Monday, January 12, 2009

DC diary

Most '36 hours in...'-type city guides leave out the nitty-gritty, highlighting the, well, highlights, and leaving out the actual experience of travel. So I'll begin with the bus. All told, it was a super-efficient and cheap way to get to DC. But be warned: the person in the seat in front of you may not consider the possibility that the person in the seat behind not only can see their screen, but can't so much look anywhere else, line-of-vision being what it is. On the way to DC, a young man was writing a clearly semi-autobiographical novel (labeled "Novel.doc") about a 22-year-old man sleeping with a skanky but hot 15-year-old girl. On the way back, a young woman received instant messages from her boyfriend (?) about how he was getting his "peanut" (this was his preferred euphemism; unfortunate given that I'd brought peanuts to eat on the ride) ready for her visit. There was more detail, but she did eventually alert him to the possibility that someone could see whatever he planned to type. Or show. Video-chat plus wifi in public areas, indeed.

The trip overall was a success. Jo finally saw the US capital, I finally met some people I'd met through blogging (but not all the people I meant to! not having Internet while in DC might have been a mistake), and we both inadvertently preceded Obama on his pre-presidency tour of DC. If we'd only gone to the Lincoln Memorial at night as suggested, it could have been us, rather than a near-toothless, bored-seeming man, being interviewed on the news about a chance sighting of The Most Important Family Ever.

On that note, the whole city is Obama'd out, and it's bizarre. Every ad campaign (Coke and Pepsi, IKEA, etc.) incorporates either an Obama slogan ('Yes we can change, hope, etc.'), logo, idea, in one way or another. The Metro tickets have Obama's face on them, as do mugs and shot glasses at CVS. Every store, whatever it normally sells, also sells Obama gear. Yes, it is possible to be glad Obama won and to think the presidency is, all told, a job and not a messianic arrival. The constant reminders to worship Obama, combined with the book selection here, very nearly turned me into an honest-to-goodness Republican. Coincidentally, I am a Republican, but only because I wanted to vote against Huckabee in the primaries, and they only just now switched my registration. So it goes.

To end on a non-DC-specific note, every young woman in the city not in business dress opts for the North Face-Uggs combo, the official outfit of the the American bourgeoisie. I didn't realize this was still the thing, but it is.

I know, I know, I'm one to talk. And, in the look's defense, it's pro-woman, in a way, to have a style that requires no particular build, and that is if anything more comfortable than anything men would ever wear. And perhaps it's just that Georgetown undergrads and entry-level government workers off to brunch have more important things on the agenda than fashion, and are not as superficial as New York women. (I don't actually think caring how one dresses means being superficial, but I'm beginning with the counter-argument, so bear with me.)

But... it's not the most attractive outfit. And I'm not clear adopting the look is taking a stand against superficiality. Fleeces and winter boots identical in every way to these brands, or even more attractive versions thereof, are readily available, and often less expensive. But it's not permitted to branch out in this way. A comparison could be made to leggings-as-pants, which have long been something of a uniform in parts of NYC. But at least you can rarely tell what brand the leggings are, or how much they cost, although you can guess they were indeed cheaper than real pants. (Not that this is defends not wearing pants.) The all-American pseudo-uniform is not about wearing a fleece and winter boots. It's about wearing these particular fleeces and winter boots, as though one had stock in the companies. DC has nearly all the same stores as New York, so it's not as though there's this one shop with only these two brands. There is clearly some unwritten law against an Old Navy fleece and Emu boots. Go with the wrong labels, and reveal your (or your parents') poverty. Go with a totally different outfit, and risk who knows what.

(Over-) Analysis Section: Seeing one young woman after the next in the same outfit made me wonder if there's a connection between the alleged 'hook-up culture' (there has to be a less grating way to put this) and the fact that every college woman wears the exact same outfit. Women caring how they dress and a culture of dating, monogamy, or even old-fashioned promiscuity might go hand in hand. Or not. But what one does notice is that when all women are dressed alike, there's no room for personal style to make up for a lack of conventional beauty. Tall, thin, blond women stand out. In subcultures with a bit more style flexibility, that's not always the case. Rather than making it so looks don't matter, the one-outfit rule makes looks matter more. It's true with mandatory uniforms as well as the one discussed above.


