It was not the proudest moment of my childhood when I had to walk up to my teacher in the middle of class and say, â€œI think I might be wearing someone elseâ€™s shoes.â€
In 1987 everyone in the second grade wore Eastland leather loafers. One day we had recess in the gym, but because we might scuff up the basketball court, we were told to take our shoes off before playing. After recess, when I went to get my shoes, I couldnâ€™t remember exactly where I had placed them. Confronted by sixty identical pairs of Eastlands, I ended up having to take a guess. Back in the classroom, it took awhile before I finally admitted to myself that I had guessed incorrectly.
My teacher somehow got my pair back, but by the end of this ordeal, for the first time in my life I realized that brand conformity wasnâ€™t necessarily a good thing. Yes, my Eastlands allowed me to fit in, but did I really want to fit in so much that I couldnâ€™t tell myself apart from anyone else? I shouldâ€™ve let Mom buy me the Colorado brand loafers, even though they were cheaper. Better yet, why didnâ€™t I just wear tennis shoes? Why were seven-year-olds even wearing loafers?
This incident was not enough to end my desire for fashion brand clothing. Throughout the rest of my grade school years, the seat of my jeans had to have the triangular Guess? logo, the front of my shirts had to have the proud little polo player on his horse, and after the Eastlands craze died out, my shoes had to have a silhouette of Michael Jordan spreading eagle.
Little thought went into my decision to wear these brands. At the very least, they would allow me to look a bit more like the other kids, a comforting thought for the classâ€™s smallest boy. At the most, in my imagination, these brands would somehow better me. For instance, moments after my parents paid far too much for a fourth-graderâ€™s shoes, I ran through the mall in my new Air Jordans. After building up speed, I jumped, then turned to my parents and said, â€œI can feel it. Iâ€™m definitely jumping higher now.â€ â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ they said lovingly. â€œWe could tell.â€
Looking back, I think I wore the popular brands for the same reason anyone in school does: I did not want to be perceived as different. By the time I got to high school, my thinking had become the exact opposite. Nothing could be worse than looking like everyone else. Punk rock taught me to shun fashion brand clothing. That moment of displeasure I had felt when I realized how dumb it was for everyone to wear Eastlandsâ€”punk rock took that moment and turned it into a lifestyle. It took that displeasure and turned it into disdain.
By the mid-nineties, Tommy Hilfiger had become the most ubiquitous fashion brand in America, and its red and white logo became for me the symbol of that vilest of qualities: conformity. To satirize the youth obsession with Tommy, I bought some iron-on letters and ironed â€œTOMMY HILFIGER SHIRTâ€ in big, obnoxious fonts onto one of my dadâ€™s old polo shirts. I wore the shirt on stage with my band and sang, â€œThe teenage crowd is getting loud/Theyâ€™re trying to get me/to join in their generic ways of name brand mentality.â€ Somewhere my Air Jordansâ€”assuming such magical shoes had anthropomorphic propertiesâ€”were weeping in a landfill.
As with so many teenage nonconformists, the Goodwill thrift store became my primary fashion destination. My shirts could not have logos on them, unless it was a brand that was hopelessly out of fashion. A brown Izod shirt made it into my wardrobe because its little crocodile patch had been so cherished by the preps of the eighties yet so ignored by the preps of the nineties. If it sounds like far too much thought went into a look that was meant to suggest apathy toward personal appearance, then far too little thought went into the wearing of my beloved Chuck Taylors.
For some reasonâ€”and this seems to apply to members of the counter-culture the world overâ€”the disdain of popular brands and the avoidance of looking like anyone else does not apply to this one article of clothing. I had noticed at age fourteen that black canvass Chucks were worn by all my favorite punk bands and by all the other teenagers who wanted to be â€œdifferent.â€ So I too had to have that circled star logo on my feet.
I think I knew all along that my Chucks represented a hard-to-face fact: I was full of shit and just as enslaved by the rules of fashion as a thirteen-year-old cheerleader.
This fact gradually made its way from the back of my mind to the front, and today, as a thirty-year-old, I am finally able to ignore what my superego has to say about which logos should adorn my person. I am finally able to wear precisely what I want, and funnily enough, half the time, I want to wear . . . well-known brands. I see now that a personâ€™s attitude toward brands runs parallel to his maturity. Rather than seeing a popular brand as a means of fitting in or as a symbol of mainstream complacency, I now see an established brand as something of high quality that will play only a tiny role in getting me through the day. Iâ€™ve come a long way; these days, generic loafers and Tommy jeans rest harmoniously in my closet, and while I might not be ready to wear a giant Tommy logo across my chest without self-consciousness, itâ€™s been weeksâ€”maybe monthsâ€”since Iâ€™ve accidentally put on another personâ€™s shoes.
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Joey Goebel is an American author whose work centers around the peculiarities of culture in Middle America. Goebel's books â€žTorture the Artistâ€œ, â€žThe Anomaliesâ€œ, and â€žCommonwealthâ€œ have been published in over ten languages. Goebel lives in Kentucky, with wife Micah, and is currently writing his fourth novel which will appear later this year and will likely be called Â«I Against OsbourneÂ».
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