I rarely enjoy shopping for clothes. I like having nice clothes, and I enjoy wearing them, but I hate the time it takes to choose them. I was raised in South Limburg, the southernmost tip of the Netherlands, where the people are naturally stylish, and where they add fashion sense to the drinking water instead of fluoride. But I’m also a geek. Geeks (or nerds) have inner “anti-fashion” demons whispering to us whenever we enter a clothing shop. “Does it hide your nipples and gonads? Yes. Does it cut off the blood to your legs? No. Great. Now lay down the cash so we can hit the computing section in the bookshop next door!”
I like Levi’s. I like the cut of Hugo Boss suits (their web site sucks, though). I like a nicely tailored pair or Ralph Lauren trousers, and the crisp feel of a Thomas Pink shirt. But do I want to pay twice or three times the cost of a normal garment just to sport a brand label? Holy crap no.
I’m therefore always delighted to find something that fulfils the four criteria of the fashion-conscious geek:
- It looks good
- It looks good on me
- It doesn’t cost the earth
- It’s available off-the-peg in the first shop I visit
I found two such items last week: a pair of classic blue Converse All Star sneakers, and a plain demin jacket. I can’t believe I’ve never owned either of these before. The All Stars are comfortable like slippers. They are the timeless sneakers: relaxed footwear that is effortlessly stylish.
As for the denim jacket, I passed by the £70 Levi’s jacket in favour of a £25 off-brand. Cheap! I’m not going to claim that it looks the same as the Levi’s version, because it doesn’t. Any denim jacket connoisseur will instantly see that it doesn’t have a trendy label. But my one doesn’t try to go beyond the archetypal denim jacket by adding excess frills, zips, clever pockets, or decorative seams. It has the same kind of elegant simplicity as the All Stars.
The jacket and shoes also look great together, combined with a T-shirt and a pair of chinos or cargoes. As soon as I bought them, I knew they weren’t going to be part of my wardrobe–they were going to be part of me.
The true test for the clothes came as we were passing through Schiphol airport over the weekend. Anyone who spends a lot of time in European international airports knows the game of Nationality Spotting: trying to figure out what country a passing stranger comes from. After a while you develop a sense for the way people from different countries look. You start to recognize the characteristic genotypes, the way they dress, and the way they style their hair. It’s generally pretty easy to tell the British from the Dutch, the French from the German, and the Americans from everyone else. It gets more difficult when you have to distinguish between the Dutch and the Germans, or the Spanish and the Italians, but a talented Nationality Spotter can get pretty good over time.
The staff at Schiphol airport are all professional players. If you look like you’re Dutch, they will start speaking to you in Dutch. Otherwise, they will start speaking in English. (Unless they happen to tag your origins and also speak your native language. Not uncommon.) Even if you then turn around and reply in Dutch, they may continue to speak in English, just in case you have learned some stock replies (like “dankuwel” for “thank you”, etc.) and don’t have any further depth.
I usually get addressed in English. Being genetically Scottish through and through, and living and shopping and getting my hair cut in Scotland, it’s pretty hard to avoid looking like anything other than a Brit. But this time round, I managed to get spoken to in Dutch every time! Yay!
I understand that this may sound like an absurdly small victory, in a non-existant contest of surpassing pettiness, but it matters to me. I lived in The Netherlands from 1978 to 1989. Since then, I have been back only rarely. My Dutch skills are very rusty. My knowledge of Dutch current affairs is virtually nonexistent. I have neglected a large part of my upbringing–a large part of myself.
It’s only in the last few months that I have come to realize that I really miss the Netherlands, and the side of me that is Dutch. So what has changed?
I’ve got my High School reunion coming up at the beginning of October.
I’ll be writing more about this soon.