This isn’t about wearing fur. Most clothes are made from plants (may they rest in peace for the sacrifice they made for our clothing), or oil (yucky, but useful), and occasionally wool or silk (close to fur because animals are involved, but much saner.) But are you wearing what you would wear if you choose the clothes that best fit your life, or like almost everyone, are you wearing what was on the rack or online and that fits, somewhat? A visit to South Whidbey’s local department (Webb’s in Freeland) and some time spent at the Whidbey Island Fair made me think about brands, messages, and freedoms. And then, there was a news item.
Webb’s is so local and well-established that I can’t find a web site for it. (Looking for Webb’s on the web pleases the writer and programmer in me.) No need for a web site, if you’re on the south part of Whidbey Island you’ll be able to find directions by asking another local. They have something there I greatly appreciate and plan to buy: baseball hats without logos, sports teams, brand names, or messages. It’s nice to have a hat that isn’t trying to detour a conversation. They probably have the other hats, too; but I’m not looking for those.
I already have many hats. Like most folks who’ve worked in the Gig Economy, it’s easy to accumulate resume hats and resume shirts. The hats are preferred because they’re easier to switch if you playfully want to wear the right hat for the right gig. Changing shirts that often gets cumbersome. As I type, the hat beside me is “Photo-Press” from a volunteer photo gig I did with Hearts & Hammers (like Habitat for Humanity, but for repair instead of construction.) Behind me is my Coldwell Banker hat, for when I want to emphasize that I’m a real estate broker. (It helps in redirect otherwise distracting discussions so contractors, neighbors, and others can easily identify who is the broker and who is the buyer.) The pile of hats deserves its own rack. The same thing is true with T-shirts and polo shirts. As I type, I’m wearing a polo shirt from Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville bar, a souvenir from my bicycle ride across America (Just Keep Pedaling.) Instead of a resume, it’s a conversation starter.
The idea of wearing clothes with someone else’s name on them is new. Thank mass production and marketing. Now, it’s common to wear your favorite sports team, or political message; but it’s also common to wear brand names. We pay to advertise companies, declaring some allegiance, even if it was really just a case of finding something that fit, or at least fit the wallet. Go back a hundred years and athletes needed some of that display, which was better than shirts versus skins. Armies have needed such displays for thousands of years. Friendly fire and the fog of war aren’t new.
Over the weekend, Land’s End delivered a few T-shirts that I ordered. No logo. No pockets. Nothing extraneous. Even the little tag inside was minimized to being printed on the fabric, not some scratchy sewn-on label. (The history of those labels is surprisingly intense with labor unions and desperate messages, but that’s another story.) Even with such simple clothes, I’m wearing someone else’s idea of fit and function.
This weekend’s country fair was a reminder that it wasn’t that way hundreds of years ago. At the Fair there were handmade clothes, fabric arts from scarves to gowns. Not my style, but impressive work. One period piece from a seamstress known for creating new vintage clothing (Patrician Designs) was notable for the expertise involved, (the lack of good lighting for me to get a good photo), and the custom nature of the clothing. Then, there was more functionality incorporated into the fashion. Now, it is a fashion statement (or an art piece for some museum or gallery.) At the Fair there were also a range of choices. There were plenty of logos and such, but there were also handmade outfits, or clothes heavily personally tie-dyed or embellished. The clothes weren’t just being worn, they were displaying individuality.
Now, most of us wear what’s available. If we can’t find it, we aren’t likely to design it, sew it, or custom hire it. (I’m sure clothiers will be happy to do so.) It’s a luxury to wear something that fits and that doesn’t intrude on the wearer’s personality.
As I sit here in my real estate office, I realize that people are probably more likely to hire an architect to custom design a house than to hire a tailor or dress designer. Why not work with someone to make pants with the right pockets, shirts with the right collars, a kilt or a dress that’s gender neutral yet functional?
Cost, of course; and familiarity. Few folks can afford architects, yet there are several on the island. Fewer are familiar with the idea of buying clothing that isn’t as convenient as possible – even though clothes cost less than houses. Those T-shirts I bought were all on sale. Not quite the colors I wanted, but they weren’t black or white, either. That’s about as expressive as I’m willing to afford.
And then there is other consequence of wearing someone else’s name. I like New Balance’s shoes. Sorry, Nike; but New Balance has helped me complete a few marathons, walking tours, and hikes. I don’t know why, but their shoes fit my feet better than any brand I’ve tried. But, wearing their shoes means wearing their logo, and wearing their logo reminds me of their CEO’s political positions. It’s possible to find dress shoes that don’t have logos on display, but running and hiking shoes don’t provide those options. Shoes, in particular, must fit well. They may be the most functional clothing we wear, at least when the weather behaves. But their fit and function can be far secondary to their corporate owner’s opinions. My opinions don’t get such a display.
Except within nudist communities or for recluses, we silly humans must cover up to not distract each other with our natural humanity. Clothes are a necessity. Individuality has become a luxury. I’m glad I know people who can enable theirs and others individualities. As for me, I’ve got some ideas, but for a while it will continue to be mass-produced sales and simplicity – maybe with a bit of Sharpie work to cover up a logo or two. Nah. That wouldn’t be stylish.