“We all have a face
That we hide away forever
Then we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on.”
Billy Joel, “The Stranger”
I must say I am not a very fashionable person. I really never saw the use for it, to the point of letting me wife choose my clothes for me. Sure, I have a style I like, but I would never pick up a mens’ magazine looking for trends, or go shopping to browse the new garments.
I grew up in a relatively poor part of the United States, and most of the kids in my high school did not dress well. I was almost without a concept of fashion. My parents became convinced that quality jeans and athletic shoes were good value, or I would have worn K-Mart shoes and pants my entire life. Only when I went to college did I become exposed to my friends wearing good clothes, so to speak. And I never truly bought into that world.
So fashion, while not my forte (see my Costco jeans and free t-shirts) fascinates me as a true outsider. I was watching morning TV for news one day and the fashion segment came on. The expert that day was of course decked out in clothing that cost more than my whole closet. The type of look that screams,”Don’t look at me, you can’t afford me.” Anyway, she had perfectly coifed straight black hair and was wearing a gray dress. However, she was sporting a pair of brown boots, that totally stood out. When the interviewer asked about them, she quipped, “It’s okay to wear one brown accessory when wearing black.” I immediately thought, “And away we go.”
Sure enough, within the month, the bus stops on the way to the financial district began to fill up with the best dressed women commuting downtown with black suits and brown boots. It finally culminated in all the workers sporting the same look, in a Pavlovian lemming type of way. I was amazed.
Years ago, I complained about this to a friend of mine, who had a few more dollars in his pocket than me, and he proudly told me a pair of Doc Marten’s was a way to prove you were in the loop. Check out the shoes, and make sure the person is legit, so to speak. I immediately stopped the discussion. It was an alien comment. Probably turned on my Clash CD and opened a history book. Probably explains why my job interviews sometimes ended rather quickly.
One thing that has changed a great deal over time in San Francisco is the overall wealth, but the fashion has almost remained static. Why? I am convinced that it is the true desire to be “urban”, to truly stand out and fit in to the new “urban environment”. I used to be a denizen of San Francisco’s Lower Haight, a real scene of working class hipsters, who were really dressed as ragamuffins, usually because we didn’t have money to buy new clothes. This fashion has never really changed, but the clothing is now bought in chic boutiques and pre-ripped. It actually looks authentic, but to a true observer, it stands out like a sore thumb. Then the mouth will open and start chatting about reality TV or shopping at Whole Foods and give it away. This ain’t your grandmother’s urbanite.
It even shows up in the gym. The amount of times I have observed a young woman wearing a punk rock inspired pink spandex outfit is humorous. Wearing the knit wool hat on the hot humid day always strikes me as style over comfort. Or the times I’ve heard someone bragging about living on Courtney Love’s old block, wearing a pre-faded Ramones hoodie, while working at a tech start-up is also good for a laugh. The revolution is available for purchase online.
The idea of veering from the American Dream seems to be dying a fashionable (intended) death. Why rebel when you can pretend to? Fashion also contributes to the idea that you can have everything. The corporate lawyer can dress as a punk rocker at night. The financial planner can don the designer overalls and work his or her organic garden on the weekend. It isn’t selling out anymore. Fashion is the ultimate tool when putting on the left-hand turn signal while going right. The trouble is, they are increasingly crowding out the people who lived the dream in its entirety, not as a costume to take out for social media consumption in the downtime. Sorry Mr. Joel, The Stranger has discovered Instagram. I’ve heard tech types brag that they are the perfect inheritors of San Francisco’s rebellious past. Alrighty then.
I truly think each generation has its rebelliousness. It is a good thing. I think I would be disappointed if my kids didn’t question authority to an extent. I really don’t want them to buy the Kool-Aid hook, line and sinker. But I get the feeling that there are a lot of parents out there who are pushing their kids in the success only direction. And this is a suburban attitude, no doubt. Political Science is bad, Engineering is good. History is useless, Financial Planning is wonderful. And so on. I get the feeling that our cities are filling with this suburban demographic, and the word urban is fading into the dustbin of history. And I wonder who our overall conscience will be in the future.
When I first moved here, I didn’t consider myself a city person. I had no car, and it seemed to be a good place to start my life in California. I immediately fell in love with the lifestyle. Car-free, walking, no malls. And most of my friends were in some type of job that was not a true career path. Most were in school or producing some type of art. Now? The place I moved to has almost disappeared. Instead, this demographic now shows up with the advanced tech credentials and resume already entrenched into the system. I worry that the places to move in America to foster creativity outside of employment are drying up. But the new demographic looks, so rugged in that hoodie, so hey, why am I complaining?