Whatever X, Day XXIII

You ask, “What did Scalzi think about fashion in 1999?” I’m glad you asked!

AUGUST 17, 1999: Gap Vests

I’m trying to figure out the brain process that led the fashion mavens at the Gap to declare that cheap vests in airplane-directing orange were going to be the major fashion statement of the fall season. After racking my brain, I have come up with two possible explanations, either of which (or a combination thereof) will do:

1. Peyote mushrooms humorously slipped onto the delivery pizzas at a brainstorming session (this would also, incidentally, fully explain those freaky “Magic” commercials run by Gap’s Old Navy division).

2. Gap’s overseas suppliers (you know, the ones that seems to have a lot of children around the factory, yet no day care facilities to speak of) called up the people at the Gap and informed them that they would be making cheap, ugly vests this year. But we can’t sell cheap, ugly vests, the shocked and horrified Gap people said. To which the overseas suppliers said, hey, that’s what you get when you pay us 35 cents per article of clothing. Take the vests, or we’ll go back to making Arizona jeans for JC Penney.

A third, somewhat less plausible explanation, has the folks at the Gap honestly believing that these vests are actually cool looking. I choose not to believe this one, because, really, look at the vest. It’s just plain ugly as Hell. Even I can see that, and my fashion sense blinks out after fulfilling the injunction to wear socks of matching colors. The only people who should be wearing vests of that color are hunters and highway construction workers, who wear the vests to avoid being drilled in the head with bullets, or turned into smeary maroon streaks on the high-capacity lane of the 210. There is a fashion statement going on, but the statement is “Don’t kill me.”

Ugly as the vests are, it does them no good to be put on the models that the Gap has chosen to display them, all of which uniformly display a dazed, fresh-off-a-crystal-meth-high blank stare. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t accept advice from anyone who’s just deep-fried 50,000 or so of his or her own brain cells: All of the brain’s frantic rerouting of neural pathways past damaged areas to keep the autonomic nervous system functioning takes away from higher brain functions. These kids are wearing vests not to be fashionable, but because they haven’t the coordination to handle buttons.

I’ve never been one for the Gap’s upper-middle-class charms, anyway. To be so would initially assume that I give a damn about clothes, which I do not (which is not to say I’m a nudist, just not overly concerned about being a fashion plate). I can’t actually remember a time when my clothes weren’t actually bought by someone else, usually a woman. My mother handled the duties up to  high school, at which point it was handled by a succession of female friends and girlfriends (when I went clothes shopping before going off to college, I took my friend Diane with me to tell me what I looked good in; the irony is that I went to the University of Chicago, where fears of social castigation because of poor clothing choices are, shall we say, wildly unfounded).

Then I met Krissy, who has handled the duties from that point forward. You may laugh at my inability or unwillingness to dress myself, but I look at it as this: Krissy has a vested interest in making me look good (or, at least, better), so why not let her? Now, I am not entirely incompetent in choosing my own clothes (I can handle this and other basic life functions), but I just don’t care about it. For the past week, my clothing choices have consisted of sweat shorts and t-shirts. Tomorrow, barring an intervention by Tommy Hilfiger, I imagine I’ll be wearing the same general ensemble.

Secondly, I’m fairly immune to the Gap’s ad campaigns. Crankhead teens wearing vests are obviously not going to work with me, but their other, more adult campaigns also don’t make it. A couple of years ago, while the Gap was pushing khakis, they trotted out pictures of various cool people wearing khakis, and proclaimed, redundantly, that such-and-such wore khakis. The implication being, of course, that if they could do it, so could you. Well, I thought, so what if James Dean wore Khakis. After his car accident James Dean also wore an engine block. I don’t want to wear that, either.

Be that as it may, I don’t like seeing ugly clothing being paraded around as something of value (I myself wear ugly clothing, but I am rightfully ashamed of the fact). The Gap is hardly the only offender on this point, of course — we seem to be going through another ugly period in popular clothing, coinciding with the ugly period in popular music and movies — but they have the largest media reach, so of course you notice it more. But I suppose that Gap and its customers deserve each other. If they want the sort of customer who is gullible enough to fall for the vest campaign, who am I to get in their way. And anyone dumb enough to fall for the idea that a thin orange vest is worth wearing deserves to have their money taken from them by the Gap. Fortunately, the rest of us will be able to tell at a distance who they are.

