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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 3, 2018

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

I ventured out pretty early on Dec. 26 to hit the after Christmas sales. No, my objective was not to do returns, or buy decorations on sale 75% off for next year " I was in search of items for the wardrobe I'll be needing next Christmas.

I have kept a very close eye on the weather in Wisconsin for the last 18 years. I check the forecast every single morning, usually before I am even out of bed, for the area of our new home. And what I have been seeing told me I have some pretty significant wardrobe deficits. Now, this severe and prolonged cold snap has not been typical of the last few years in Wisconsin. Nonetheless, my drawers crammed with shorts and sleeveless shirts, geared toward our scorching Oklahoma summers, will not get much use once we move. What I am in need of is more warm sweatshirts, socks and knitted headbands. So I went and loaded up at post-Christmas sale prices, and believe me, good looks or fashion were not at all a part of my buying equation.

While I was digging around in the bins of winter hats, I suddenly remembered the stylish headgear that every kid had for a time in the mid-60's. It was stocking-type hats, but with long, long tails with tassels on the end hanging down the back almost to the rump. (Sort of like extreme elf hats.) They were nearly always horizontally striped and in bright colors. A nice thing about this style: nearly all kids had the hats, as they were quite inexpensive so even kids from large families had them. Also odd " one of the few "style" things that was truly unisex " both boys and girls wore the hats. The interesting thing is the primary design feature of the popular hat contributed nothing in the way of warmth or utility. It WAS handy for grabbing to pull off other people's hats, but it was simply a style thing, without purpose.

On the other hand, we often adopt clothing that has an actually utility to it, because we suddenly see it as "stylish." How these things get started escapes me. An example is the carpenter-style jeans I wore in college. The long pocket down one leg was intended for a "folding ruler" used by carpenters, but it had no purpose whatsoever on women's jeans, ditto the hammer loop. But we all wore them for a year or two, and once everyone had the blue jean ones, the "style" switched to white ones, like painters wear. White pants have zero utility if you aren't a painter, they pick up dirt nearly telepathically. But I spent an entire year wearing them and of course endlessly stain treating and washing them.

Cowboy boots are another good example. The higher heel on them is a safety feature intended to keep a rider's foot from slipping through the saddle's stirrup " very utilitarian. But I constantly see women mincing along in high heeled cowboy boots here, stylishly it must be admitted, but for a utility boot for everyday use, something with a much lower heel would be way more practical. You are walking around in the mall in the boots, not riding a horse. Lose the high heel.

When I was in high school the most popular jacket around was a "snorkel" winter jacket. They had a sort of shiny, wind-resistant finish, always in army green or navy blue, because the military wear was where this style was appropriated from. The most unusual feature of these jackets was an oversized, fur-trimmed hood that you could extend to cover about 8 inches in front of your actual face " the "snorkel." Now this very warm hood was extremely utilitarian in the cold Wisconsin winters, but no one wore the jackets because they made sense " they were popular because of style.

One final example is motorcycle leathers. The purpose of the gear makes total sense " it is very wind-resistant, and protective of the rider's skin in case of falls. It also wears well. However, to a large extend, the practicality of this gear has been eclipsed by modern fabrics which are much more protective " Kevlar and similar body armor. Besides providing better protection, the high-tech gear often has reflective features, helping vehicle drivers see and avoid motorcyclists at night.

But the fashionable attire, almost the "uniform" of some bikers and some fashionistas who wear the gear without riding the bikes, has remained classic, studded and zippered black leather. I suspect this is nearly entirely a style decision, except for a few who may be trying to "use up" their leather before replacing it with newer material.

If you wanted to pick a material that would be a perfect disguise at night for a motorcycle rider, you'd probably pick black. It makes absolutely NO sense from a safety standard to wear black attire. What would make sense is blaze orange, or fluorescent yellow motorcycle leathers, if a traditionalist insists on leather riding gear. High visibility clothing has been adapted by lots of people who are at risk from high-speed traffic " and one of the most common ways motorcycle riders die is being hit by a vehicle operator who failed to see them.

But don't expect to see bikers in bright leather clothing any time soon. Most of us are susceptible to the vagaries of style, as any review of your own old photographs will reveal. Just don't look for me to be "styling" once we've relocated. I'm all about utility apparel when it's below zero, and I really don't care too much if I am a fashion maven, or not.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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