Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Mustache: Leave It Where It Was

Austin is a hip town, hence it has many hipsters. I've noted this before, and while I appreciate the indie aesthetic and would, hesitantly, label myself as an indie hipster, I am weary of trends and trendiness. To me, being a trendy hipster is not any different from adolescent attempts at looking preppy.

One recent trend is going too far: the ironic mustache. I've seen 'stached guys in various funky coffee shops, playing in local bands and working at independent book stores. That's enough to solidify the mustache a true hipster trend. I've seen girls sporting t-shirts with slogans that favor the stache. Even the editor of Relevant magazine has had his say in defense of it:

"The rumblings are already there. The 'scene' kids have been sporting ironic mustaches for a while now, and as we all well know, every major fashion trend over the last 10 years has started by hipsters ironically donning something (trucker hats, non-sequitur statement tees, tapered jeans), eventually the irony wearing off and it just getting accepted. I figured I would accelerate the process a bit."
Cameron Strang, Relevant Magazine, "The Dash for the 'Stache," November 2007

I'm sorry, Cameron, but this is ridiculous. There is no point in being delicate or diplomatic, so I will be plain: Mustaches are not attractive.

Many other forms of facial hair can be well done, but please, let's leave the stache in the 70s where it belongs with door beads and super-flared jeans. My only hope is that once the mustache is generally accepted, the hipsters will move onto something else, maybe returning to the regular ol' beard (which I whole-heartedly endorse as attractive facial hair).

Signs of change are on the horizon. My preppy frat-boy brother has recently grown a mustache. Matched with his pink polos and Sperry boat shoes, it's sure to the turn off the hipsters. I can only hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

China Blue

I remember the first time I was aware of Bangladesh. I realized it was an actual place with it's own culture, with people who work and raise families and dream and hope. I was 15 and I read a Gap clothing tag.

Sweat shops had always been the fodder for media sensationalism, only noticed in Kathie Lee type scandals. They were distant and far away from me, the budding adolescent consumer who only wanted to wear what her friends were wearing. It was some attempt at self-esteem, but I never thought of the price beyond the dollar amount on the tag.

But I remember reading "Bangladesh." It sounded so exotic, still distant, but somehow real. I didn't know exactly where it was, somewhere in Asia I guessed. I found the family's red World Book letter B encyclopedia and looked up the entry on Bangladesh. It was dated in 1992. Even then, it was poor.

In that moment, I realized someone far away made my clothes and probably didn't make much money for it. Somehow, it seemed wrong and unjust and horrible, but being as self-absorbed as I was, I didn't bother to pursue those feelings of injustice further and put them to action.

It has remained in the back of my mind so that every time I've bought a new piece of clothing and seen the tag, the old feelings come back up. If I let them stir a bit, I'll actually think about the factory worker. I became aware of fair trade in college, but only in terms of coffee. Fairly traded apparel is almost unheard of, and when I can find it, it's always very ethnic looking. I would need dreadlocks and Birkenstocks to pull the outfit together.

I have learned more and more about fair trade in the past two years, especially after traveling to the developing world and working with people who were committed to international social justice. And, honestly, it is trendy right now to be concerned about other countries, to be into social justice, but I wonder if all the buzz will lead to real change. I have to ask: What's the next step? What do we do?

Awareness comes first. This weekend, I went to a fair trade craft festival, which included a screening of China Blue, winner of the Independent Lens Audience Award for 2007. It is a powerful and gut-wrenching real-life portrayal of teenage girls in China who work in a denim factory. They lived in a crowded factory dorm, hardly ever went outside, worked long hours with no overtime pay and lost pay for "misconduct" such as laughing or sleeping on their breaks.

The girls in the movie were not much older than I was when I first looked at the Gap tag. They are babies, too young to be nearly enslaved. All so that we can buy cheap jeans and corporations can make bigger profits. Yet, they have a certain dignity that comes through in the film - they want to work and send money to their families. They take pride in what they do.

I believe fair trade is the answer. There's a lot economic theory I need to read and understand first, but economics, much like science, must be viewed through an ethical lens at some point. If we have compassion, if we can empathize, if we are essentially human, we must address our consumption and ask if the human price is too high.

From there, I believe we can change apparel industry. More on this later.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I Heart England (or do I?)

I have a pink luggage tag that says "I Heart London." My mom bought it for me at a dollar store. It came in a set, and the other reads "I Heart New York." I've always been slightly embarrassed by these tags, but kept them on my luggage because they are accurate. I do genuinely love New York, but then I have to ask myself, do I really love London?

I have a true love/hate relationship with the English and their culture. I am (gasp!) an Anglophile. That damn island is so charming, I can't hate it. As much as I want to, I can't. England and her people are allusive to me. They seem so closely related to us Americans but still are different. I found it easier to live in Italy and just accept the cultural differences there than I did while living in the U.K. The British didn't seem different enough to be so, well, different. And they can be annoying.

Let me explain. They are arrogant, the British. They once ruled the world, and now that they just have Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to rule over, I think they're disappointed. They seem to dislike Americans for the same reason: an arrogant sense of cultural superiority. It's warranted, I will freely admit it. My country has done a lot lately I'm not proud of, and I think a lot European criticism of the U.S., especially of our foreign policy, is justly deserved. But come on - British colonialism did more to fuck up the world than anything else in the last 200 years.

So I'll put the arrogance aside. Both countries royally fucked up the world. Okay. That's settled. I can get over British arrogance.

English people, especially those in the South of England, are cold, unwelcoming, and just plain rude. (As a side, it always seems to be the "South of England" and never "southern England." I'm not sure why.) In shops, they hardly recognize the presence of a customer, let alone offer help. If some poor soul were stranded on the side of the road with a flat, I doubt they'd be offered assistance by a passing driver. I was deathly afraid to ask for directions, for fear that no self-respecting English citizen would sacrifice 30 seconds of his or her time to help, of all people, a stupid, lost American. It was easier to forgo all human dignity and get lost and pray a friend would notice I was missing and come find me. Luckily, it only happened once.

I guess I didn't find the English to be as charming as the landscape, and I wanted to love it there. I wanted it to become my new home, and it didn't. Once I returned to the United States, I worked for an international company that had many stateside British employees. There were some clashes in management styles and different expectations for admins (I will never be a personal assistant for a British exec. Never.) There was some petty behavior, as there is in most offices, but all in all, I came to like many of my English co-workers. I would ask some of them questions about England and try to reconnect with a country that, deep down, I had to admit I liked. Maybe not loved, but liked. And they were some small connection back to that place.

After moving back to the American South, I find, for the first time in two years, there are no English people in my life. None. I long to hear someone say "trolley" instead of "cart" or "nackered" instead of "tired." (And ask me why Americans always include the full stop inside the quotation mark.) I recently rented the British version of "The Office" and while I prefer the American show, I just wanted to hear the accents again. I even thought about pretending to be British for a day, faking an accent and providing people with an elaborate back story about how I grew up in London and had a British mother and an American father. I would tell them I had duel citizenship and decided to move to America to experience it more fully than just visiting.

Ironically, it is Guy Fawkes Day, an important British holiday akin to Fourth of July, fireworks and all. I must admit on this most patriotic day of the British calendar that I love (yes, love) Britain, and I miss having British people in my life.