Friday, May 10, 2013

You're One of Them Little Fancy Lads, Aren't Ya?

You know what was cool about growing up as a skateboarding punk rocker in the '80s? Being able to look at old pictures without cringing. No neon Spuds McKenzie shirts or acid washed jeans for me, no sir. Just jeans or old man shorts and a T shirt, Chuck Taylors or Vans on my feet, and possibly a flannel. Yep, even though we were weirdos, the basic outfit is a basic classic American look.

Foot high mohawks? Yeah, there were a few of those, but they were generally worn by posers - people who worshiped English bands like GBH or the Exploited and wore leather jackets in Florida's 90 degree heat and humidity. And how the hell could you skate with all that hairspray and extra clothing?

Or maybe my friends made fun of those guys because we had jobs and parents who wouldn't let us get funny haircuts.

So yeah, no reason to be embarrassed by my fashion choices at all. Other than gaining a few pounds since high school, I could totally rock an outfit from the '80s and still ...oh wait. I'm forgetting about the blazers.

My friend Curt and I were at a track meet. As distance runners we had hours to kill until we were needed or missed. We'd pass the time by wandering around whichever school or city we were in, walking to 7-11 to get something to eat, stealing road signs, looking for record stores, whatever.

Today we found a garage sale. We were probably going to buy something anyway, just to show up to the track meet with some crazy stuff to further cement our reputation as the team weirdos. But then we saw a rack full of suit jackets.

I don't remember which one of us actually expressed the idea, but we decided that we needed to buy a jacket apiece. We would start a new punk fashion statement.

"We'll be like the Buzzcocks or the Jam," I remember one of us saying. "All those old bands dressed up and they looked cool."

And we had just the occasion to wear them.

The Buzzcocks, before punk became synonymous with bum.

The Replacements were playing that weekend in Tampa on my birthday. We had never actually heard them, but we understood them to be more rock and roll than the stuff we usually listened to. This would be an excellent time for us to debut our new suit jackets. Soon after, all of Tampa and St.Pete would be dressing like us. Maybe even those Replacement guys would start wearing suits. "It all started in Tampa," one of them would say. "We saw these guys wearing the crap out of some suit jackets and it just all made sense."

I can't speak for Curt, but I definitely felt a little self-conscious that night. Not only were we younger than most of the concert-goers, but we were dressed differently. Of course, years later, this would be the official dress of rich guys - blazer, jeans and a T-shirt, but at the time, we were young fashion pioneers, lost in a sea of T-shirts. It didn't help that some drunk guy kept asking me, "Hey, you're in that one band, right? The drummer? That's you, right?" I couldn't tell if the guy was legitimately confused or messing with me.

But no matter, the real test would come Monday. We were both going to wear our new jackets to school.

But if regular old guy jackets were cool at the punk show, we had to do a bit more at school to shock the squares. I spent most of Sunday night decorating mine - safety pins (I still don't really understand what safety pins have to do with punk), buttons, painted slogans, anything I could attach to the jacket, I did. I even made up a card that said 'Property of Funeral Home' in spooky Gothic script. The lame conformists of Manatee High were gonna have their minds blown when they saw my radically reworked suit jacket! And you know, maybe it would open some minds, get some people thinking about the conformity we were pushed into. Maybe, just maybe, the youth would feel my message. It would be like one of those 7 Seconds songs about unity.

I got to school early and waited for Curt. It was already sort of warm. People were definitely looking at me. Hey, this thing is really hot. Uh...yeah, people are definitely looking at me. I mean, yeah, that's totally what I want - to show that I don't follow their stupid fashion rules and, this thing is really hot. Yep, everyone is staring at me, all right. Hey, isn't there a law that says schools have to provide air conditioning?

I can't remember if Curt didn't go to school that day or did go and didn't wear his jacket. I do know that two guys in suit jackets was a lot cooler than a single guy in a modified suit jacket, no matter how bravely I tried to pull it off. I also know that the jacket only lasted past homeroom when it was stashed in my locker for the rest of the day.

I have since learned that if you want to wear something different, like an old hat or, I dunno, a pocket watch or a cane with a wolf head, you have to own that stuff - act like it's the most natural thing in the world. Your self-confidence will make it work, sort of like that Emperor in that story about the awesome suit. I can't exactly remember what happened in the end, but I recall the whole town thought he looked dope in his new clothes.

Of course, that was way more than my fragile high school self-esteem could handle. And if I'm being honest, probably more than I could handle now. No wonder I've worn the same stuff basic outfit for decades.

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