Miss Self-Important said...

I think DC may just sit in an unfortunate nexus of overpriced but underwhelming schools (GW and American, in particular) of the type that rich but mediocre students attend in order to avoid the horrors of public universities, and that situation produces more uggs-and-fleece clones than would otherwise be the case. In Chicago, this seemed like a less prevalent fad in the city proper (although it's HUGE among the high schoolers out in the JAPpy northern 'burbs). My sense is that the casual young professional look is more short pea coats, skinny jeans, and riding boots, both in DC and Chicago, but it's harder to distinguish the students from the yuppies in DC because of geographic overlap. It's still monotonous fashion that would support your claim about looks mattering more.

Phoebe said...

That could be, although I think the NY state schools are also bastions of Ugg-and-North-Facedom. At least the SUNYites on my Birthright trip were big fans. But money plus mediocrity has never been known to bring about amazing fashion choices.

Dana said...

I went to part I of grad school in Los Angeles, which had a "looks-matter" subculture that still did not lend itself to individuality. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my penchant for sparkly brooches, red pants, mary janes, and clothes from Gap Kids (which I fit because I am 5'2" and petite). By the end of my tenure there, I too became homogenized to the bootcut-jeans/big-ass earrings/stiletto/club top look (it adds joy and glamour to otherwise dreary grad school days), but I missed my idiosyncrasy.

Here, in grad school part II up in crunchy granola Northern CA, everyone either looks totally alike (fleeces/peacoats, sneakers) or totally different in the same way (knitted things, weird hats, etc.) Often you mix it up, and I do like wearing my hand-knitted scarves and hats and colored tights with chunky mary janes with my peacoat.

I prefer the idiosyncratic homogenization to the looks-matter homogenization, if only because it's more fun and comfortable and often weather appropriate. You stand out by being quirky, and all of the schools here make for a "ok, so you're smart, but say something interesting." There's hardly a lack of independent bookstores and pretentious intellectualism here, and the liberal subculture here tends to reject conventional beauty.

One-outfit rules can also raise the looks bar for everyone in a more pernicious, competitive way. I could never afford Seven jeans, and I never got used to stilettos. I'd rather compete for quirky and interesting.

Also: I wish I had been in DC that weekend! One day, Phoebe!

Phoebe said...

"clothes from Gap Kids (which I fit because I am 5'2" and petite)"

Story of my life.

"I could never afford Seven jeans"

Here's where NYC shopping has a certain advantage. At Beacon's Closet, when those jeans were still the thing, you could find all those brands for $25 and under. Used, yes, but with jeans, that's not necessarily a problem.

As for homogeneity, what bothers me about the Ugg-North Face look is as much that it's about one silhouette for all as that it's so brand-specific. Other, also-homogeneous looks (hipster comes to mind) require no more originality to put together, but at least your wayfarer sunglasses and plaid shirts can come from wherever you'd like.

And yes, too bad you weren't in DC!

Petey said...

The District is worse than Elkhart, Indiana.


"Coincidentally, I am a Republican, but only because I wanted to vote against Huckabee in the primaries"

Meh. You're a Republican because you really are a Republican.

You dislike the Huckabee/Pain wing of the Party, but you are definitely and obviously a conservative on both temperamental and ideological grounds.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, (except for all the stuff that actually is wrong it,) but it's time to own up to reality.

Phoebe said...

Actually, issue by issue, I'm a Democrat, by far. But if a pseudonym on the Internet says otherwise, I must be wrong.

Toast said...

Hey! That was me writing the novel on the bus. That 15-year-old girl is not skanky. She's the best sister a guy could have.