Becoming a Renaissance Man, Part 7

Don’t Purchase Prepackaged Identity

Many of us use our sartorial selections to convey a specific identity, and it’s been that way for much of human history. But people are increasingly going from using clothing to convey their experiences to using clothing as replacements for actual experiences. It’s become so commonplace a phenomenon that we don’t even notice it.

Case in point, examine these current faux-Vintage shirts from The Gap and Old Navy I recently happened upon while shopping. I tracked down pictures of them from the store websites so that you could feast your own eyes on these sorry style specimens:

Take a serious look at the messages on them. Motorcycle clubs from the past. Athletic clubs that were established decades ago. Auto service stations with a long history. California surfing clubs. A custom racing equipment company from Southern California. Historical motorcycle clubs. An old NYC hardware store. A low-key country bait and tackle shop. A Brooklyn whiskey bar from the 30s.

If you’re 40 or  under, which is the target demographic of these banally bourgeois boutiques, you’re too young to have any firsthand connection to any of the things these shirts reference. The other possibility is that these shirts depict establishments that still exist. Or yet another possibility is that these shirts were inherited from older family members and shamelessly showcase adventures and enterprises that are relevant to perhaps your parents, as in maybe your dad was a biker or your parents met at a surf championship, making the shirt a link to your ancestral past. Or these could be businesses and events from your hometown, and you’re wearing them to pay tribute to a bygone era of the place you were born. These are all quaint notions, but I actually researched every logo on these shirts and they’re all totally fabricated. None of these gyms, motorcycle clubs, surf championships, bars or hardware stores ever really existed. They’re announcing prevaricated pasts, whimsical watering holes, and convincing yet totally concocted companies.

Why would you take the time to choose and purchase a shirt with graphics on it that advertise places and events you have no connection to? And you can’t use such appalling apparel as convincing conversation pieces, since no one else you meet will have any connection to them either, since they’re all showcasing fake things. What message are you trying to send? Things like these are like the everyday adult version of playing dress-up with Halloween costumes and assuming a fantasy persona for a night, only it’s not as cute and precious an affectation when you’re an adult. It’s kind of vapid and unimaginative, and it only impresses and attracts similarly vapid and unimaginative people.

The classic Maddox website had a similar rant about people who buy new, prefaded jeans:

I wouldn’t even bitch so much if these new faded jeans didn’t look like shit. Seriously, you can’t wear stupid shit like this and not know that you’re an idiot:

Wow. How cool, a strip of white going down your pant legs. Too bad it looks like a phony piece of shit, much like the personalities of the people who wear faded jeans: fake. Quit buying this stupid bullshit. If you want faded clothes, search through your closet or at least buy the cheap stuff from thrift stores so you don’t seem like as big of an asshole in front of someone who can’t afford the luxury of blowing their money on worn out clothing.

Here’s an idea: if you want to wear faded clothes so that you look like you can’t afford new clothes, then why don’t you buy real faded clothes from a thrift shop and give away the rest of your money to someone who will spend it on buying NEW clothes that they need instead, asshole?

This is why people are so fucking boring nowadays. We live in a society where people spend every last minute working in cubicles and offices, then spend the weekend engaging in what I call compensatory consumption to make up for the fact that they’re too drained from the week to even attempt to have a genuinely exciting and inspiring life. We spend money to buy cookie cutter, prepackaged things to make up for the fact that we’re boring and have no unique experiences, hobbies or personalities to explore. Like those hipsters who get tattoos, wear leather and denim clothing with metallic accessories, then brag about their “rockstar” image or “rockstar” lifestyle while they have a 9 to 5 or service industry job, average one cliched tourist trap vacation a year, and don’t even play an instrument.

People come to a blog like this one looking for ways to be more socially interesting and carry on conversations.  Well here’s one easy way:

The next time you are in a clothing store and a piece of “prepackaged experience” clothing catches your eye and tempts  you, pause and think: what is it about this item that I find appealing? What type of identity is this shirt advertising? The answer to that question will tell you the type of experiences you need in your life to fulfill you. If it’s an auto parts store shirt tempting you, look into spending more time fixing cars and shopping in real auto parts stores. If it’s a vintage BBQ restaurant t-shirt that appeals to you, pass up the shirt and make a personal mission of discovering a new favorite BBQ restaurant of your own. Once you find a restaurant you love, buy one of their t-shirts if they sell them. Incorporate motorcycles into your lifestyle, even if just by regularly renting one for joyrides, before buying any clothing with a motorcycle them.

