I’ve never really been into clothing brands that are all about the label. You know—where whatever tiny critter that’s embroidered on your shirt is apparently a hugely defining statement about Who You Are.
I have a pink and white striped Brooks Brothers shirt dress. It was $12 at a thrift store, and I bought it even though, or perhaps because, it was one size too large. Its slightly-too-big rumply-ness manages to subdue the dress’s preppy, perky, menswear-inspired perfection with just the right dosage of Hot Mess. Like, maybe it’s a shirt that I stole from my boyfriend’s d-bag banker roommate, cinched with a belt, and upon which I will likely spill red wine.
A few of my friends (mostly dudes—dudes seem to be weirdly attuned to this stuff) will see me wear this, eye the stitched icon (which, btw and wtf, is a sheep hanging by a ribbon), and then say something along the lines of “Nice dress. Brooks Brothers?” There is approval and surprise in their appraising glances. They are impressed by the Taste they didn’t know I possessed.
Without exception, I reply, “Yep. Via Salvation Army.”
The thing is: I don’t want anyone to think I would just buy a shirt dress from Brooks Brothers—or to infer that I must be nursing a deep, secret yearning for The Almighty Dangling Sheep Logo. It’s embarrassing to me. Way more embarrassing than telling people I shop at thrift stores.
This says a lot about me and My Problems, but also a lot about how trends and tastes evolve as a response to larger issues. Recycling clothes is noble, because, you know, now we love the earth—or at least we’re trying to. Money is tight for everyone, so dropping a couple hundos on a new luxury-brand day dress seems reckless and wasteful. Abercrombie’s logo-emblazoned apparel isn’t selling? No duh. Kids today interact with the world and each other in a way that doesn’t compel them to look exactly like everyone else anymore. And hooray for kids today!
I consider Ralph Lauren and all its confusing sub categories (Blue Label? RRL? Lauren? Don’t care.) to be firmly entrenched in this same category of label-centric clothing brands. I walk by the Ralph Lauren flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago almost every morning on my way to work, inwardly mocking the matronly, ostentatious ball gowns and man-capris in the windows.
But despite my instinctual aversion, I can’t help but love everything about the “Polo for Women” display that’s in their corner window right now (yeah—I even paid attention to the sub-brand). THIS is how I want to look every day this Fall. Not subverting it in any way, no irony, no background story.
I love it, and I’m surprised that I love it.
Is this another example of a brand evolving to suit our tastes? Am I aging into Ralph Lauren’s demographic? Have the collective “we” decided to act like individuals? Is that even possible? Maybe we (as a society or a culture or whatever) have gotten to the point where we just know what we like when we see it, independent of what anyone else is doing or what name is on the label.
I hope that’s true.