Perhaps, it began with a plaid Polo by Ralph Lauren button down. We were the poor family at a posh country club where every tween wore almost exclusively Polo. We all wore green or navy blue work pants, excessively tapered with safety pins. We all had Converse canvas on our feet. The shoes and the pants were within my family’s budget, but for that shirt I had to contribute a portion of my allowance and chore savings to cover the disparity in cost between a non-designer shirt and something of extravagance.
Maybe, it was then, as an eleven year old that I learned the words “prestige”, “status” and “class”. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would learn the words “conspicuous consumption”, "ideology” and “bourgeoise”.
I remember wearing that silly Polo shirt every chance I got. It was the only piece of clothing I had that could possibly convey to the equestrian girls who were the objects of my affections, that I could be considered as one of them.
Then, when I got into skating, I learned new styles and labels, but they are all the same vocabulary. I mail ordered the newest Airwalks, and when those were sold out, Puma Clydes, Adidas shell-toes, then DCs. There wasn’t a shred of clothing that I owned that did not have a skate company logo on it and they had to be the most current. (And there had to be the stock Misfits tee for credibility.) There was also that brief and regrettable “Rave” phase which was dominated by Fresh Jive and Clobber.
The thing is: It always came down to labels. That little strip behind your neck told you who you were and you, in turn, were able to tell the world. The paradigm of status had not changed at all, only the context had: class was not contingent upon socio-economics, as much as it was on (sub-)cultural distinction.
Recently, I have once again found a new style of dress and appearance that speaks to my evolving identity. I still do enjoy my t-shirt collection (every single one of them a band shirt from a gig) and my skate kicks, but now I have let other expressions of garb enter into my vocabulary. I have learned the word “refinement” and the names of labels that are new to me. But, what I must point out is that, as with anything new, we learn – understood first as symbol – there is an intrinsic and essential meaning underneath the surface that must resonate personally before it is assimilated.
Now my jeans are fitted and their materials make me feel as confident as the label scratching my tailbone. I dress according to my build and the situation, from dingy bar to art openings and client meetings. The change in attire coincides with a change in attitude and outlook, becoming comfortable in the manner of language.