What Are You WEARING?

I hate logo clothing -- gear that bears the logo of a company, that promotes a brand name or a product or a service or a company. I hate everything that has the logo of a major league sports team or player. I hate every item of clothing with a Nike swoosh on it. I detest people who wear designer clothing, especially DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger and so on. The more prominent the brand name, the more a culture of collectivity there is associated with it.

I have a friend who is very into hip hop fashion. Hey, more power to her, if she likes that style. But I have to say, I don't give a flying fuck for Stussy and Diesel garments, nor do I think they are worth foaming at the mouth for. So my friend dragged me into the store downtown on Broadway and Bleecker, the place that used to be the Blue Willow restaurant, where the back room was this wonderful stone-floored place, furnished with King Arthur's Court thronelike chairs and tables, oriental rugs hanging on the tall tall walls, a lovely haunted place that is now and forever gone ... and now in this store, they have stuff from DKNY and Ralph Lauren and similar design houses, red white and blue and logos everywhere, and she salivated and I raged over the stock. I couldn't believe how expensive this crap was. It was the first time I'd realized what kind of money they are getting for this stuff. For weeks after that I walked around looking at people in this same ! kind of clothes, and all I could think was how much money they were willing to blow on these lame garments.

Never mind that for the price of one of those outfits you could feed a family of ten in a fourth-world country for three months. Never mind that this city is overrun with homeless, as is the whole country. Never mind that nothing ever fucking trickles down to the poor in this country or in this entire world. Never mind any of that shit, though I don't mean to imply that they're not important issues.

But what does it say about the buyer's sense of personal value? What are you buying when you pay even one dollar for an item of clothing, say a baseball cap or a jacket, that has the logo of some trademarked entity on it? You are paying the company for the privilege of doing their marketing for them. You are promoting their product, their service, or their image. What are you, nuts? If you are doing work for someone they should pay you for it. Otherwise you are valuing your work at a very low rate. You are buying into the company's marketing machine.

I think it's significant that the sectors of society most likely to buy into a marketing machine seem to be the least privileged in terms of education, in terms of opportunity. There must be a correlation between that demographic and what I postulate to be low self-esteem associated with buying marketing machine clothing.

Okay, now for the embarrassing inconsistencies in my own approach. I admit that I make some exceptions. For instance, I wear the t-shirt of my friend Melissa's first band, STP (not to be confused with Stone Temple Pilots! This is the band that toured with Sonic Youth and Nirvana in 1991 just before Nirvana hit it big; then they broke up), because I love my friend Melissa and I think that's a cool reference. I just don't think Tommy Hilfiger is cool. But the reason behind that is, Tommy Hilfiger is way too huge for the quality of their goods and has a huge budget devoted to PR and marketing for 1997, whereas STP is defunct, and they were dirt broke the whole time they were in existence you can be sure.

I also wear and endorse ad t-shirts for certain Southern concerns, such as Hatch Show Prints, in Nashville; Stuckey's; and Waffle House. Because I'm from the South. Because, aint no Southern company with any soul at all that's got a marketing department to boast of. Thank God. And, finally, because the South lost the war. I'm glad they lost the war, they should have lost the war, but they will always be the underdogs, for the rest of history, and I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for underdogs, as a general rule. (And by the way, just in case you are in any way confused on this point, despite the fact that it was started in and is headquartered in Atlanta, Coca Cola is a multinational power, not a Southern company. Atlanta is not really a Southern city anyway.)

Here are the other things I think are okay to sport:

  • something from a college, if you feel strongly about it (for or against)
  • anything you crib from the subway, because it's so grimy and nobody cheers for it
  • the sweatshirt my brother gave me from the New York Athletic Club, because it's so horribly upper-crusty and I'm so not
  • any unauthorized things you copy and put on t-shirts yourself
  • the Valium and other psychoactive drug brand name baseball caps that my friend Dan Appel made and sold in NYC, because they're so stultifyingly cynical
  • my own company logo, the logos of my friends' businesses and bands, because I'm proud of them

I am comfortably uncomfortable with my own compromises. I'm not saying I plan to write a rule book for the world on which ads are okay to wear and which aren't. I am saying you ought to think a little about what you're wearing and why you're wearing it. I mean, a Newport t-shirt, what the fuck? How lame are you? The Hard Rock Cafe? Give it to Goodwill, whydontcha? Black Dog bar? Every third person has been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Literally. The Disney conglomeroma? Hello? Do you even have a soul?

My own rule of thumb is, if they're big enough to do their own marketing, I don't want to be caught dead paying them for the opportunity to do that work for them. But it's perfectly fine to sport a shirt with their face or their product or their name brand on it -- if they're struggling, or better yet, if they're already six feet under.