Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chess King (Shitty Clothes)

Chess King was a chain of clothing stores that sold pretty mediocre and trendy clothes, such as split-leather jackets, to gullible young people.   Today, we have Aeropostal and Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister and... whatever.

Shitty clothes.  Our malls abound in them, and they sell like hotcakes.  Clueless teens and 20-somethings buy this stuff, usually made in China, and pay top dollar for it.  It rarely lasts, goes out of style in 20 minutes, and usually is covered with logos and brand names.

I was in a "vintage" clothing store the other day, and was chagrined to see some Chess King jackets for sale.  This brought back memories, as there was a Chess King in the Godforsaken Suburban Mall ("Where the FUN is!") where I worked as a dishwasher in the Olde Tyme Gaslight Restaurant.

(By the way, nothing makes you feel old more than seeing the stuff from your childhood, your adolescence, and even your young adulthood, in an antique or "vintage" store.  Well, maybe reading about events from your lifetime in a child's "history" textbook comes close.)

I used to go to Chess King after work and look at the crap they sold and get a chuckle out of it.  At the time, I had a motorcycle and had a leather jacket, which is a very good idea to have, if you ride a motorcycle.  The split-leather pieces of crap (sold as "bomber jackets") were poorly made, but designed to appeal to the Disco crowd.

Embarrassingly, later in life, I actually did go there and buy a "Miami Vice" style suit, when that was all the rage, and of course, it was a poorly made piece of shit and I don't have it today.  It went out of style faster than it fell apart.

The chain closed in the 1990's, as styles and fashions changed.  And over the years, I bought similar crap at other stores, such as trench coat (it was so 1990's) from Britches of Georgetown (remember them?) which also went under.

I can proudly say, I never bought a "Benetton" sweater, at least.

Today, the malls have Abercrombie and Aeropostal, and teens and twenty-somethings wear this crap, as we did back in the day.   For many young kids, having the "right" clothes means everything, lest they be mocked in school.  And retailers thrive on this, which is one reason why they put the labels on the outside of the clothes now, so that everyone can be sure you bought the correct merchandise.

This is, of course, a really sick thing. It teaches kids, from an early age, that having the right accessories and "things" is so important in life - more important than real values.  And these are the same kids who grow up to lease a Lexus or buy a mini-mansion, or flaunt their smart phones, as they are convinced that life is just one long High School, and the key to success is to be one of the "popular kids" with all the right toys.

And these values are taught earlier and earlier today.  When I was a grade-schooler, no one really gave a rat's ass if your sneakers were Redball Keds or Converse All-Stars.  After all, you only wore your "Gym Shoes" in gym class, and the rest of the time, no one cared whether you wore Hush-Puppies or Florsheims.

In short, clothing brand awareness was basically nonexistent in 1970, but by the early 1980's, it took off like a rocket.  And today, having the "right" clothes - which are often poorly made pieces of crap from China - is all-so-important to kids.

In the 1990's, I did some work for Nike, the sneaker maker, and it was disturbing that kids back then were killing each other over $200 sneakers.  Worse yet, very poor kids were striving to buy these expensive sneakers, and most of these kids were black.  Nike is not exactly an all-white company, but let's just say that Beaverton, Oregon ain't all hip-hop and ghetto.  Black people killing each other so the man can make money selling them overpriced Korean-made sneakers - pretty stupid, no?  But today, in a "flashback" to the 1990's, Nike has managed to re-create the hoopla and cause riots in stores when they sell variations of these same sneakers.

Don't people ever learn?

But again, to kids, particularly poor kids, having the right brand and model sneaker or other clothes makes all the difference in the world.

How can you jump off this bandwagon?  It ain't easy.  If you are a parent, likely your kids will nag you to buy this shit - lest they be ostracized for not having it.  And they will be convinced, too, that owning an ugly "Aeropostal" t-shirt was really their idea and their style choice, which was in no way influenced by their peers, advertising, or the hype in the mall.

And denying them this junk only sets you up as the bad guy and gets you blamed for the supposed mockery and ostracism they get from their classmates.  They are too young and immature to realized that (a) being popular in high school is a false value, (b) that having the right clothes isn't going to make you popular, and (c) being yourself doesn't mean copying everyone else.

Sadly, they have to learn this for themselves.  But you might be able to give the lesson a little more sting, if you make them pay for the crappy clothes with their own money (from a job or allowance, for example).  Then, at least, they can balance the costs with the benefits and learn something.

But of course, some never learn, and when you see a college kid wearing this crap - or worse, someone well into their 20's or 30's, it is sort of embarrassing.  It's like seeing the kids in rural areas wearing their pants low with the boxer shorts sticking out - not realizing that the style is already so-last-year in the big cities, at least three years ago.

As an adult, clothing serves a more pedestrian role - to keep you warm and cover your shame.  And since you don't outgrow clothing and since you tend to buy less trendy stuff, most of your wardrobe lasts a long time. Durability and value outweigh trendy stylishness.  And in this regard, it can be downright hard to shop for clothing, in some stores.  They aren't marketing to you.

For example, we went to Target the other day to buy a pair of blue jeans.  Yes, the duct-tape was finally peeling off my old pair, which was ready to disintegrate.  But the only styles they had at Target were jeans that were "pre-distressed" and looked more like the pair I was throwing away.  I am not quite ready to model the homeless look just yet - at least not in a new pair of jeans.  Other models were "low waist" cuts for skinny kids, or the saggy-butt "rapper" look pants.  In fact, they had everything in stock except regular blue jeans.

Thus, it came as a surprise to find a regular pair of standard-fit, non-distressed, regular-colored blue jeans in a department store in Atlanta, at a fairly reasonable price.  Looks like we're all done clothing shopping for another decade.  And that right there is why they aren't marketing to the likes of me, and why Target doesn't carry regular old blue jeans anymore. (UPDATE:  We buy our Wranglers online now).

And don't get me started on underwear!  A trip to the men's underwear aisle at Target is like ladies night in the strip club.  When did underwear become so sexy?  And what do those models stuff in those briefs?  It is downright intimidating.  And no, these "sexy" briefs and boxers don't look sexy on most of us, just ridiculous. You don't look like the guy on the package - and you don't have his "package", either.

To tell you the truth, I think most of the clothing I wear these days is stuff given to me (promotional t-shirts or gifts from friends) or things I bought at the thrift shop, including some of my best Hawaiian shirts, which is my only sartorial vice.  I have a couple of suits, but I rarely wear these.  And since they sit in the closet, they will likely last me the rest of my life.

Not having enough clothes has rarely been a problem, and indeed, in this country, it is akin to starving to death.  We are a awash in a sea of cheap Chinese clothes, and most people throw away a shirt or shorts when a button comes loose.  No one sews anymore, it seems.

So, in order to make money on clothing, the marketers had to create demand.  And one way to do this is to sell people on the idea that clothing is obsolete because it is "out of style" and that without the correct brand name plastered across the front, you are hopelessly not "with it."

And the drones buy into this, too.