Fair Fashion

My in-laws match.

Their shorts are different patterns of the same four colors. Their leather sandals are the same shade of brown. Their shirts are His and Her polos.

No one wants to think about their in-laws underwear, but if I was a betting man, I’d bet on theirs matching.

Gloria, my mother-in-law, deserves most of the credit (or blame; it depends on your perspective) for this. Jim, my father-in-law, could care less. Jim and I have this in common and it’s why I have a purple shirt.

I also have a pink shirt, Annie, my wife, says it’s salmon — as if that makes the shirt more manly. Men catch fish while drinking manly beer and floating in manly boats. Fish stink. Men stink. Therefore a color named after a fish must be manly, right?

Not even close. It’s pink. A man wearing a pink shirt falls at either end of the fashion spectrum: they either care a lot or could care less.

I care more about where I am wearing than how it looks.

The biggest event of the year in our neck of corn country is the Great Darke County Fair in Greenville, Ohio. Every year my in-laws go as a matched set. Jim doesn’t mind because he gets to eat whatever deep fried food he wants.

This year was a special year for us. It was Harper’s first Fair. (Here she is riding a pony.) Anyhow, I came out of the bedroom in an outfit that I picked out and, knowing that she has a little of her mother’s fashion sense, I asked Annie if what I was wearing was acceptable.

“That’s fine,” she said. “I really don’t care what you wear. I don’t like any of your clothes, anyhow. We need to get you a new wardrobe.”

Some might be offended by such a statement, but not me. I was terrified by it.

A whole new wardrobe! But I know these clothes. I know where they were made. I know a lot about the companies who made them. I’ve had a few pair of my jeans since high school. Oh the memories. And to just chuck them all away in the interest of fashion and style and replace my well worn and familiar threads with strangers. How heartless!

Since I try to be a more engaged consumer now, shopping isn’t easy. To replace my entire wardrobe would be a lot of work. Annie just doesn’t want me to start wearing clothes that aren’t ten years old, she wants me to acquire a wardrobe of which she approves. This means we would have to go clothes shopping, an activity that we dread individually and one that we despise doing together.

“Oh, I like this shirt,” Annie would hand it to me.

“Yeah, it’s okay. What color is it?” I would ask because I’m a little color blind.

“It’s midnight,” she would say.

“It looks purple.” I would respond before telling myself that purple wouldn’t be manly but midnight would. To survive at midnight one has to make a manly fire or perhaps fashion a manly torch. What can be more manly that carrying fire?

So I would try on the shirt and just when Annie would think that she had sealed the deal, I would ask, “Where was it made?” Or I would say, “I’m not so sure about this brand.”

It’s tough finding something that meets both of our requirements.

In order to preserve our marriage, I’ve made some guidelines for clothes shopping at our local mall:

1) Avoid department store labels. I would rather go with an established brand like Levi’s than JCPenney’s signature label or Wal-Marts ironic label Faded Glory.

2) Nothing from Wal-Mart or Wal-Mart-like stores unless it’s a T-shirt and it’s hilarious (I have my weaknesses).

3) If given a choice between something made in China or somewhere else, go with somewhere else. What’s right in China is what grows the nation’s economy and for the most part this makes labor rights wrong. It’s okay to buy shoes made in China because it’s tough to find any that are made elsewhere and going barefoot stinks. (I’m not calling for a boycott of China, it’s just how I feel.)

4) Reference the pocket-sized book The Better World Shopping Guide by Ellis Jones. The guide grades products, retailers, and brands on their social and environmental practices. Patagonia gets an A but none of their products are found at our mall. But Levi’s, GAP, and Eddie Bauer get Bs and are.

In a pinch, these are my quick and dirty standards. They aren’t perfect. What I would really like to see are the major retailers providing ethical options that cost a little more. We have organic/natural aisles in all of our local grocery stores, so why can’t we have a few racks of socially and environmentally conscious clothing?

(Take a few minutes and write to your favorite retailer and ask for an ethical option.)

We went to the fair and while most folks were fashionably dressed like my in-laws — although not quite as color coordinated — there were plenty of others whose outfits made mine look stylish. Those fresh from the cow barn wore the appropriately named (crap)-kickers. Others toting huge stuffed bears had made their own alterations — cutoff shorts and cutoff sleeves.

We all have our fashion standards.

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