Earn Your Stripes

The contents of my closet haven't changed much in the last four years. I still own a wide assortment of plaid button-down shirts, and I still wear them on a regular basis.

This is okay, since I'm living in the fashion time-warp better known as college. But while I sit impervious to style in my saddle oxfords and argyle socks, I am struck by a sinking suspicion that leads me to squirm over the static nature of my wardrobe. For unlike those of us born in the Carter administration, when the high school kids of the new millennium begin to strut their stuff, they won't be doing so in L.L. Bean flannel.

They are the kids who chill in carpenter jeans. They never owned jams or velcro sneakers. They've probably never even heard of Gotcha T-shirts or Zubaz pants. They may have worn plaid in elementary school, but that was when mom was doing the shopping. Now that they're becoming fashion conscious, it's all about the stripe.

Whether lining the sleeve or the chest, the stripe seems to be ubiquitous in today's clothing. And we're not talking any plain-old pinstripe or rugby stripe here, but rather a brightly-colored racing stripe, often laid down over a dark field to emphasize contrast.

Even where multiple stripes are employed they tend to stick near enough to each other so that they can be read as a single stripe. Thus, striped clothing creates a minimalist dichotomy that suggests action and movement. Such a statement is a sharp departure from the complicated unity and static nature of plaid.


While the younger breed wears striped clothing effortlessly, those of us who have been sporting plaid fashions since the early '90s may find the switch to stripes a tough transition to make. We're used to the earnest complexity of the tartan and the understated intricacy of black-watch. It's not easy to leave behind the gridded blues, greens, reds and yellows for the linear turquoise and black.

When I was a kid, I'd always squirm when I thought I saw an adult trying to dress in the style of his children. There is a fine line between wanna-be fashion and no-clue fashion. Right now, that line is the stripe. Many people my age and older seem to pull off the racing stripe, but even they appear uncomfortable at times. The most conspicuous example of stripe-discomfort is found in the person who just can't quite believe that the black and white stripes lining his or her blue jeans are really supposed to be there.

The young don't create fashion, but they confirm and legitimize it. Older people must work harder to inhabit the fashion of the young, and in a deliberate manner. My transition to the stripe will come, for it must, but only in good time.

If my mug shot was a little bigger, you'd see that in the picture I'm actually wearing a striped sweater, my first true item of clothing in the new genre. It is an appropriate, conservative entry into the world of the racing stripe, because: a) the sweater was a gift, and b) the sweater is from The Gap. Still, it is a first step in the struggle to get back in tune with the times, a struggle I will fight with varying degrees of intensity for the rest of my adult life.

While I never want to get so out of style that I come back into style, I understand that I can only keep up with the Benjamins to a certain extent. In a few years striped clothing will become as passe as plaid clothing is now. Nevertheless, we must slowly begin to push our plaid to the back of the closet, earning our stripes slowly, so that we can prepare for the next shift in the winds of fashion.

Ultimately, we can't avoid facing up to fashion trends, no matter how hard we try. Soon enough we'll be entering the working world, and most of us will sport corporate fashions during most of our waking hours. Then we won't need to take refuge from the plaid or stripe; rather, we will begin to take refuge in them.

Jim Cocola '98 is a history and literature concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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