06 October 2010

chuck taylor and the quest for authenticity.

Recently my lack of casual close-toed shoes compelled me to invest in a third (in my life) pair of converse.  I chose white for various reasons, and immediately upon exiting the store I began the process of dirtying them up.  The color is only relevant because white emphasizes how new and clean the shoes are more than the other colors.  Anyway, the last time I purchased a pair of converse I was thirteen and couldn't be bothered about why I preferred them dirty.  These days though, I over think everything, so here comes my analysis of dirty shoes vs. clean shoes with regard to racial subcultures.

When I use the words "white" and "black" here, it is in reference to the particular cultures associated with the races.  I recognize that differing skin tones exist within these subcultures I wish that the cultures were not so inextricably linked to race in our minds, but I do not know how to best alter this and will use "black" and "white" for simplicity's sake.

The Converse Chuck Taylor is a universal shoe.  I see it on the feet of people of all different races and ages.  But I've noticed that we all tend to wear them differently.  People who identify with black culture seem to like to keep their shoes clean.  Once, a kid on my bus wore grocery bags over his to keep them clean because it was raining and they were new.  I don't know why this is, and I'm not going to try to figure it out right now.  I'm just throwing it out there to illustrate difference.  The shoes I want to talk about are the ones on the feet of dirty white kids.

I'm sure you had these kids at your high school: white, upper middle class, into "alternative" rock.  Uniform: jeans, band t-shirt, messy hair, beat down chuck taylors.  I was one of them (for a little while).  I got my first pair of chucks in seventh grade--royal blue.  You see, it was very important that you had chucks, but more important that you did not have the same color as "everyone else."  And let me tell you: as soon as I purchased royal blue, I started seeing them everywhere.  I got black in eighth grade just to give myself more options.  It was also important to have multiple pairs.

There were so many little rules, but above all else, your shoes had to be old and dirty.  Walking around in a pair of shiny new converse made you look stupid.  We might even throw around the word 'poseur,' though none of us ever spelled it correctly.  There was this ridiculous obsession with originality, legitimacy, and authenticity.  You had to like a band before they wound up on MTV or you didn't really like them, and if a band you liked did wind up on MTV (as was inevitable--our tastes weren't all that left of center) it was the end of the world.  If your converse were old and dirty, it signified that you had been a part of the scene for a long time.  If you had a Ramones shirt, you got bonus points.  We hated our parents for being square, and yet, were attempting to align ourselves with the rock subculture of their generation!  We weren't even radical or violent.  We were just dumb kids who dressed a certain way.

I have since gotten over my false musical elitism (sort of), but I still find myself with an appreciation for the old and beat down.  I am comfortably middle class with a free ride at school and plenty of mom's money to spend, yet I still dress in such a way that makes it look as though I have none.  A lot of my clothes cost between fifty cents and five dollars at Goodwill, and having a shiny new pair of converse makes me intensely uncomfortable.  Am I afraid of looking like I have money?  Are privilege and authenticity mutually exclusive?

I'm not entirely sure what I mean by "authenticity," but I know I am not the only one experiencing this.  Ever heard of a hipster?  I often joke that hipsters are people who spend a lot of money to make it look like they spent very little.  This is why Urban Outfitters is so popular--it's full of the clothes people wish they had the patience, luck, and skill to thrift.  I think the practice of paying high prices for destroyed denim is similar.

Why are middle and upper middle white people so obsessed with looking like they don't have any money?

1 comment:

go ahead, make my day.