Fresh style insights, tips and commentary by Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee and Carrie Leilam Love.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another Brick in the Mall

At Forever 21 about a month ago, I found a kind of awesome, stylized Pink Floyd tank top. And it reminded me of high school – a time when my wardrobe was full of not-so-stylish Pink Floyd t-shirts, usually paired with enormous Jnco jeans, long greasy hair and hemp necklaces galore.

The old rock band t-shirt reinvented with more refined materials and modern, flattering and/or feminine cuts have been a bit of a fashion phenomenon the past few years. Many a reconstructed tee are sold on Etsy and by designers like House of the Gods, and they’re all over stores like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters.

I’ve been very torn about how to feel about these shirts. When I stumbled upon this gem, I carried it around Forever 21 for a good half hour, confused and terrified, before ultimately deciding it was worth the $15.80.

Music by 60s and 70s rock bands ­– the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, etc. – was, for me, my formal introduction to teenage rebellion, and my best friend and I obsessed over Pink Floyd, saving our lunch money for the event of them ever getting back together. As a 14-year-old growing up in the suburbs in the 1990s, I found so much comfort (and so much discomfort) in this radically emotional music from several decades earlier. Lyrics like “Mother, should I trust the government?” screamed at me from my t-shirt and my stereo simultaneously while I laid in my bed, thinking about how totally fucked up society was. This exploration of deep, dark emotions often was not pretty: it sometimes went hand-in-hand with depression, eating issues, drugs and a slew of other self-abusive behaviors. And in some ways, I feel insulted to be offered re-entry into an emotionally charged adolescent world where I first learned to question the status quo via a $15 Pink Floyd tank top.

And yet… in a way, isn’t that what fashion always is? Whether you find your inspiration flipping through a fashion magazine or through Janis Joplin liner notes, it’s always an attempt to make a connection; to get in touch with something that resonates with you in a way that sometimes defies logic. And to mark yourself as a part of it, claiming it as your own, even if – like Pink Floyd to a teenager in the 90s ­– it belonged to some other culture, community or generation entirely.

Finding a shirt like this at a store like Forever 21 feels sort of like a really amazing thrift store find in that it is cheap & it is very well possibly the only item of its kind in the entire store and you found it stuffed amongst string bikinis and ill-fitting pin-stripe pants that you know better than to even attempt to try on. And I imagine that this clothing is, in effect, for now grown-up Pink Floyd fans. Or Led Zeppelin or Doors or Eagles fans. My shirt seems to me to not say “I Heart Pink Floyd" as much as it says, "I hearted Pink Floyd, and I survived, and I continue to heart them now from a very specific distance and angle."

There’s something awesome and powerful about repurposing garments from your past in a way that suits you now. As if to say, “Hey XL Pink Floyd shirt that I wore in 9th grade when I was sad and stoned and self-mutilating and hated my body: I have arrived.” The one I got at 4E21 is oversized in a much more deliberate way, with a scoop neck, and a racer back. It has the words “What Do You Want From Me” written in pink in all caps as if in spray paint with an enormous open-winged owl, and the back is slashed in a very precise-yet-punk way & it’s totally excessive and kind of embarrassing but also exhilarating. As if it’s saying, “Hey 1996, I don’t need you. It’s over.” Instead of crying hopelessly or secretly slicing my arms with a pocket knife while listening to Wish You Were Here on repeat, I wear a shirt with over-the-top laser-cut shreds going down the back in a straight line. And I wear it unabashedly, with a pair of skinny jeans, metallic heels, and no hemp jewelry whatsoever.