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  • Buying a Vuarnet T-Shirt
  • Susan McCarty (bio)

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I circled the Vuarnet store in SoHo twice before entering, self-conscious for a variety of reasons: on one level, for instance, I knew I was too old to be shopping there. It wasn’t a holdover of the brand since its general disappearance after its peak in the nineties, as I had imagined it—a lone flag of consumerism planted for thirty fractious years among the boutiques and bistros of Spring Street. It was new since last summer, July 2018. And though nostalgia rides to us on waves of feeling produced by living a life, the people for whom nostalgia is actually fashionable are the young. So, A, the Vuarnet store was not really for me.

And B: complicating my adult awareness of my age (middle) and class (middle) in one of the great consumer hubs in the world were not-dissimilar feelings of otherness attached to my long-ago status as an eighth-grade girl whose parents refused to buy her a Vuarnet T-shirt.

They were too expensive, even back then, before they were fifty-five dollars, and my parents, hypocritical clotheshorses, were suspicious of every trend and fad I brought into our house as a request, a whine. I approached these negotiations with the calm of a gambler begging a bookie for a loan. How I needed this thing, this thing that would [End Page 74] bring me never-ending joy, and which would make my life whole and complete, forever stanching my desire for things. The ways in which it would fit into the it-shaped hole somewhere deep inside me, while elevating my social status by making other children jealous of me.

Swatch; Simple skateboard sneakers; in a particularly embarrassingly moment of brand-blindness: Coca-Cola clothing during the height of the divestment movement, just before apart-heid was abolished in South Africa; and T-shirts. So. Many. Fucking. T-shirts.

Before Instagram or Snapchat or whatever social media scourge is currently striking fear in the hearts of parents everywhere, you expressed yourself by wearing T-shirts approved by members of the in-group. While there was no formal dress code in my public junior high school in Iowa in 1989, there was the informal Midwesterner’s uniform: sneakers, jeans, T-shirt. In summer, sub shorts for jeans. Repeat.

There were few deviations from this uniform and those deviations were strange. For some reason, the parents of the girls of Northwest Junior High sometimes let them wear boy’s boxers in place of actual pants. My best friend and I, gawky and strange and desperate to be interesting to anyone but each other, owned two pairs of personalized jeans we’d made together. Mine were bleached up to the thighs, cut off at the left leg at the bleach mark, and cuffed like the jean shorts they half were. Her pair looked the same except they were cut off and cuffed at the right leg. When we stood next to each other, you got the impression of one complete pair of jeans. I suspect we were inspired by those best-friend necklaces, popular at the time, sold in pairs, each necklace one half of a heart broken down the middle (by what exactly? In our school, which gathered students from miles out, in the rural reaches of the county: distance. In those days before social media, I could never get enough of my friends ten or more miles away. We tied up the family phone late into the night, except for those of us lucky enough to have parents who begrudgingly sprang for teen lines). When we wore these jeans, often on the same day, prearranged the night before by cordless telephone, we looked like girls in full-leg casts, girls who had been in terrible, symmetrical accidents.

This variation in the lowers, the potential weirdness, was certainly only possible because of the militaristic predictability of the uppers: the eternal, martial T-shirt.

You couldn’t, of course, just wear any T-shirt and expect it to be okay. In junior high there was a relatively small band...


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pp. 74-83
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