Some of my students have become aware of my policy of not wearing any clothing that advertises a name brand.
No stupid alligator where a breast pocket would be. No Abercrombie & Fitch splashed across my chest. No company name affixed to the pocket of my jeans.
I avoid name branding at all costs, for a couple reasons:
- I reject the idea of allowing a clothing manufacturer to use my body as an advertisement of their product. If they want to pay me, we can talk.
- I find the splashing of name brands on clothing, handbags and other accessories as signifiers of wealth, taste, style, quality, brand knowledge and/or conformity to be a vile, petty, pretentious, unoriginal, sheep-like and stupid.
My feelings on this topic tend to be specific and pointed.
My one exception to this rule is sneakers. I have yet to find an off-brand pair of sneakers that does not disintegrate within a month, and I cannot find a pair of name brand sneakers that does not plaster its label on the product. As a result, I am forced to purchase sneakers with a name brand outwardly visible, but I specifically choose black sneakers so that the name brand is as hidden as possible.
While some of my students find this policy insane (as do many name-brand invested adults), most students respect and occasionally admire my position. Even as they walk the hallways of our school with their Hollister shirts and their Nike sneakers, they are already wise enough to recognize the problems with investing in a style predicated on what everyone else is wearing and requiring them to signal to others where they shop and how much money that have spent.
They are still too young to have reached the point of denial, illogical justification or surrender that so many adults have achieved. They are still innocent enough to admit that they are actively participating in a flawed and stupid system.
Nevertheless, they also love finding flaws and missteps in my policy. They find no greater joy than in proving their teacher wrong.
Last week, I was walking around the playground during recess duty wearing a sweatshirt. It had no visible name brand, or so I thought. A student approached, began chatting with me, and then stopped midsentence.
“J.Crew!” she shouted.
She pointed at my chest. “J.Crew!”
I looked down. I saw no label. “What are you talking about? There’s no label.”
“Yes there is,” she said. “Look.” She reached out and took hold of the zipper on my sweatshirt. Engraved in tiny letters on the metallic zipper was the brand name.
I groaned. I couldn’t believe it. She was right. Worse still, I could think of no way of removing the label. The name was cast in iron on the front of my sweatshirt.
“That’s awful,” I said. “I can’t believe it.”
“Don’t throw the sweatshirt out,” she said. “It’s from J.Crew. It probably cost a lot. I won’t tell anyone.”
This was remarkably generous of the student, who would ordinarily seek out my personal destruction whenever possible.
More important, she illustrated my argument with precision.
“The sweatshirt is from J.Crew. It probably cost a lot.”
The name brand clearly signified the probable expense of the item to my student and thereby helped to define my socio-economic status, my taste, my style and my willingness to conform.
In truth, my wife bought the sweatshirt for me (she purchases almost all my clothing), which probably means it was at least half price. And it’s J.Crew, so it couldn’t have been that expensive to start. Right?
But as much as I despise that zipper, it helped to illustrate my point perfectly. Name brands aren’t meant to be attractive. They do not enhance the clothing with their carefully formulated design. They are used by manufacturers to advertiser their product, and they are used by consumers to demonstrate their wealth, taste, knowledge or similarity to everyone else.
No one carries around a bag with an interlocking G or wears a shirt with a tiny alligator on the chest because these symbols are inherently beautiful. They wear these polo shirts and carry these handbags because that is what everyone else is doing.
They want to signal their membership to a specific herd.
The label on that zipper annoys the hell out of me, but at least it now serves as a visual reminder that I am not insane. My policy has merit.
Still, I might need a pair of tin snips.