I don’t wear clothing with advertisements. Perhaps it’s my Quaker-like sensibilities, or maybe it’s just that I hate being a shill. What has any corporation done for me that I should give it free advertising? Actually, not free—advertising that I have to pay to give? I do have a few college sweatshirts, though. Always a booster for education, I don’t mind wearing that brand. Otherwise, I sit back and marvel how marketers get people to think it’s cool to strut their (the marketers’) stuff. Brand names declare one’s tribe, one’s level of affluence. I used to rip any exterior labels off my clothes but it became clear it was a losing battle, especially when brands are incorporated (note the word) into the very design. And we play along.
I shouldn’t be too harsh. After all, corporations are people too. At least in the cataract-infested eyes of the law. They have rights just like, or even more than, individuals do. We live this fiction and watch the wealthy grow loftier, and we wear their brands so that others will sense where we belong. Long ago I began to object to this. Maybe it was because I grew up poor and wearing cheap knock-offs of brand names was embarrassing. The cut of your trousers said something about what your folks could afford. I actually began buying all my own clothes at the age of fourteen and, consequently, habitually wear things until not even Goodwill will consider them appropriate for resale. And I still tend to buy generic. Thoreau, in a patched quote from Walden and Civil Disobedience can be made to say it well:
As for clothing, […] perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. […] No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.
The fact is we despise the patch-wearer for not playing the capitalist game. You’ve got to pay good money for jeans with tears already in them and the world of the facile has no room for posers who actually wear through the knees. If we ever meet you’ll know me by the frayed edges of my sleeves and cuffs. I’ll likely be the guy sitting on a bench without a Starbucks cup in my hand, cradling Henry David and nodding vigorously.