The American West. Says a lot. Ralph Lauren made his fortune on it. Hollywood spent much of the 50s and 60s filming it. I've lived most of my life in it.
One of my great-grandfathers walked behind a covered wagon from Minnesota to Oregon in the late 1800s to his family's new homestead, the wheat ranch where my father grew up and my grandmother and two of his sisters still live. Pendleton, home of the famous rodeo and woolen mill.
I spent my first seventeen years yearning to get out of here. I wanted to be in New York and Europe. I lived in the latter and then settled on San Francisco before making my way to the former. I longed to be part of the East Coast establishment - educated, sophisticated, genteel. Preppy. Throughout high school, Lisa Birnbach was my guide and fashion consultant. Wanting to go into some sort of foreign service career and sometimes Wall Street seemed attractive. Then, suddenly I realized that wasn't me at all, and I wanted to be an architect and a painter wearing leather, engineer boots and riding vintage motorcycles. Levi's four sizes too big with a Ben Davis work shirt or a crisp white tee. Working as a bike messenger, window display artist, in nightclubs and as a graphic designer. A psychobilly bohemian, looking the part and only occasionally building or painting something. Then finally to school to study architecture, then painting, then history, then Spanish; thinking academia might be the answer while rediscovering hip-hop. The clothes were the same, except I swapped the leather jacket for a Carhartt and pulled a stocking cap low to my brow. I swapped the vintage bikes for a Chevy low-rider hooptie. Whenever the cops had a chance to stop me, they did and I always ended up sprawled on the pavement while they searched me then the car. When that got boring, there were more vintage cars, but nicer and with drop-tops. The clothes changed to DaVinci shirts and crisper jeans with a turned up cuff. The music rockabilly, early country and jump blues. I wore an Open Road Stetson and Justin ropers. I scoured thrift stores across the country, sometimes selling things that weren't my size to vintage dealers. The outlaw literary hero, living the life without doing much writing, doing my best to look and carry on like Johnny Cash and a cowboy version of Charles Bukowski rolled into one. I then stepped into a life as a cartoon character living concurrently in the late 30s -early 40s and the mid-90s. I wore tailor made suits and hats, danced the lindy-hop in spectator shoes, drank in speakeasys and dated girls with complicated hairdos and vintage dresses. I could continue, though things settled quite a bit after the Swing phase. Basically, there's a trend of fetishizing fashion and lifestyle choices. I cringe at the searching and the vanity while admiring the resourcefulness and the energy.
I haven't been inspired by this type of thing for a while. I recently embraced athletic and outdoorsy clothing which I'd abhorred for much of my life, realizing that such activities were better enjoyed wearing the proper gear, but I never wanted to be seen in a social environment dressed as such. I rediscovered preppy to an extent. Brooks Brothers opened a store in Portland. It felt comfortable to a degree. A little stiff. Funny how it coincided with reconnecting with many high school friends after more than twenty years. I'm certain many of them assumed that I had been dressing in the same manner since high school. I rather liked giving that impression as I felt slightly embarrassed by my various clothing fetishes over the years, especially in the eyes of my conservative peers.
To my credit, over the years I rarely totally abandoned one look for the next. Most of the time I repurposed my wardrobe, transforming the way I combined things rather than swapping out my entire closet. (Though I must admit that my zoot suits were worn primarily as Halloween costumes for a few years after the Big Daddy Swing phase and though I have no foreseeable use of them, I cannot part with them.) And once I added permanent ink to my body the tattoos, many of them vintage flash, served as long-term commitment to a bit of an outlaw rockabilly legacy.
Original Glory is largely about trying to hold onto an idea of the past through one's devotion to fashion, though the characters' view of their style is so myopic that they don't see it as fashion but a direct embodiment of themselves and their ideals.
Anyway, lately I've come around to design and fashion with a renewed appreciation. I've been wearing my handmade cowboy boots that once cost me a month's pay. I bought a motorcycle - the Bonneville. I've been reading up on Pendleton blankets and Native American history. I've been researching cowboy boots and bought a few pairs of gorgeous Luchese's at a church rummage sale yesterday. I'm going to start going on some buying trips in search of boots and blankets. I plan to keep the blankets for my growing collection and sell the boots on eBay or to a friend that's a retailer of vintage western wear. While I'm on these buying trips across Oregon and other western states I'm going to be photographing locations and people for my production resource library. And I'm going to make the effort to get to know people in these communities by attending their fairs and other community events. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to play matchmaker between city and country folk in various ways over the coming years.
And all the while, I'll have some time to myself out on the road to explore my own stories. I'm sure my fascination with the American West will ebb and flow as it always has and that I'll discover many other interests along the way.