The following history of the All Worlds Fair dress code is taken from Malcolm Gladwell’s article “All Worlds, All’s Fair” in the New Amsterdam Magazine, Oct. 22, 2017.
It began on one of the quark-forward worlds of the 3,000 discontinuous histories, when the painter Truman Capote was made the official portrait artist of his universe’s turn to host the All Worlds Fair.
The organizers, in particular the American Chairman Frederick Douglass, said they weren’t looking for a controversy, but it’s difficult to take them at their word. Capote’s reputation had been nothing but controversial after his painting series “In Cold Blood,” in which he composed portraits of convicted murderers thinking about their victims. It was eerie, uncanny, art, and viewings often drove the victims’ families to tears. Capote was accused of glorifying evil – of making it sexy the way Milton had Satan in Paradise Lost. Washington Post columnist Joseph Alsop publicly predicted Capote would use the All World’s Fair as an opportunity for further scandal, which he called “Capote’s only real art.”
Copote had never cared for Alsop, once saying he was “a priest’s idea of a politician’s idea of a journalist who knows his place,” but this time he proved Alsop right.
Capote series of paintings from the Fair presented visiting dignitaries, including Nelson Mandela, Henry Ford, Marilyn Monroe, and German Prime Mininster Marcel Reich-Ranicki, as clowns performing in a medieval Italian Commedia dell’Arte. He portrayed Benjamin Disraeli on all fours in white makeup and a pointy hat holding a bone with his teeth, and Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei dancing a sailor’s jig in a priest’s collar and unitard.
Condemnation in the press and the halls of power quicklyfollowed, and warrants for Capote’s were issued in 12 countries. Mobs protested in Saudi Arabia, whose King Fahd had been portrayed as a Venetian courtier in a Harlequin mask. Queen Victoria’s personal assassin, the decadent Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was dispatched to eliminate Capote, who by now had fled to one of Saturn’s orbital stations.
But while Alsop had been right about Capote’s motivation, he was wrong about Capote’s skill as an artist. The quality of the controversial paintings was quickly remarked upon by both art critics and popular blogs. A tipping point was reached, and for all that they were a political failure the portraits were an immense popular success. The work went viral, going from success to sensation, until having had a portrait taken by Capote at the All Worlds Fair became an immense status symbol, the kind that the powerful usually had to yield to the popular.
Elite social opinion turned, at least publicly, hailing Capote as a genius once again, and charges were dropped. Rosetti was called off shortly before poisoning Capote’s wine, and the two became lovers.
At the next year’s Fair, held on planet of liquid hydrogen orbiting binary suns, major dignitaries began to appear wearing Commedia dell’Arte costumes. The first recorded (though possibly not the first to come up with the idea) was Marshall McLuhan, the Disney Kingdom’s Secretary of State. Seeing that the major dignitaries were dressing, other Travellers began following suit (literally), until an informal dress code had appeared.
Once apparent, that dress code was seized upon by the All Worlds Fair as a common activity, even cause, that the representatives of infinite planets and universes can all agree on. They could be united through fashion and beauty in a way that, historically speaking, they never would be through politics, religion, or culture.
The dress code has since become its own mission, one ruthlessly enforced by the Passport office and the Docents. The penalties for violation tend to vary from host planet and universe to host universe and planet, depending on the local culture, but it has traditionally involved expulsion, ironic punishments of no less than three Hademeters, or death.
Travelers should note that this year’s Fair theme is black and white.