Wednesday, August 10, 2005

a concert and a fashion crisis

For those of you who know me, the fact that I do in fact actually think about fashion might come as a suprise. But this is an area of my life that has been thrust to the forefront by two recent events.

First, some history. Back in high school, I was mister Heavy Metal, complete with the jeans, dark sunglasses, concert shirts, denim jacket, and long hair (briefly in a Bon Jovi-esque perm...not that I was trying to emulate the man...I still dislike his music...not that any of this is relevant). In this fashion, I was not very distinguishable from most of the other heavy metal fans.

Eventually, I got tired of being a conformist non-conformist, if you get my drift. So I was looking for the next Mike fashion when I decided to go tie-die.

Keep in mind that this was the late eighties. I did not choose tie-dies due to any love of the hippie movement, although I did listen to the Dead when hung over. Rather, I thought that if I wore such clothing, I would at least have a certain uniqueness. After all, who in the hell wore tie-dies in 1987?

But tie-dies, perhaps on the coattails of the suddenly radio-friendly Grateful Dead, came back. They started to show up everywhere. I realized the full extent of their incursion into the fashion realm when, sitting on the porch of a downtown restaurant listening to a friend sing and play, I saw a three year old in a (gasp) tie-die.

That was it. My choice of fashion had been coopted by kiddie clothiers. Something had to be done.

My next choice for what now was, I admitted, my pursuit of an anti-fashion was the humble Hawaiian shirt. So I got a few, had my dearest Mummy (a good seamstress) make me some very loud Hawaiians. I thought I looked good...or at least, reasonably bad. And hey, I thought in 1995, Hawaiian shirts wouldn't dare come back into fashion, would they? Surely, the public would continue to ignore them.

And you all know what happened. Personally, I started worrying when they started showing up at Old Navy. Then Red Lobster adopted them as work uniforms. Then there was the episode of The Simpsons, where Homer told Marge, "Only two types of guys wear Hawaiian shirts: gay guys and big, fat party animals." When they hit the local Meijer, I really freaked.

I tried valiently to be zen about the whole cooptation thing. I tried shaking it up by combining the Hawaiian shirt with tie-dies, but it was obviously an example of "trying too hard." Eventually, I came to the conclusion that as I was simply destined to be a fashion pioneer and whatever I moved to next would become the next "big thing," I might as well just bite the bullet and wait the trend out, until Hawaiian shirts became comfortably retro again.

Two things have made me really think about this, however. First off, the Chronicle of Higher Education published one of their first person pieces about clothing and teaching, which drew a connection between a professor's choice of attire and their teaching style. No problem. Contrary to what my parents think (they feel I should now start dressing professionally as I finally have a "real" job), my fashion choices have always been pedagogically thought-out. Hawaiian shirts work in front of a class. First, the students stay awake...the bright colors, you know. Second, I appear less a suit, a 6'5" large guy would scare the hell out of them.

What the article did do, though, was make me wonder how exactly the students see me. What is their image of their fearless leader? Especially as I express a few liberal ideas during the course of a (heh heh) course, such as homosexuals might well be real people, and women and minorities are not always treated nicely by they, following the model of Homer Simpson, think I'm gay?

The second event was this past weekend. I've mentioned in this space before that my wife got us tickets to see Hall and Oates. Well, the post-tick reschedule was last week. There's a lot I can say about the show (solid band, very caucasian-heavy audience, Hall is still tired, why don't they let Oates sing?, $5 for a Bud?), but the main attraction was the crowd.

Immersed in that body of humanity, I did feel really good about my a large percentage of males had bald spots that would put that of my friend Joe to shame. But it became quickly obvious that in this crowd, a Hawaiian shirt was more a uniform than an anti-fashion statement.

My God, I thought, I've been dressing up like a mid-fifties, thinking about retirement, lower-middle class WASP! Is that how my students see me? What can I do about it?

Lori thinks I'm thinking about fashion a bit too much, but I feel shaken. I don't know where else to go. I'd like to adopt a whole work uniform thing, but none of the thrift stores seem to sell any. I though briefly about going Izod, but I really can't see adopting the preppie look. I could return to the high school concert shirt image, but it doesn't go with my now short hair. I have realized belatedly in my life that I am a man without a fashion plan...and surprisingly, that frightens me.

Suggestions are welcome...hit the comment link below.


Anonymous said...

finally ditching the miami vice onlooker look, eh? finally a new post, btw.

and the matching "Hawaiian tie"? don't tell me you're getting rid of the Hawaiian tie. is nothing sacred?

Jennifer said...

Mike, you might be interested in this tidbit - research shows that students read your social class & professional ability into the clothes that you wear. And not surprisingly, white men can get away with shall we say more *flashy* dressing than minorities (gendered, racialized, classed, sexualized etc.)

This is one of the things I tell new TA's in workshops I do about power in the classroom - one suggestion put forth by Dr. Jeannie Ludlow for people who have trouble establishing their professionalism in the classroom is to dress more business-like. I can honestly say that it does work - I've noticed a difference in the demeanor of my students when I dress in particular ways.

Just an interesting thought....

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