Personally I’m not a fan of graphic T’s, but let me pretend for a moment I am and use my own city as an example: a popular category of faux-vintage shirts are those describing fictitious greasy spoons and BBQ joints. I’ve discovered a great comfort food spot in Williamsburg called Pies N Thighs. Here’s a t-shirt they sell:

rasta_t_sm

There’s another great Brooklyn BBQ place called Smoke Joint that I love, and they also sell a t-shirt. Why buy a faux-vintage BBQ t-shirt when I could track down a real BBQ t-shirt and discover marvelous restaurants in the process?

Instead of buying a fake vintage shirt from an imaginary athletic club or phony physical contest, I could complete a boot camp program in real life like the one at Pure Power Boot Camp. They sell a t-shirt that I could purchase when I’m done. I could make plans to take part in a fitness competition and then get the t-shirt to commemorate the completion. Instead of buying vintage Ts from iconic concerts, I can scour my local alt-weekly and try to discover the next future classic concert by the iconic music artists of tomorrow and buy t-shirts when I go to those concerts. It may not generate instant recognition like that ’68 Stone concert T but at least I lived it myself.

Now you may protest that all of those examples I describe look brand new, and what you want is that aged vintage look. Well how did those true vintage clothes get that vintage look? By people wearing the shit out of them and getting them dirty while they were running around doing real shit! Then they washed them and got them dirty all over again with a fresh round of real world activities. And they kept repeating the process. Take faded jeans. Buy a pair of blue jeans and keep running around and doing cool shit in them as often as possible. Play softball and do manual labor like carpentry and car repair in them. Or go whitewater rafting or rock climbing in them. Then keep washing them every time they get soiled. You’ll have faded jeans in the  no time. And you’ll have compiled a collection of killer stories at the same time.

It amazes me to see how men regularly buy “prepackaged experience” clothing then turn around and search for advice in books, men’s magazines and blogs on how to be more interesting socially or how to have better conversations. Trade in the “prepackaged experience” clothing for “actual experience” clothing and not only will you achieve the look you want, but said look will be congruent to your actual identity instead of just being a grown-up Halloween costume, plus you’ll be more genuinely interesting and have more exciting conversation topics to boot.

12 Responses to “Becoming a Renaissance Man, Part 7”

  1. that is an interesting and thought-provoking way to actually use graphic t’s for something other than wiping your ass when you run out of toilet paper. hadn’t really thought about what their appeal was, but the theory on logos seems spot on.

  2. I agree with your thoughts about the Gap t-shirts, but I am also suspicious of marking an experience with a t-shirt. That said, better to have actually done it.

    I also get a kick out of the guys with the Affliction and Ed Hardy t-shirts that mimic having a giant tattoo that the wearer would never even consider getting.

  3. Spot on, Ricky. Glad you’re back.

  4. On target. If you’re going to spend a ton of money on jeans, go for raw selvedge. You can read up on it here – http://drdenimjeans.blogspot.com/

    Takes 6 months to a year to break them in, but they are yours and faded to your body, not some manufactures idea of what you should be.
    And while we’re on it, work on your body so this stuff fits right.
    Be proud of yourself.

  5. I agree and disagree with you. People shouldn’t try to purchase experience via t-shirts. However, I don’t know if people buy those shirts to convey an experience, but rather they find the shirts and other clothing aesthetically pleasing.

    Many of the experience shirts I have look like shit. They’re ugly, tacky things that I would only wear to paint the house or do some sort of dirty manual labor in. Most of the time they’re almost completely white with an ugly logo/graphic on the front that says something like “2009 Monroeville Pepper Days 5K” or “Boscobel Mushroom Festival ’07”. I got these shirts from participating in races and going to local festivals. Some generic examples examples:

    http://www.lostdutchmanmarathon.org/images/2010images/2010_Shirt_large.jpg

    http://www.zazzle.ca/pace_chili_cook_off_mens_t_shirt-235365780097157742

    If my choice is between ugly experience t-shirts and better looking fake graphic shirts, I’ll lean towards the fake graphic ones.

    By the way I normally wear clothing with no logos or graphics on them; it fits my plain personality.

  6. Good stuff. This has long been a pet peeve of mine. Even before retailers started selling these faux vintage shirts, I thought it was goofy to wear some thrift shop t-shirt of some summer camp you never went to or some sports team you to which you have no affiliation.

