Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Like those infinite monkeys who eventually replicate Shakespeare on their keyboards, so I become fashionable at random intervals in my life. This time, it’s with hoods, and, I presume, connected to the popularity of hip hop and hoodies, as well the fact that we’re currently slogging through a wet winter in Vancouver. But I find the situation alarming, just the same.

My own reasons for liking hoods are much more personal than fashion. To start with, hoods are often connected to cloaks — and, as I discovered when I was a medievalist, the only thing that’s more romantic or mysteriously dramatic than a cloak is a cloak with a hood.

Think Robin Hood going to the archery contest in disguise. Think Aragorn sitting in the dark corner of the tavern at Bree. Anyone can wear a hat, but only hawks and super heroes or mysterious strangers go hooded. Show me a person who doesn’t feel like a figure of mystery when they’re in a hood and peering out of its dark recesses, and I’ll show you a person whose imagination is either dead or mortally wounded. It’s like carrying your own piece of the night everywhere you go.

Just as importantly, a hood is more practical than any alternative. Unlike most of my fellow Vancouverites, I don’t deny that rain happens frequently around here. It happens a lot, and in winter we sometimes get wind storms full of damp air. But an umbrella or a hat is just one more thing to pack. As I rush for the bus, I’m likely to forget either. If I do remember an umbrella or hat, I either clutch it compulsively when I’m inside, or else put it down and forget it until I’m halfway home.

By contrast, a hood is connected to a coat. That means I’m less likely to forget it. And it definitely won’t fall under a chair and be lost.

However, the real reason I prefer a hood is my lifelong fear of baldness. I was six when I first worried about inheriting my father’s pattern of baldness. Probably, I won’t, because my hairline is inherited from my maternal grandfather, who had a full head of hair when he was eighty. But in my adolescence and young adulthood, I thought my father’s baldness had something to do with his wearing of a tight cap in the British army during World War II.

That was never going to happen to me, I resolved. Besides, wearing hats in public was something my father’s generation did, not mine. So I got into the habit of never wearing one, even to ward off sun stroke. No skull-fitting cap was going to erode my hair prematurely, thanks all the same.

By the time I figured that the issue was one of genetics, the habit had already been formed. Now, I can’t wear a hat or cap without feeling stupid and self-conscious. I don’t even need to reverse a cap to feel this way. Long ago, the feeling became automatic.

Finding myself unintentionally fashionable, I’m almost tempted to break my lifelong habits and start wearing a hat, or at least a toque until the weather improves. But I’m afraid it’s far too late to have a choice. All I can do is pull my hood down over my temples and glare from the depths of its folds at all the latecomers who are intruding on my scene for no better reason than fashion.

With luck, they’ll be so unsettled by the way my eyes glare out like coals at them that they will take their lack of originality and slink away, leaving me alone with my lonely but lordly splendor.

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“I have led a good life, careful and artistic,

I will have an old age, coarse and anarchistic” 

– Utah Phillips

When I was younger, I worried that I would become more conservative as I got older. However, thanks to the main trauma in my life, that hasn’t happened. Instead, I continue to hold similar views to those I developed in my teens, but in a different way – less singlemindedly, and more skeptically.

I consider my social and political positions open to revision at any given time. However, here’s how my world view looks as I serve my time as a curmudgeon-in-training:

  • Having people in authority over others is the easiest and quickest way to organize society, but generally lapses into an abuse of power. Finding alternative power structures is difficult, but creative – as well as an absolute necessity for personal quality of life and for alleviating long-term social problems. Meanwhile, questioning and minimizing authority is the best way to prevent abuse of power. Sometimes, though, the only short-term relief available is throwing out those in power and replacing them with new ones. Eventually, though, we have to do throw out the new ones, too.
  • What everybody knows or does is always worth questioning. Rather than observing or making an effort to understand the situation around them, most people rely on explanatory principles to make sense of the world. For instance, they say that all men watch sports and all women love to shop without ever examining these assumptions. While you may not get answers by questioning common assumptions, you will always get a better rounded view of the issues by going beyond the explanatory principles.
  • Fashion is a pseudo-culture. A culture is supposed to sustain daily life by giving people a set of values and community. Consumerism promises to deliver these same benefits, but, because it depends upon frequent changes and abrupt reversals of preferences, what it actually creates is a deep sense of insecurity – the exact opposite of culture. Fashion is to culture as junk food is to nourishment.
  • Sloppy thinking is everywhere. One of the most common fallacies is an appeal to authority, although where once we used to consult religion to settle arguments, we now use biology (never mind if we misrepresent or misunderstand the biology, or over-apply it). In North America, the either/or fallacy – the insistence that everything is one thing or another, and never anything in between – is almost as common, leading to over-simplification and distortion of just about every public issue you can name. Often, either/or thinking reduces issues, not to questions of rights or wrong, but a choice of half-truths, neither of which is very satisfactory.
  • To get more of the truth, find the untold stories. Official explanations and histories – including the canons of art — always leave out some events and people, sometimes deliberately and sometimes in unconscious self-justification. What the official versions leave out is sometimes lost, but, despite Orwell’s fears in Nineteen Eighty-Four, some fragments of the unofficial versions survive. These remnants often explain the inexplicable in the official versions, or give new insights entirely. For example, aside from the social changes, one of the most valuable contributions of feminism’s second wave was the rediscovery of previously overlooked writers such as Aphra Behn.
  • As Utah Phillips said, a long memory is the most radical notion in history. Consumerism and the egos of those in power encourage a foreshortened version of the present, in which it is cut off from everything that has gone before. It is true that history never repeats itself, but, as a source of parallels, analogies, and causation, the past is still one of the best ways to understand the present.
  • Most of the time, the average person gets lost in everyday concerns and ignores the larger ones, including those that might give them more control of their lives. For instances, in our culture, it is generally true that you would get more people out to a rally to resist talk of closing the stores on Sunday than to get a large corporation to reduce its pollution. Although exceptions to this trend exist, they are brief and rare.
  • Holding these thoughts is necessary for thinking clearly about society, but can be unhealthy. You need to remember that people can oppose you and still be the kind you would like to meet socially, if you are honest. You also need to avoid excessive cynicism, or, even worse, a negative identity, in which you define yourself solely in terms of your opposition to certain issues and people. Don’t forget, too, that, despite all the difficulties described her, art and clear thinking still manage to emerge. For instance, although marked as just another consumer product, the popular music and the science fiction of the 1960s are still cultural high points. Similarly, the consumer-driven rise of the popular computer led to the existence of the free software community, in which people are trying to think clearly and gain control of their work and lives.

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