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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fashion Farce

MCG and family, Christmas 1984

It was hard work being an anti-establishment rebel, and all that rebelling against trendy clothes somehow made us the worst offenders when it came to adhering to a uniform. It took a lot of time and energy to find what we were looking for, for what was required, the right clothes and in the right size at thrift-stores, but being anti-establishment made shopping at thrift stores and army surplus stores cool and necessary which was convenient because money was always tight. Amelie, Sammie, and I actually got pretty creative with thrift-store apparel, but it took dedication and luck. They may have been affordable for those of us living under the poverty level, but thrift stores in the 1980's were over populated by puce colored polyester shift dresses and slacks, and skimpy on anything black, except slips, which were a find when they fit in the bust. Finding the right clothes to complete our look, especially in Tuolumne, was hard, but finding the right shoes was even harder.
Amelie, Sammie, and I wore high top Converse because that's what Clash loving, fist pumping, alienated, punk rock kids wore -- but I hated them. I had a couple of different pairs, but the most vivid pair was a light blue pair, not sky blue, and not navy blue which would have been a lot better. The light blue pair was on sale. I needed shoes; I could afford them, the last pair in my size. Size six shoes sold out quickly because stores don't stock as many as they do the sevens and eights. When I laced them and tied them tight, the light blue Converse pulled inward in a strange way, giving my foot a clownish look -- wide in the toe and narrow in the middle. They looked okay with baggy shorts but terrible with leggings, skirts, and dresses. I guess I thought they were supposed to look good with any outfit; they looked good on Amelie. She wore them with skirts over long johns and a different punk band t-shirt for nearly every day of the week: the Clash, Dead Kennedys, MDC, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Subhumans. She didn't have clown feet. She had the black converse -- the black ones were slimming apparently.
         Before Converse, and before discovering Doc Martins, I remember being pretty confused about shoes. Most girls my age wore Keds, or Reeboks, and the rich Twain Harte girls were Topsiders.  I wasn't going to wear any of those shoes. But what kind of shoes was I supposed to wear? It was hard to find shoes that worked with my army surplus/thrift-store look. Until about the ninth grade, whatever I wore on my feet had been chosen by my mother whose budget barely covered the shoe strings: sturdy winter boots, tennis shoes, saltwater sandals, and rubber flip flops that cut into the webbing between the big toe and the toe next to it. Before getting the light blue Converse, my mom took me shopping and I picked out a pair of imitation leather shoes in gray. They were loafers, or maybe they were moccasins, but with a couple of studs on top near the toes and silver buckle on the side. Tough looking loafers? Punk rock moccasins?
They seemed like a good idea in the store. I stared at them a long while in the mirror. I thought they looked cute with the skirt that I was wearing, a catholic-school-girl skirt in green plaid wool. I turned this way and that and lifted the toe of my right foot to get a better angle. I like the way the studs on the toe caught the light, and they were the only pair of shoes that I like even a little bit in the whole store. All the others my size looked either too cheap or too trendy, so I nodded to my mom that I’d take this pair. She said that she thought they were cute, a bad sign that I neglected to notice.
         When I got those shoes home and put them on and looked in my own mirror without my mom hovering around impatiently, and without the bright lights in the store, I realized that I couldn't wear them. They were ugly. A dead, ugly gray with a couple of tacky studs and a buckle to cheer them up. And not cool dead, ugly old-lady dead, and not with a cool Wicked Witch of West buckle but a useful buckle, one that actually tightened the shoe to the foot. I didn't want to wear them, but I knew that I was stuck with them, that my mom would flip if I told her that I didn't like them after all. And it was getting too cold for my worn out black, canvas, China doll, Mary Janes.  I'd have to either wear the ugly, dead, gray, old-lady studded moccasins and hope nobody noticed them, or I'd have to scuff them up a bit and try to pretend I thought they were cool.
         I didn’t understand why it was so hard to find shoes that I could afford, shoes that were cool, shoes that were feminine, but shoes that were tough too, and shoes that were as distinctive as my new look? I needed shoes that looked good with my frilly Mexican-looking skirts and my skater shorts. I had a white skirt with green and red rick-rack, Mexican flag colors, even though I didn't realize it at the time, or my favorite a black skirt with lace between each ruffled panel. I wore it with my favorite Clash t-shirt, and black, stiff-soled, thrift-store granny shoes. Those shoes were my favorite, and I wore them nearly everyday until they practically disintegrated on my foot after not being worn for the fifteen or twenty years they sat in someone's closet before winding up at the Red Church thrift-store. I also needed shoes that looked good with my paisley skater shorts or boys 501 jeans. I somehow thought that there was just one pair of magical, cool, feminine, tough-looking shoes that could do all that.

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