    I-Affe, you make a good point. I collect beer t-shirts whenever I travel. Sometimes, like with Corona t-shirts in Mexico, the shirts are just terrible, gaudy, tourist crap that I’d never wear. I suppose that I could go online searching for cool beer t-shirts from other countries, but it’s just not the same. Really, this just makes me value the few really cool shirts that I’ve managed to find.

    Also, T, my girlfriend just moved to Ft Greene and I noticed that Smoke Joint place, especially their bourbon seleciton. Any recommendations on what to eat there?

  7. I agree and disagree with you. People shouldn’t try to purchase experience via t-shirts. However, I don’t know if people buy those shirts to convey an experience, but rather they find the shirts and other clothing aesthetically pleasing.

    I think usually it’s a combination of both, if not so much the actual experience then to coopt a specific identity. But I hear what you’re saying.

    Many of the experience shirts I have look like shit. They’re ugly, tacky things that I would only wear to paint the house or do some sort of dirty manual labor in…

    If my choice is between ugly experience t-shirts and better looking fake graphic shirts, I’ll lean towards the fake graphic ones.

    I’m not saying to go as far as buy and wear something hideous just because it represents a genuine experience. I’m just saying don’t get into the habit of wearing shirts with imaginary or unlived experiences just because they look good. Ideally you’d like the best of both worlds, a genuine experience/identity AND aesthetically pleasing, but if the genuine shirt is ugly to you by no means should you buy it.

    You can buy plenty of shirts with good graphics that don’t have fabricated or unlived experiences on them. It could just be a cool graphic that has an ambiguous meaning, it can just have a brand name on it that you like, whatever. It can just be a cool picture, a logo for your favorite beer, a picture of a landscape, whatever. I’m not saying every graphic T you have needs to relate to a real experience, just that they shouldn’t relate to fake experiences.

    Even before retailers started selling these faux vintage shirts, I thought it was goofy to wear some thrift shop t-shirt of some summer camp you never went to or some sports team you to which you have no affiliation.

    Yeah, I’m torn over which is worse, the faux vintage that describes a summer camp or biker’s club that never existed and is new but only looks old, or the actual vintage shirt that describes a real summer camp or real bikers club and actually is old, but you have zero affiliation to in your life.

    Also, T, my girlfriend just moved to Ft Greene and I noticed that Smoke Joint place, especially their bourbon seleciton. Any recommendations on what to eat there?

    For food, you can’t go wrong at Smoke Joint no matter what you order, but my two favorites by far are the wings and the pork spare ribs. I’m not a fan of hot dogs in general, but people I know who do like them tell me they have good hot dogs as well.

  8. Good to have you back. When’s the next post? 🙂

  9. People buy these things for the same reason that they do most everything these days. They want to be”in.”
    Belonging has become the whole of their existence. The fact that they belong to a group of people as boring and useless as themselves doesn’t matter.
    The shirt may advertise an experience that they never had, but this is as close as they get.

  10. Good post.

    The second I saw the surfing one, I knew they were all fake.

    Good job on dissing the “rockstar” thing too. That word is beyond tired coming from Steve the cubicle worker.

    Unless of course your name is Robert Plant or Jimi Hendrix or something.

    – MPM

  11. Zappa put it well

    Is that a real poncho? I mean, is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho?

  12. I have a lot of experience with the real world and I find that it is better to keep it all to myself. People are envious, jealous, incredulous and resentful. Share an experience with them and they will often try to deny it. How sick is that? They cannot imagine themselves doing the things that I have done so they try to smother me with their nonsense, basically, they find it necessary for their own psychological well being, to protect their egos, to simply suggest that I’m a liar when they know damn well I’m not. They imagine that their unrelatedness to my broader experience will give them some kind of control over me. Kind of like the person who deliberately shows you no respect in a shock effort meant to see you pander to them for their respect, while they gloat. Way to respect with that type is to slam them in the face or walk away. They are too transparent for their own good. Part of it is meant to maintain the fiction that they are superior to you, when they realize that in reality they fail to demonstrate any of the alpha characteristics, especially when they have to take into consideration your experiences. They will create a fictional account of what your life is like and it won’t be a pretty one, it will not be an accurate one but it will be one that puts a smile on their lips while they go about their cookie cutter lives. Remember, Ginger Bread Man, there is strength in numbers…