I wrote this last year, in August, but it still rings true. Consumer culture is a hard thing to navigate, and where the limits between personal beliefs and mainstream likings for things lie can be hard to distinguish. The story speaks for itself, so without further ado, I give you: shoes.
We were walking down the street and discussing Converse boots. I had finally decided I would buy myself a pair when Andrey pointed to a sign that beckoned to a (literally) underground vintage and fashion store on 17th, Divine. Divine is a hipster and alt place, of course, complete with piercings on site and a Suicide Girl behind the counter.
They had a sale on Converse; $15 on specific sizes; and the regular high top ones at the normal price. I chose a set of each. In the middle of the display, there was a single pair of Converse boots. They just barely fit over my plump, muscular calves, but they did fit. The only ones left in any size. $63. I had just been paid. I gave into fate. "Sold," I said, and we walked out.
Andrey grinned ear to ear. "Worth it?"
"Worth it," I said.
For years, I have wanted a pair of Converse shoes. When I was in high school, they were worn by emo kids, the goofily dramatic and stigmatized neoGoth twerps who were the punchline of the year. Before that, they were the domain of cool kids. After, they were quickly nabbed as a symbol of hipsterdom. Chuck Taylors have been very good at being 'the cool shoe'.
I avoid visible brands; even T-shirts with slogans and pictures have been anathema to me since I was in grade school. I learned quickly that the brand game was stupid and avoided slogans because I did not want anyone speaking for me. Long before I was aware of 'no logo', I wanted to eschew the utterly stupid pop culture label-as-divinity attitude. I still avoid that, and even struggled at first with getting jewelry related to things I love--like Gaiman's work, or Farscape, or Doctor Who--because it meant associating myself with a brand and identity other than 'my own'.
No Chuck Taylors, I said firmly to myself. They're for sell-outs and emo kids and people trying to be cool. I didn't want to like something other people liked, a rare enough occasion as it was. That scared me, liking a popular thing.
Deep down, I also knew I couldn't pull off the shoes. And, as a fat kid, the ordeal of buying clothing for 'normal' girls was agonizing and embarassing enough. Better to stay away from the incredibly stupid kids who saw me as a quaint, weird creature. Truthfully, that decision paid off; the crap I went through gave me insight that I still use today, though it has taken me a bit of time to catch up in social development.
That changed today. I bought the Converse because I stopped giving a damn. I will still avoid most brands and I will still dress in my signature style. I will still coo with excitement over orchids and jump up and down when I am excited and enjoy synaesthetic trip-outs when I listen to music. Buying the shoes did not make me less of myself or less of a person, or mean that my ethics are horribly tarnished. I gave myself permission to like something in spite of its intimidating and offputting status. The self conscious voice I lived with for years is fading into static.
I am me, and I did something today that I avoided for insufficiently wise reasons. My ethics matter, but avoiding something I liked, regardless of its association, was stupid. Sometimes, you have to grow up enough to be a teenager.