have in poker is to tell everyone that you lack skill. Other than Doyle Brunson and Hoyt Corkins, no man in the world who regularly wears a cowboy hat can play poker well.
Sunglasses: Perhaps the only bad part of the Chris Moneymaker Effect is the sunglasses. The popularity of wearing sunglasses whilst playing poker is slowly waning, but it still feels like some kind of edict was issued in 2003: “wear sunglasses to hide your tells from the big bad pros or perish!” Having had a lot of experience in the New York City dance club scene, when I came to poker I was not a stranger to the use of sunglasses indoors. And they’re used in both realms for the same purpose: to avoid looking nervous, sweaty and weird. There’s nothing like sitting down to play a $300 tournament and being surrounded by chip-riffling mirror-faced flies.
Those weird visor thingies: Closely related to but infinitely dorkier than sunglasses, some guys opt for the retarded spaceman look. This one is even more reliable than a cowboy hat. If you’re wearing this apparatus, you suck at poker.
Bad Jewelry: Poker is filled with men wearing gross jewelry. I’m admittedly a bit biased about this one, as I believe that jewelry looks bizarre on a man to begin with. It doesn’t help that the bracelets and rings awarded by the WSOP are butt-ugly eyesores. Everyone that’s ever won one of these things wears it whenever they play poker, and the number of guys who have won a WSOP event of some kind is increasing on an almost daily basis. On top of the braggarts wearing these trophies, you have various other bejeweled players: Your young guns showing off their “baller watches,” your older guys with their garish pinky rings, your gangstas with their diamond-encrusted medallions and earrings, and so on. I get the feeling that a lot of poker players are “ghetto rich.” No money in the bank, but wearing 50 large in clothes and jewels. Classy.
Toothpicks: Guilty as charged. There’s nothing cool looking about having a toothpick in your mouth, but I’ll be damned if I don’t feel more comfortable that way. I’ve been called “the toothpick guy” more times than I’d care to count. I’m writing this blog entry to rip on others, not myself, so let’s move on.
All Over Print Hoodies: I’ve made this fashion abomination a separate category from the regular hoodie because it needs to be said: these things are dreadful. They’ve become very prominent in the past two years or so, and like sports jerseys, they’re especially popular amongst the morbidly obese. This is peculiar. If I weighed 400 pounds, I would try my best to blend in. My idea of blending in is not a massive flourescent green tarp with thousands of little New York Yankee emblems on it. Bonus points with a matching ugly cap!
Marijuana gear: In 1992, Dr. Dre released a watershed album (okay, a compact disc) with a pot leaf on it. Almost immediately, clothing with hemp leaves and other allusions to weed become all the rage. Teenagers all over America started wearing that stuff. It is now 2008, and in my estimation, any man who enters a poker tournament wearing a weed shirt is both behind the times and too old for it. Something like 75% of the kids in America go through a phase where they’re infatuated with smoking weed, it’s really not a big deal. It’s fine if you continue to smoke weed in your adulthood, also not a big deal. But if you’re in your twenties and think your “look at me, I’m high” shirt is still cool, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’re just advertising the fact that you’ve yet to outgrow a phase that most of us are done with. I bet you’ve got a really cool bong behind your couch, too. Wow. Congrats.
T-Shirts with poker quips on them:
You’re probably bluffing? You don’t chop? You’ve got the nuts?! Kiss your ace?!! Very clever.
That Bellagio t-shirt: What is it with this shirt? Everyone has one. It’s a white, long-sleeved t-shirt with “Bellagio” printed in huge blue block letters in an arc across the back, up by the shoulders. Does owning this shirt signify something I should be aware of? Go away, Bellagio shirt.
Cell phone, clipped to the outside, not in the pocket: Do I even have to elaborate on this one? See the non-ironic goatee description but multiply everything I said by 200. Some serious doofballs play poker.
Spinning card protector: Miraculously, some company actually sells a lot of these trinkets. There are hundreds of dudes out there who receive their hole cards, place them neatly face down in front of them, then proceed to put this little metallic apparatus on top of them, then spin the thing like a top. There goes two seconds of your life that you could have used more productively, Mr. Spinny.
Very expensive designer t-shirts: These are popular with younger Russian-American players and Scandinavian players of all ages. They show up to play in simple but wildly expensive clothing: designer jeans and an Armani Exchange t-shirt that costs over $200. This is a subtle way of telling everyone that you’re baller, I guess. It says “I know that a cotton t-shirt normally retails for $5.00, but I’ve won so much money playing poker that I can afford this tight, high priced number you see me wearing.” That’s intimidating.
Spiky hair: This one heavily correlates with the designer t-shirt, but is even more popular. I guess spiked hair is just big across the board with men in their young 20’s? I’m anti-hair products, but I admittedly went through a heavy gelling phase back in the day. I generally feel like an old fart when I see spiky hair at my table.
The non-ironic trucker hat: Like goatees, the trucker hat was co-opted by hipsters around five years ago, and the look has gained such prominence that the trucker hat (defined as a baseball cap that is comprised of over 50% mesh material) in its ironic format has practically gone mainstream. The idea behind this fashion statement, as the name implies, is irony. Since no one in their right mind would wear such an eyesore, it’s cool to wear it! But when it comes to trucker hats, what the poker world occasionally bestows upon us is something much more extraordinary: the non-ironic trucker hat. Yes, that’s right—at a poker table you will occasionally see an old guy wearing a trucker hat not because of the snarky fashion value, not because he saw Ashton Kutcher wearing one, and not because his girlfriend gave him a piece of shit that says “Von Dutch” on it. The old guy is wearing the trucker hat because it’s his hat, and he likes his hat. He might even be an actual trucker! Incidentally, old guys in non-ironic trucker hats only raise with pocket aces.
Signed WSOP gear: I’ve saved the best (read: worst) for last! Every now and then, another player at my tournament table will show up wearing a hat or t-shirt with the WSOP emblem, signed by one or more professional poker players. Poker celebrities and those who admire them enough to seek their autographs are strange to begin with. Donning their autographs for a poker tournament is downright crazy. Perhaps these walking dotted lines think that wearing the autograph will imbue them with the signer’s talent? I wonder if the autograph wearers realize that half of poker’s great pros are deadbeats, degenerates, or otherwise of questionable moral character. I need to get me a NYSGOV hat signed by Elliot Spitzer.