Marlboro man meets Cyndi Lauper in this chic East Nashville couple

Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 10:00pm
Libby Callaway
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Joshua Black Wilkins and Cali DeVaney

I realize that fashion is a fleeting thing, and that by its very definition it’s meant to change and evolve on a constant basis.

And while the transitory nature of style is one of the things I love most about it, I still have a very special place of respect reserved for people who expertly mine a very narrow fashion niche. This is probably because it’s actually harder to find a signature look and remain 100 percent loyal to it on a long-term basis than it is to dip into several trends each season, hoping that one of them might work.

I don’t know if it was a long, painful process for Joshua Black Wilkins to find his signature look — a fixed composition of American classics like jeans, white T-shirts, work boots and topped off with a crisp vintage fedora. All I know is that for as long as I’ve known him (we met on a photo shoot in Watertown a few years ago) he’s been devoted to it — and that it really works for him.

His girl Cali DeVaney is no less dedicated to her style — a colorful, layered blend of gypsy pieces tempered with edgier rock ‘n’ roll basics, not to mention stretches of glorious tattoos that in warm weather figure as a sort of permanent underpinning (there’s a reason they call them “tattoo sleeves”). Her look may be more unpredictable than her beau’s, but Cali’s style is no less authentic.

Here, the Inglewood-based couple tackle the Arbitrarian Questionnaire, the Style Arbiter’s signature list of 20 fashion-centric questions posed to folks whose personal styles I find intriguing.

Without further ado, Joshua and Cali share their thoughts on the importance of wearing good boots, the guilty pleasure of watching fashion victims shake it on the dance floor, and where to go to order the perfect suit to wear to collect your first Grammy.

THE ARBITRARIAN QUESTIONNAIRE

Names: Joshua Black Wilkins and Cali DeVaney
Occupations: Singer/songwriter & photographer; hair stylist at The Chop Shop

What’s your signature style?
JBW: Classic Americana: jeans, a T-shirt, boots and a hat — like the Marlboro man. Classic.
CD: Gypsy punk. I like a really eclectic mix of things together, kinda boho-gypsy but always with a slightly punk or rocker edge. I guess I will always have that edge because of the tattoos – they’re not really going anywhere!

What look do you like to see most worn by a man?
JBW: Good fitting suits and non-trendy blue jeans.
CD: Good boots.

What look do you like to see most worn by a woman?
JBW: Cowboy boots and dresses.
CD: High heels.

To which “fashion tribe” do you belong?
JBW: Former rock-a-billy, all grown up.
CD: Grunge/punk teenager, all grown up.

What’s the worst trend you’ve ever bought into?
JBW: Remember pinch rolled jeans?
CD: Duckhead shorts.

What Nashville stores do you enjoy shopping the most?

JBW: Sam’s Clothing & Shoes at 5th and Church and American Apparel for T-shirts and underwear.
CD: Pangea, Flora at Fanny’s, Marti and Liz.

What’s your dream outfit?
JBW: A good-fitting suit from Manuel that would be black. I would wear it to accept my Grammy.
CD: A custom-made dress from Betsey Johnson or Heatherette that would be bright as hell and crazy. I would make Joshua take a million pics of me in it!

What’s your least favorite piece of clothing to see worn by others?
JBW: Flip-flops — especially on men, because most dudes that wear them have awful feet!
CD: Eighties mom jeans.

What are your favorite non-Nashville cities and stores to shop?
JBW: The Stronghold, Venice Beach, Calif.
CB: The Honeypot, Asheville, N.C.

What is your favorite color?
JBW: Blue.
CD: Orange.

What is your favorite local hangout or restaurant?
JBW: Foobar and Zavos.
CD: Patterson House and Margot Cafe.

What’s your Nashville spot to people watch?
JBW & CD: The 5 Spot on Monday nights, when they have the dance party. People are dressing to impress and jumping on every trend possible. [There are] always too many trends going on at once on one person, so it’s a good place to sit in the corner with your drink and learn what not to wear!

Who are your favorite writers?
JBW: Chuck Palahniuk
CD: Chuck Klosterman

Who are your favorite fashion icons?
JBW: Tom Waits, because he has a timeless look. He hasn't changed it in like 40 years. And he knows how to wear a hat.
CD: Cyndi Lauper (in the ‘80s) is one of my favorites because she was so wacky, and she always looked tough and beautiful at the same time. I always loved her hair!

What kind of music do you enjoy?
JBW: Honest music.
CD: Everything but pop-country.

Who are your favorite artists?
JBW: Steve Earle, Tom Waits and Whiskeytown.
CD: T-Rex, Led Zeppelin and M.I.A.

Who are other Nashvillians whose styles you appreciate?

JBW: Jack White, because he has good taste in suits. Like me, he went for Manuel (to accept a Grammy).
CD: Niko Gherke is a good friend of mine. He’s a bartender at the Red Door East and owner of the restaurant Zavos. He's super rock and roll and always looks bada**! That man can rock a scarf!

What recent fashion trend do you dislike most?

JBW: The opening of Urban Outfitters.
CD: Nerd/homely chic. I'm not sure I understand why people are dressing to look unattractive. Ill-fitting earth-tone clothing, oversized sunglasses, and [stuff] our moms wore when we were little? Yuck!

What look would you never wear but love seeing on others?

JBW: Suspenders.
CD: Short shorts.

What do you want to be buried in?
JBW: I want to be cremated… in a Manuel suit.
CD: Naked. The way I came in, the way I go out.

What do you have on right now?

JBW: Jeans, boots, a T-shirt and a fedora.
CD: Jeans, green platform shoes, a custom-made tank top and a leopard print cardigan.

What items of clothing do you find yourself buying over and over again?
JBW: Plain T-shirts. They never go out of style, and I want my style to be the same in 40 years.
CD: Platform shoes and motorcycle boots. I don't wear heels, so I feel girlie in platforms. And boots are my thing: I own way to many pairs that all kinda look the same. But they always add a little bit of bada** to any outfit! I have gotten most of them at used shoe stores.

What’s been your biggest fashion splurge?
JBW: Custom-made White's boots for about $500.
CD: Various pieces of clothing from Project Alabama.

What’s your style motto?
JBW: “I'll break it in myself.”
CD: Screw labels.