Saturday 19th September 2009. Boston. Day off.
It was a beautiful day in Boston, which I spent principally looking for trousers. Clothes tend to take a bit of a beating on tour, plus I shifted a little weight immediately before starting the tour, so nothing I have fits me any more. I'm not particularly averse to clothes shopping but it does require a certain frame of mind to take on the behemoth that is the American Retail Experience.
There's a Boston institution called 'Fliene's Basement' which is somewhere between a department store and a going-out-of-business sale at the Casbah. I love it on a good day, but wasn't sure I had the psychological energy required to take it on, so opted for safer ground. There's a Macy's here, which seemed like an easy enough place to start, so I wandered innocently onto the enormous shop floor to find myself faced with a vast sea of excessively complicated trousers.
I was looking for black jeans rather than blue, which (actually quite helpfully) negated about 90per cent of the stock. For some reason I can't wear blue clothing. It makes me feel uncomfortable, like some mild form of sartorial synaesthesia. Other areas of blueness are just fine with me - I love a blue light, I'm a big fan of the sky, the sea, etc., I don't even mind sitting on blue upholstery. I'm fine with other people wearing blue, even if I'm sitting next to them, in fact generally there are no unacceptable situations of blueness in my life, other than being inside clothing of that hue. Strange one. Anyway, I digress.
Macy's runs the gamut of brands to the point of being utterly overwhelming. Taking all the blue jeans out of the equation helped (along with all the knee-high crotches, embroidery, excessive pocketing and other talismans of commodified youth culture), so I picked through the dozens of different brands. I don't do well with branding as I become possessed by a feeling of being manipulated by multinational corporations. I am that sad person who, on the rare occasion of purchasing a 'designer' garment, would then go home and carefully pick all the labels off it. William Gibson created a character in one of his novels (can't remember which one off hand, possibly Virtual Light) who was medically allergic to logos. She would become physically ill when in the presence of a successful corporate logo, so made a living out of being hired by a multinational to test the effectiveness of their latest branding ideas. If she got sick, it was likely to become a successful trademark.
My aversion is mercifully far less extreme and if I'm honest it's also commendably hypocritical. Most overly-advertised brands I won't buy just to spite them, but there are some that for highly arbitrary reasons I find that I 'don't mind', as long as the labels will come off. As far as clothing goes, these would include Gap (possibly the San Francisco connection, but also just cheap, efficient, tourable clothing) and even Ralph Lauren (bit of a middle class cliche, but the man does know his way round a pair of trousers, it has to be said). Delving deeper into examining my own hypocrisy and prejudice I've occasionally asked myself to be honest about which brands I actively identify with and feel more comfortable for being around. Apple would be one (including feeling that uplift of heart on seeing the flag of an Apple store in a high street, like a beacon summoning the faithful). On a less messianic level, there's Moleskine, VW, Adnams, Marks and Spencer, The New Yorker, Mephisto, Yorkshire Tea... Also, old school Levi's still works for me. This may be for reasons of nostalgia or perhaps the San Francisco connection again (despite being manufactured in Mexico) or maybe they're just unfussy and fit.
On this particular day, finding the Levi's section felt like walking into an oasis of sanity in the sartorial lunatic asylum which is Macy's menswear department. Being tucked away at the back of the store, I didn't find this until after I'd spent a good while rooting through the other brands and trying on several pairs; looking at them in the mirror weighing up the fit, cut and potential emotional compromise involved in experimenting with brand promiscuity, ('would I still respect them in the morning?', etc.) Anyway, happily Levi's came through for me with a couple of pairs of monumentally straightforward jeans that a man wouldn't be at all ashamed to introduce to his parents. Job done. Out of there, then lunch at a hilariously-named Mexican gaff. At least, it's hilarious if you're a Brit.