At first the kids were a little less than enthusiastic when I told them that we were going to talk fashion--well, mostly just the boys. But then I explained how cool fashion is, how inspiring and defining it can be--pointing out to Robert his Batman fashions, and to Cooper his surfer chic and complimenting him on his apropos shark's tooth accessory. Then when I told them the artist we were going to talk about was Ralph Lauren they looked at me with blank faces. Not a single one of them knew who Ralph Lauren was but then, when I asked who had a shirt with a little horse with a man holding a stick on it: every single kid raised their hand.
I know Mr. Lauren-- nor his medium-- fits into the stereotype of what an artist or art is and without going into a huge debate about how he and fashion do fit; let's just agree to use this definition of art:
Art is that which is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind and or spirit.
I know what you are thinking--Striped ties and golf shirts stimulate the human mind and spirit? I see you laughing at me and allow me to prove my point and let you laugh a little bit harder.
See this picture. That's me.
I am 10 or 11--5th or 6th grade school picture.
It is the early 80's--the rise of the label and all things Preppy. See the little Polo on my shirt? The alligator, horse, and swan dominate the fashion world.
And what you don't see is my designer jeans or that at home I have a closet crammed with Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and polo shirts.
Why did I have those things and why did I have more than some of my friends?
I can promise you that it wasn't because my parents were richer or more generous or understood the importance of the label or being preppy. Because they weren't and they didn't.
Okay, wait here is a picture of my parents in the early 80's. Clearly you can see that fashion did not loom larger in their lives:
First, Lala would like you to notice how skinny her arms are. That is because she weighs like 110lbs and she weighs that because she did aerobics twice a day and ran. (See, I'm not exercise anorexic--I come by this mania naturally. It is genetic.) She also made gross stuff for us to eat like lamb wrapped in grape leaves. That is part of the reason why I was a skinny kid. I'll get to the other reason why I was skinny kid in a minute.
Pop is skinny too and not just because of the gross food. He is skinny because he was doing triathlons, hiking, canoeing and stuff like that-- All. The. Time. He even ran the Atlanta marathon. And guess what? My time for the Atlanta marathon is one minute faster. Yes, I will compete with anyone--even my Dad.
My point is that my parents didn't care about fashion. They cared a lot about being fit. Being very fit.I care about that too now but I did not as a kid. I cared about fitting in with my friends and being popular. In the 80's the way to do that was to have the biggest hair ever and the trendy label clothes.
Unfortunately for me my parents didn't understand this. They were from south Georgia. And to worsen this my Dad was a rambling wreck from GA Tech and one helluva of an engineer. It is like he defined the engineer look of short sleeve dress shirts and Ted Kaczynski square glasses and beard. He is still sporting this look today.
You see my dad was the type of dad who would buy his little girl the top of the line North Face parka, backpack and mummy bag or the very best coast guard issue white-water life jacket you could buy a 10 year old. And you see I was the type of daughter who would pack her curling iron in her expensive North Face back pack--you know just in case the Cohutta happened to have outlets on the trees-- and would argue incessantly about how the super duper life vest was messing with my tan lines and not to mention no one could see my cute high-cut one piece. Well, that is argue until inevitably our canoe flipped-- as it did every time we navigated the falls at Horseshoe Bend. Then I became the daughter who laughed at my dad who cussed up a storm because he lost his Redman'swhile promising not to tell mom about the cussing or chewing tobacco only if he would buy me candy on the way home.
So when I was 9. I desperately wanted the designer jeans and Polo shirts that all my friends had. But Pop laughed at me and made all sorts of hysterical jokes about sewing horses on my shirts and swans on my Sears catalog ordered jeans. Finally, I appealed to his athletic inclinations and we struck a deal.
And here is how Ralph Lauren was able to inspire the human spirit. Pop agreed to buy me 2 pairs of designer jeans and 2 Polo shirts if I could swim 150 laps.
This was a ridiculous bet on his part as I probably swam easily a 100 laps at swim practice everyday and was already a ridiculously stronger swimmer. Coach Jones was forever having to punish me for insubordination with "Bratalie get in and give me fifty laps of fly!"
So 150 laps--of whatever stroke, in however much time-- was easy peasy for me. And Pop, to say the least, wasn't too happy that I did do it with such ease but he shelled out the bucks week later at Rich's-- no less--for something as frivolous as designer jeans and Polo shirts for his fashionwise tweener. And I wore those skin tight designer jeans with pride the first day of school.
So the next year before school started I of course wanted more jeans and more Polo shirts. This time Pop upped the anty to 3 miles and $300. In 1981 $300 would get you a lot of Gloria and Polo. I agreed. I had just finished off a summer of daily swim practices and dive practices. Not to mention Swim Atlanta had recently recruited me for their team and their practices were even longer and harder than my summer team's practices. I was, at that point, more fish than girl.
See this picture.
That is me--shirt and jeans I am sporting are the schwag from my bet-- on the left with my best friend Catherine in the center--yes, she is that goofy-- and friend Amy-- who sometimes felt that Catherine and I were a "little too intense" for her. Notice though, that both girls are redheads--told you I had a thing for the redheads.
Catherine, whose Dad would just buy her clothes without her having to swim 3 miles still to this day laughs at how I "swam for fashion." This is what she tells people when she introduces me to them right after she gives my name:"and this is my friend Natalie--she swam 3 miles for designer jeans . . ."
Even though she makes fun of me, she did come and cheer me on while I was in the pool for hours. And I have to say, she was a little jealous of all my new clothes when I invited her over a few weeks later to admire my spoils from the pool.
However, that swim nearly killed me. I remember when I got out I could barely walk and my mom made my dad promise right then to never make bets with me again.
So Dad and I never made bets again and he just started giving me a clothing allowance. We really never butted heads again about fashion until it came to my Amsale wedding gown and I think he just finally caved on that because he knew I would be Ryan's problem. Well, that, and it was probably horrifying to see that your 26 year old daughter could still throw a tantrum exactly like she did when she was 2.
So yesterday in Carmella's class as I watched yet another generation be inspired by Ralph Lauren, I too was moved to get back into that pool. Not for jeans or shirts but to pay homage to my memory. I swam steadily, freestyle, for a mile. After 70 laps though, I was done. And though physically I could have gone a lot longer I just wasn't inspired. I mean, without the promise of a cute new outfit--what was the point, why swim?
So uhm, Dad, I've been coveting this dress and I have been eyeing these shoes that would look great with it. I was thinking . . . let's say I do a half ironman . . .
For the week: 50 miles running, 1 mile swimming (just over 30 minutes), 35 minutes cross training on the ellipitical, 2 weight training sessions--upper body. All and all, not a bad week for the wayward marathoner.