22 Comments on “Whatever X, Day XXIII”

  1. You speak for my very heart there, sir. It’s because of things like this that I do take an active interest in what clothes I wear – and what clothes I avoid.

    Thank you for re-posting this.

  2. Since this IS almost 10 years old and my level of knowledge of fashion is evident by my socks-with-sandals footwear choices, is there a picture of said vests anywhere now?

  3. All eras of fashion reach a point, where, in hindsight, they look silly or ugly or stupid. It’s the rare ugly fashion era that makes itself apparent even as it’s going on. For that, you should have been thanking The Gap.

  4. Nathan said: It’s the rare ugly fashion era that makes itself apparent even as it’s going on

    You don’t remember the 80s do you? Hint, take a look around now.

  5. There *are* other people who should be wearing orange vests: 1) traffic wardens; 2) people bobbing around in the water because their boat has just sunk; 3) (related to point #1) people who have to stop traffic on a main highway so they can lead eight horses across.

    Actually we wore fluorescent green to stop the traffic, but the concept holds. And yes, it was legal; in fact, the local police were there to help. (This was in the Scottish Highlands, if you’re wondering.)

  6. See, I used to have one of those vests. And John? It was awesome. The ladies loved it, it made for terrific “bar wear”, you get the idea. In fact, my girlfriend (now wife) worked at the GAP during that time and bought it for me. It went particularly well with a pair of bright yellow teflon cargo pants which had strips of reflective silver on the pockets.

    Every sentence above is 100% true.

    Once, unthinkingly, I wore that vest to IKEA. When I got home (read “escaped”) I donated the vest to Goodwill.

  7. I ride a bike, and trust me, a vest like that would be more than a good idea when you conisder some of the idiot drivers with whom I have to deal. ANYthing to increase visibility is a good idea.

  8. [W]e seem to be going through another ugly period in popular clothing, coinciding with the ugly period in popular music and movies

    Funny to read that ten years on – have any of these things come out of their respective dark ages yet?

  9. I took over buying clothes about the beginning of high school, and have done all my own ever since. I don’t see what is so difficult about it.

    As for # 2 above, I also wear socks with sandals. The leather in the sandals makes my feet sweat otherwise, and trust me, you don’t want me around you if I have bare sweaty feet. Practicality beats “fashion” every time.

  10. Is now a good time to ask what a vest is? Best guess is what we in the UK would call a bodywarmer, am I right? Micheal J Fox ran about in Back To The Future in a red one.

  11. I ride a bike, and trust me, a vest like that would be more than a good idea when you conisder some of the idiot drivers with whom I have to deal.

    The problem is when someone decides to run you down for offending their eyes.

  12. Laz, what we call a vest is what you Birts call a waistcoat, except that sometimes our vest doesn’t have buttons.

  13. Oh, a “vest” is one of those puffy life preserver thingys. I was thinking it was a woollen sleeveless jumper/pullover/sweater type deals that were “popular” with us daggy people in the early 80s. Some of those wintery fashions like the “vest” don’t make the jump to Oz from Europe or the States. We just don’t get cold enough for big puffy things and long overcoats and the like. We dodged the bullet on that one.

  14. This is why I wear a wardrobe consisting entirely of black. Black is never out of fashion.

    The chains and spikes, however, come and go, so I should probably retire them at some point, along with my handcuffs. (But damn it, if I take the spikes out of my fedora, it’s going to be full of holes…)

  15. Shane, North Americans do call those woolen sleeveless pullovers “sweater vests”. British & Irish people call them “tanktops”. This confuses Americans, since what they call a tank top the other side of the Altlantic calls a vest top.

    Meanwhile “jumper” means a sweater in some places and a pinafore in others…

  16. “After his car accident James Dean also wore an engine block. I don’t want to wear that, either.”

    OW! OW! OW! Coco Crispies hurt when ejected nasally.

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