Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Archive for the category “Fashion”

A Black Leather Jacket Will Never Let You Down

Leather Jacket
After reading the book Worn Stories, edited by Emily Spivack, I thought about what stories could be found in my own wardrobe. Since most of my clothes are from resale and thrift stores, many of them have stories that precede my purchase. But one item always brings back a story when I see it hanging in my closet – my black leather motorcycle jacket.

I love motorcycle jackets, even though my only experience on an actual motorcycle was a couple of rides on an ex-boyfriend’s Kawasaki over twenty years ago. Over the years, I have bought, sold and traded many a jacket. But I will keep this one forever, because of what we went through together.

On December 18, 2011, I was evicted from my apartment of ten years in Sacramento when my unemployment benefits ran out and I couldn’t get a job in my social service field because I didn’t have a car. My best friend, who was staying with me, and I went to stay with friends in Berkeley, which turned out not to be a wise decision. In the two weeks that we stayed there, we left the house every morning and wandered the streets of Berkeley until dusk. I had brought with me the few accessories of value that I had left and each day I sold one or two items to provide us with a hot meal. Every day brought another loss.

But in spite of everything, I craved something new. It was almost Christmas and my birthday was less than a week later. Even though I no longer had an address, I wanted a present. We spent a lot of time on Telegraph Avenue. Even though the university was on winter break, the street was filled with shoppers and vendors. One day, we passed a vintage clothing store called Mars Vintage. We went inside and looked through the racks. I found a woman’s black leather motorcycle jacket with a removable quilted lining. It had elastic around the waist, braiding on the front and back, and a row of studs on the back. Even though it was a heavy jacket, it fit perfectly. I looked at the tag – $50. I didn’t have $50, but I wanted that jacket. I didn’t want to take it off, but I did and I vowed to come back for it as soon as possible.

When we got back to the house, I put the last of my accessories and my vintage velvet coat in a bag. The next day, we walked the two miles back to downtown Berkeley. I sold everything except the coat at a store downtown, but I still didn’t have $50. Maybe I could trade the coat for the jacket. I had bought it from a friend years earlier, but I no longer had a lifestyle that incorporated occasions to wear a velvet coat. With hope in my heart, we trudged up the hill to Telegraph Avenue.

As soon as we entered, I checked to make sure that the jacket was still there. I went to the counter and asked the manager if I could make a trade, but she said that they did not do trades. I was ready to cry – it was no longer about the motorcycle jacket – it was about my life, about all I had lost, and the uncertainty of the future.

“How much money do you have on you?” The manager must have discerned the look of defeat on my face.

I took out my wallet and counted the bills. “I have $41.”

She smiled. “Well, since it is December 23, almost Christmas, I’ll sell it to you for $41.” She folded the coat and put it in a big green plastic bag.

“Thank you!” I started to cry. She handed me the heavy bag. As I walked out of the store, I felt that somehow, someway, everything would be all right.

Less than two weeks later, I was homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Each evening, I waited at Venice Beach for the bus to the Emergency Winter Shelter. Once the winter sun set, the beach turned cold, with the surf making it seem even colder. The thin Steelers jacket that I wore wasn’t enough to combat the January temperatures. But my new motorcycle jacket was perfect. When it was fully zipped up, nothing could get through. It was my armor, protecting me as I navigated the chilly climate – both the temperature and the hostile reception of the people in Santa Monica and Venice. At night, I wrapped my backpack in the jacket and used it as a pillow as I slept on a dirty cot under a scratchy blanket of recycled materials.

I wore the jacket almost every day for several months. It was my constant companion when my best friend left after a month and returned to Pennsylvania. In the spring, when I returned to Sacramento, I discovered that one of my friends was not speaking to me. She castigated me for frivolously spending $41 on a leather jacket when I didn’t even have a secure roof over my head. But I loved my jacket. It was a part of me. It was like me – strong and durable, able to withstand whatever obstacles life put in its way. But it was also soft, stylish and “UNIK” (the brand name). I was unique too. It was a symbol of hope – that even in the darkest circumstances, a ray of light can still shine. I didn’t expect her to understand, so I never tried to explain. But we renewed our friendship and I put my jacket in the back of the closet in the room where I was staying.

