As someone who was never really one of the “cool kids” growing up, I was always envious of those who fit in because their parents could afford to buy them the style to fit in. But for a while, I did try to fit the mold. From my best friends’ closets, I borrowed pink cowboy boots and Roper jeans so tight they should’ve been illegal. The point is this, though I tried to fit in with the real farm kids—am I the only one who feels it’s weird that they are the cool ones in this scenario—by dressing the part, but I could not. I was called out for being a city-dweller by a boy I really liked because he was certain the bottom my boots had never stepped into a manure-covered cow pen. I was a phony, and they could spot me a mile away. It didn’t matter that I dressed like them, I could not assimilate into their farming culture. I lacked the authenticity required to know the reasoning behind the style. In short, I hadn’t earned the right to wear those boots. When I look back at the memories of those kids sitting on the backs of their mud-covered trucks in their boots and Wranglers, I realize that they all looked the same. Their clothing choice was more about function rather than form, and there was no uniqueness to any of their styles. Their style fit the conservative nature and lifestyle of farmers and ranchers.
Because of that experience, I recognized that I didn’t need to fit a particular style to be me. Though late 90s-rural-cowboy-chic is still all the rage in my small hometown, and I still do not fit in despite the fact that my boots definitely have seen manure since high school. I’ve accepted the fact that I simply cannot embrace that authentic look because I am able to blend into other groups, and I’m okay with that. I’m a student, a teacher, a wife, a crazy cat lady, a cowgirl, a basic girl, a foul-mouthed conservative, a total walking contradiction—and so many other identities. I cannot limit myself to dressing for one identity.
Today, it feels more that the clothes do not necessarily define who you are, but more who you are not. Clothes are a new way of code-switching based on one’s senses of style. Many people do not define themselves, their political leanings, or their social awareness by their wardrobe; however, in not defining themselves through clothing choice, choosing instead to stay on the outskirts of multiple choices, they can disguise themselves. I think that’s why we had so much trouble during our class discussion while trying to come up with new groups who are identified purely by their styles. People are too busy anymore to define themselves by one aspect. People no longer base their identities on one aspect, but they rather embrace a multitude of aspects that create each individual’s uniqueness. Though some people may sometimes joke about each person being a unique snowflake who deserves special treatment, isn’t that what we all angle for? We all want to be seen as the unique blend of bit and pieces that we are.
Hebdige claims subculture comes from “the construction of a style, in a gesture of defiance or contempt, in a smile or a sneer. It signals a Refusal” (3). This line resonated with me because of my previous experience dabbling with my own attempts to define myself with a particular fashion style. Though the style in the big metropolis of my rural hometown may not be so much in defiance of anything and more to do with functionality, the reluctance to change over multiple generations is also a refusal. However, along with the Hebdige’s signal of refusal comes the acceptance that “there’s a time and place for everything” (95). In his explanation of this idea, Hebdige tells us that in relenting to changing one’s fashion choices for situations, we are commodifying our style and ideals.
Unfortunately, or possibly thankfully, many of the fashion choices many of us have made in our youth haven’t followed us permanently into adulthood. We reach that time when we recognize that perhaps our style many not be the most effective way to communicate. To be accepted into mainstream society—and let’s face it, that is where we find the jobs—we must recognize Hebdige’s time and place to put away our style and adopt an entirely new style or discover new ways to incorporate the old with the new. It seems as though today we all have to eventually put aside the notion of form before function for the sake of maintaining a job—or adulting, as the kids say these days.
Though I still wear my own boots once in a while when I go home, I no longer do it to fit in with any crowd, but I might do it because I want to remember that part of me who did. The part of me who grew out of that desperate need to fit in to that crowd, I eventually grew into the person with many identities and many sets of shoes that I’m pretty comfortable with today—I guess you could say I found the shoes I was willing to step into the manure with. But I certainly don’t take note of anyone’s commentary about not having sh*t on my cowboy boots. They’re way too expensive.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. TJ International Ltd., 1979.