NOTES FROM UNDER THE TABLE: Three Stripes to the Wind
photo: Richard Beatson, flickr, CC BY 2.0 license

Three Stripes to the Wind

BY James Hopkin

Yes, in Poland at least, Tania Odzież is unashamedly cheap and not aspiring to cool, and you can throw things together and make your own way, make your own – what’s the word? – style

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Three Stripes to the Wind: The Calamity of Cool

“I’m defined by Nike, I’m three stripes to the wind!” Or so the happy clones might sing.

A couple of weeks ago, while on the U(gly)-bahn in Berlin, I sat opposite six people, one wore Adidas shoes, the next Nike, the next Adidas and so on, like some streetwise mathematical sequence. Or a laboured conspiracy of cool. But, ah, cool! Does it exist? Everyone flusters, flaps and frets. But if you want to partake in the conspiracy, you must furnish yourself with these or Puma-permutations and buy (or find in your parents’ attic) a 1970s, square little plastic holdall (with a ludicrous form and a risible function) with an airline written on the side? No logo? No logic!

So how can we put retro in reverse? Simply, can’t we turn the other cheek? I’m unvanquished by Nike, I don’t need their tick of approbation across my toes.

There was an article recently in the Guardian: “where to buy Croatia’s hippest retro trainers”. Aha! So let’s not talk about the history and beauty of that fascinating country, no, let’s simply find out where they keep their vintage merchandise!

Vintage? Don’t I mean, po polsku, Tania Odzież? I’ve had more fun in the cramped and pungent parlours of these second-hand clothes shops than in the consummately cool vintage boutiques of Berlin. (Consummately cool? A deliberate oxymoron. Cool can not be consummated. It is a process of endless deferral, one tick or stripe merely points to the next. Be not stricken along these lines. Remember! You wear sporting products only to keep pace with the next marketing campaign!)

Yes, in Poland at least, Tania Odzież is unashamedly cheap and not aspiring to cool, and you can throw things together and make your own way, make your own – what’s the word? – style. Remember that idea? Are people still interested in a style, or is it now simply a “look”? As if it’s not you endorsing the product, but the product endorsing you. Yes, you need your three stripes to be elevated to the rank of cool, you need your Nike ticking-off. It will no longer suffice to rummage through a charity bin for something that actually suits you, no, you want to find a retro accessory that will give you a gravitas beyond your years as if you have miraculously imbibed (nay, consumed), not just one fashion idea, but all those between the present day and the retro-era of your choosing. Besides, you might argue that the whole of fashion parlance has long since been infected with a kitsch-retro-vintage feel. Just as any hint of a subversive subculture is now all-too-quickly subsumed by the mainstream, its putative claws soon manicured and sold off as merchandise.

It’s that old joke about starting to wear your father’s/mother’s clothes, and now it’s come true! And that’s cool? Hail geek chic! Kitsch has never been anything more than a playful (at best) or laughable (at worst) imitation of a genuine aesthetic.

Which makes me wonder: have we given up on genuine? Or, again, is it only about wearing these signifiers of approval? Can’t we ride a pony out of postmodernism now? All these signs simply point us to others and, ultimately, lead us nowhere. At his local market, a friend of mine bought a comfortable and cheap pair of trainers. With four white stripes on each shoe. His colleagues laughed at him. He couldn’t understand the fuss. But who knows? Perhaps his cheaper trainers are biodegradable. Have you ever considered the ecological ramifications of cool?

Another question: does “retro” have anything to do with nostalgia? We used to count and consider by generations. But what happened to these generations? They melted into micro-years, were gulped down by technological advances, so that eras are now short-lived, relationships/families fissiparous, and we’re all orphans hooked up to a motherboard, searching for (mainly specious) forms of belonging.

But don’t tell me you’ve gone all ‘80s because you’re longing for a return to communism or Thatcherism. I know you want the music and the clothes without the politics, without the socio-economic problems of the day. Or maybe you’re just trying to violate the present with this urge for retroactive action. It’s an existential thing – stretch your stripes across the abyss, then walk the tightrope. Or perhaps it’s simply your little way of apprehending that age-old fear, the passing of time?

In which case: cool!