It has been almost three years since I bought my jacket. A lot of things have happened since then, but when I look at the jacket, I feel the same sense of euphoria that I felt when I got it. “Don’t worry – you’ll make it,” it seems to say, “I’ve got your back.”


“Spend the Holidays with Us”

Eddie Bauer TagRemember Christmas catalogs? I used to love those thick, glossy catalogs that arrived in mid-November filled with holiday merchandise that could be yours with a minimal shipping and handling fee. My favorite one was the Eddie Bauer catalog. I was always a big EB fan, even though the Northwestern lifestyle they promoted did not resemble my thrift store/metal life. In 2002, I wrote this story about the catalog. I took it with me when I applied for a seasonal job at my local Eddie Bauer store. Needless to say, I wasn’t hired.

I want to live in the Eddie Bauer Christmas catalog. On the cover is a pristine snow-covered hill, ringed with a gray split rail fence. Barren black trees are silhouetted against a deep blue, unnatural colored sky.

The whole scene is unnatural. The snow is Christmas card snow. This snow is made for sled rides and snowmen. It isn’t the kind of snow that piles up in your driveway. It isn’t the kind of snow that causes men to have heart attacks after shoveling for hours. It isn’t the kind of snow that your car gets stuck in, which causes it to be crushed by an oncoming semi. It is Eddie Bauer snow, probably computer generated.

I open the catalog to visit an unfamiliar world. Smiling, handsome black guys make snowballs in flannel shirts and marigold and black down vests. A rugged, cute blond guy in a canvas barn coat ties a freshly cut Christmas tree to the top of the 2003 Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Expedition. Asian guys in driving caps and wool-blend car coats walk pensively in the snow.

Eddie Bauer guys wear dark loden 11-wale corduroy pants and flannel-lined relaxed fit jeans. They string up lights and put logs in the fireplace. They graduate from Ivy League schools. They are kind and sweet and never forget your birthday. They are sensitive, strong, and look good in khakis.

If I lived in the Eddie Bauer Christmas catalog, I would have the silver holiday nightlights. A Christmas tree shadow would dance on my wall as I sleep in my blush colored thermal pajama set. In Eddie Bauer World, my girlfriends and I drink hot cocoa in our snowflake Fair Isle cardigans, long denim skirts and stacked-heel boots in black, brown or caramel. We spend weekends in an expensive, custom designed redwood house in the mountains. When we go tobogganing, we wear fleece lined stadium jackets and heather gray ear warmers. My Eddie Bauer gal pals have wind-tousled hair and perfect skin. They wear expensive perfumes that aren’t too cloying and donate money to the Humane Society.

I exchange Eddie Bauer gifts with my Eddie Bauer catalog friends. I give monogrammed duffels, vintage leather watches, quilted fleece slippers and chenille gloves. I get myself a garnet bead necklace to wear with my washable suede jacket in pistachio. On Christmas Eve, all of us smart, good-looking guys and gals gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols. Of course, I would be wearing my black matte jersey backless dress and matching velvet scarf.

I went to my local Eddie Bauer store and applied for a holiday sales job. I wrote down that I was familiar with the merchandise. I was wearing my Eddie Bauer cotton jeans in espresso and carrying my matching Eddie Bauer canvas satchel in espresso. They did not hire me.

So I will spend my holidays with the Eddie Bauer Christmas catalog, caressing the pages and dreaming of a Christmas that will arrive within a week if I place my order by 3 PM Pacific Time.

A lot has changed in ten years. I am staying temporarily at a friend’s home while I look for work. There is no longer an Eddie Bauer store at the local mall. But thanks to the local thrift store, I do have an Eddie Bauer washable suede jacket and a pair of Eddie Bauer jeans. And I still have a jean jacket and a few sweaters from more prosperous days. I changed my address a few months ago, but Eddie Bauer still managed to find me. This year’s catalog, even though smaller, still features a blue sky and white snowy mountains, along with a tree decorated in lights. Free shipping is available with a $49 purchase. I look at the cute guys in khakis and flannel plaid robes, the long-haired beauties in Essential Down jackets and shearling boots and the ubiquitous black Lab, and I feel the spirit of an old fashioned Eddie Bauer Christmas. Some traditions never die.

