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Grit & Glamour
tao tao holmes 10 arts entertainment editor volume 84
April 22, 2010

While I can’t say I know the first thing about fashion, I do see it as a rather curious establishment. Every so often, I find myself in a dentist’s reception room flipping through one of those fashion mags, somewhat involuntarily educating myself on the latest haute couture.

What can I possibly compare myself to gazing in bewilderment at the thick, glossy pages – a grandfather watching his twelve year-old granddaughter texting? A three-toed sloth observing the movement of a flying monkey (or any type of movement, really)?

Images of creatures from another species meet my eye: some have alien antennae, others long, silky tails, and still others, purple cheeks and Athena-esque armor.

I venture to compare this level of fashion, the most haute of haute couture, to curling at the Winter Olympics; it takes some time and patience to understand, but is in fact quite sophisticated. (This is total supposition; I have yet to understand curling, either.)

The next fashion level down, however, I begin to follow. There are clear trends, ranging from newly-introduced styles to renewals of vestments from the past. Women walk down the runway wearing monocles, draped in ribbons, or sporting dresses off the set of a Jane Austen remake. Recently, I heard of an upsurge of military-inspired design lines.

The latest trends always strike me as impractical or, if not impractical, simply out of place. This idea repeats itself when I see Deerfield students wearing rugged Timberland boots and Barbour jackets around our idyllic preparatory school campus.

There is a distinct juxtaposition of the rough and tough quality of the two brands and the pristine, elite setting in which they are worn.

John Barbour, a Scottish farmer turned draper turned clothes-maker, began making jackets back in 1894. The majority of his customers were seamen and others involved in the ship industry who bought the coats for their protection against the worst of
the elements.

Since then, the Barbour company has come a long way, though it has tried to maintain its clothing in the spirit of British country living.

Still based in South Shields, England, where John Barbour first set up shop, Barbour distributes worldwide and has expanded from oilskin seafarer-wear and riding coats to more casual clothing, like the quilted and bedale jackets seen on many girls around campus.

Still, the physical appearance of these jackets retains the dark, rugged quality of a seaman’s shell, also similar in look to many
models belonging to the Carhartt clothing company, which targets its apparel at the active worker— landscapers, builders, carpenters, and the like.

Then there’s the Timberland Company, famous for its ecological and humanitarian outlook in addition to its quality footwear.

The shoe-maker entered the business as a major player when it introduced a new molding technology that created a completely waterproof boot. Their durable, high-performance shoes constructed from thick, chunky leather are geared towards outdoor activities, such as hiking and boating.

Lately, this classic yellow boot has found its way off the trail and onto the street, picked up by many hip hop artists for its rugged, masculine look. It has even made it to the heated brick walkways of prestigious boarding schools like Deerfield.

But back to fashion. The curiosity is how it seems to be constructed out of a series of constantly-shifting reversals. Garments representative of lifestyles that were looked down upon or completely foreign to their new wearers are taken up and reversed into something prestigious and high-end.

How often over the course of a month, or a year, is a student’s Barbour jacket subjected to the harshness of coastal elements, or Timberlands trudged through the muddy outdoors they were made for?

While the gritty, outdoorsy nature of these and certain other items is ironic displayed in such a tame, sheltered, and intellectual lifestyle, there is more to it all than fashion. The fact that their original uses have become in many places, like Deerfield, obsolete, indicates, above all, an irreversible change in lifestyle.