A reluctant student of eschatology, The Bitch was alarmed this week to receive what might be the fourth or fifth sign so far this year of the imminent Armageddon.
Although tight, revealing garb and Burberry tams are venerated as South Florida cultural standards, Lior Gonda, a Web designer from Weston, was asked to leave a popular mall because he was wearing a demure floor-dusting skirt.
This past July 17, Gonda and a group of friends spent an enjoyable afternoon shopping and socializing at the Boynton Beach Mall. They had just left Claire's Accessories -- no doubt stocking up on black rubber bracelets and Hello Kitty gear -- when they were approached by mall security guard Erik Jean François.
"It was maybe 4:00 p.m. We were standing around, talking, deciding where we were going to go next, and François came by and told us we were blocking pedestrian traffic. We started walking away. I took two or three steps, and the guard looked at me and said that because I'm a guy, I'm not allowed to wear that kind of outfit at the mall," Gonda recalls.
Turns out Gonda's Highlander-looking getup meets all Bitch Sartorial Safety Standards.
"It was probably completely black. Most of my skirts are black, and all of them are long, floor-length. They're really baggy and really comfortable. Much more comfortable than pants, I can tell you. I was probably wearing like a fishnet shirt with a shirt over it. Also most of the time I wear some kind of hat," Gonda says.
But back to the incident: "I guess the guard was paying close attention to me, because from far away, my skirt just looks like baggy pants. He said I either had to zip it up and make it a two-legged item -- and the skirt I was wearing doesn't do that -- or I had to leave. I didn't feel like making a big scene, where he would call the cops or anything like that, and it was close to closing time, so we just left," remembers Gonda.
The Bitch wonders: If a Scottish gentleman were to enter the shopping complex wearing a traditional kilt, would he be asked to leave? Or a Vietnamese male in an ao dai or Greek fellow in a foustanella? What if the ghosts of Mohandas Ghandi and Kurt Cobain wanted to get together at the food court to talk poppy propagation? Is there an official mall regulation against tasteful gender-bending style? Efforts to obtain a copy of the mall's rules were met with stubborn refusal.
"After we were kicked out, I asked one of my friends who wasn't wearing a skirt to take my camera and please take a picture of the rules, which are posted on a bulletin board near the entrance. The security guy who kicked me out suddenly ran in front of the board and told my friend he was not allowed to take pictures at the mall," Gonda explains. "My friend was being respectful, and some malls do have that policy, so he requested a printed copy of the rules -- which I believe is a decent request -- and the guy ignored him and just repeated himself, no pictures at the mall. That's what my friend told me. I wasn't actually with him because I didn't want to go inside the mall again and have the security guy yell at me."
Attempts via e-mail to obtain a copy of the mall rules were in vain. The Bitch made several further stabs at gathering data from the management office of the Boynton Beach Mall, including leaving voicemail messages for Carla Davis, the head of mall marketing; and Andrea Horne, the mall's manager. The Bitch was informed by an unfriendly receptionist that Davis and Horne were the only people who could provide her with a copy of the mall's rules. Some semblance of an irrational response came from Sam Yates, the public relations representative for BBM, who sent The Bitch's request through the proper elaborate channels. Yates then responded via e-mail by saying Gonda's ejection was related to behavior, not appearance: "The mall welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Miami New Times inquiry. Our records indicate that on July 17, a group of youth at the mall were asked to leave after they were observed creating a disturbance.... Rowdy or inappropriate behavior is in conflict with Rules of Conduct posted in the mall. We ask all mall visitors to adhere to our Rules of Conduct for the safety of everyone."
The Bitch pointed out that, given her love of provocative attire, it would be difficult to plan an inoffensive outing to, say, the mall's Hot Topic -- a presumably rent-paying, mall-traffic-generating chain store dedicated to outfitting My Chemical Romance-loving alternateens -- without a copy of the mall's rules. Yates's response: "Feel free to visit the Boyton mall [sic] if you would like to see the Conduct Code that is posted at several locations in the mall. A hand-out/printed version is not available."
Gonda says his fashion sense isn't meant to be a big confrontational deal, nor is it inspired by the wizards of Harry Potter, Wiccan worship, or intense fandom of Dungeons & Dragons.
"It's just a lifestyle," Gonda shrugs. "I express myself by wearing what I want." His friends share a similar stylistic credo. "My friends dress the same, for the most part. We don't have to be in skirts -- it's more like what today's society would describe as a 'goth' outfit," says Gonda. "But I don't believe in labels; I just express myself through whatever means possible, and one of my means of self-expression is through fashion. I enjoy acting as well, so dressing up in many different ways is something I enjoy. I used to volunteer for the Renaissance Fair and dress up in those old-fashioned clothes," he explains. "If females are allowed to wear skirts, why aren't guys?" asks the free-spirited fashion plate.
Having spent some time chatting with Gonda about many things normal and paranormal, The Bitch is pretty sure he is not an incorrigible shopping-center rabble-rouser. But even if the mall's elusive rules clearly state no gentleman is allowed to wear a skirt while roaming from the Thomas Kinkade Gallery to Piercing Pagoda Plus, that would not satisfy Gonda and friends.
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"If the rule doesn't exist, then the security guard was abusing his power, and if it does exist, then I think it's a discrimination against alternative lifestyles. And besides that, the guard didn't let us see the regulations. If the rule exists, I would like someone to show it to me."
Gonda's next step is to complain to Simon, the Indianapolis-based company that owns the Boynton Beach Mall. He also intends to investigate the matter further, possibly by returning to the scene of the crime, with a small army of similarly dressed friends.
"If it's a one-time deal, then people won't care about it. But if it's a pattern of behavior, then that might have more influence in either changing the regulation or raising awareness of the issue," he says. "I just want to encourage people to be themselves and to not be afraid of expressing themselves through what they wear, how they act, or their sexual preference."
As The Bitch always advises when she is asked how best to thwart The Man: Fight back with fashion.