To A Tee

Photo by Pat Soberanis

I love tee shirts. I have loved them since I was a little girl. Now I have to give them up. I don’t have a permanent residence and it makes no sense to pay $70 a month to store tee shirts in a storage unit. But how am I going to be able to part with them? Parting with my books was bad enough – now this. You may look at a pair of pants and remember where you got them, but nothing bring back memories like a 1987 Grateful Dead “Dead in the Heart of the Blue Ridge” tee. And how could I ever sell my 1985 Live Aid tee, purchased in London during the week of that groundbreaking concert?

For the first time, I decided to catalog and count all of my tee shirts. Even before I started going to rock concerts, I bought tee shirts. Back in the ‘70s, every mall had a kiosk that ironed pictures on plain shirts. In 1976, I got an orange tee emblazoned with a picture of Led Zeppelin, the back cover of “Led Zeppelin III.” I wore that shirt until the picture started to peel off. At a drug store in the local mall, I found a “Frampton Comes Alive” tee. I still have both of those shirts. I went to my first hard rock concert in 1985, and of course, I had to get a shirt to commemorate the Deep Purple “Perfect Strangers” tour. From there, the shirts and shows escalated – The Grateful Dead, The Firm, Yes, King’s X, Emerson, Lake and Powell, Badlands, UFO – those are just from the 80s and 90s. Even though I never got to see Led Zeppelin, I have three other shirts besides the vintage orange one, as well as a white Jimmy Page shirt. When I saw Jimmy Page and Robert Plant together in 1995, of course I had to get a shirt. I have three shirts from the local classic rock station and one from another rock station that I got when I won a contest to meet Ozzy Osbourne. I have an Ozzy shirt too, gotten from a co-worker whose husband used to sell bootleg tee shirts that he confiscated from vendors while working security at concert venues. I had a former supervisor get me an Eric Clapton shirt when she went to see him in concert. Thrift Town provided me with a Dave Meniketti shirt, which I wore when I met him at a Y&T show last summer. One Christmas when I didn’t have much money, I bought myself a Metallica shirt at Hot Topic. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like flaming skulls! When I was in London in 1987, I went to the Bass Centre, where I could only afford a tee shirt. When I went in 1993, I got a shirt at Crazy Pig Designs, as I couldn’t afford their expensive jewelry. Between visits, gifts, and thrift stores, I have ten Hard Rock shirts, if you count the one from the Hotel in Las Vegas. A few months ago, I went to a free Oleander show and my friend bought me their tee shirt. After watching a taping of “That Metal Show” in Los Angeles in March 2012, all audience members were given a choice of a black or gray shirt.

But like a lot of people, I have shirts that commemorate events, former employers, colleges, and sports teams. I have several social worker shirts, a shirt from a shelter I used to work at, and several shirts from my two alma maters. I got shirts at the annual AIDS candlelight vigils, when I volunteered at the Amgen Tour of California, and when I went to hear Nelson Mandela speak at Oakland Coliseum in 1990. I have tees for Halloween, Groundhog Day, and Christmas. I don’t have any Steelers shirts (only three sweatshirts), but I have a Penguins and a Pirates shirt to represent my hometown teams. The editor who published my first essay in an anthology sold tee shirts with the book’s cover on the front. I had to get one to celebrate my accomplishment.

I love science and science fiction and I have the shirts to prove it. I ordered a Mars Pathfinder Sojourner shirt from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to commemorate the first Mars Rover. I wish I could get one for the latest one, Curiosity. I have several space shuttle shirts, including one in memory of the Columbia tragedy, which was a gift. Two trips to the annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas supplied me with a 40th Anniversary shirt listing every episode of all five Star Trek series and all of the movies and a shirt featuring the Enterprise hoveringover the Las Vegas Hilton. I found a Buckaroo Banzai shirt one year. It’s surprising how many people remember that movie. At a science store that used to be at Universal Studios CityWalk in the 90s, I got a Galileo tee shirt. You don’t find those every day.

The more I counted, the more I realized that my tee shirts were physical manifestations of my diaries, detailing my life and interests over the years. How could I give them away or sell them for a dollar each to a stranger at a yard sale? After spending hours going through them, I only put three in my yard sale pile. I have a shirt with a quote from Oscar Wilde on the front – “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Unlike ol’ Oscar, I also have 110 tee shirts. I hope I make $70 at this garage sale…

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