If you are in Chicago this month go see Jamie Hayes’ exhibition Past Perfect at The Living Room Gallery. Two years ago Jamie asked myself and a number of other artists to participate in her project. She asked that we each think of a garment that we had loved and lost, write about it, and then Jamie would work with tailors in Vietnam to recreate the garments. Ultimately I traveled with her to Vietnam to photograph the process of the clothes being made and then when we returned I photographed each artist wearing their garment. I immediately loved her project because I am so particular about my clothes and attached to what I wear. Clothes play a prominent role in the narratives in my psyche, as you will see in my essay below.
Here I am wearing my garment:
Here are my Words About Clothing:
Here is a poem that I found inside my shirt:
Machine wash cold
With like colors
Do not bleach
Tumble dry low
Low iron as needed
I have a lot of self-imposed rules when it comes to clothing. Here are a few:
I can only purchase clothes if I happen to pass a store carrying said clothes on my way to somewhere else. The store has to fall naturally on the path of my migration. If I am on my way to work, to school, to meet a friend, to the movies, getting on the subway, going to a doctors appointment, etc. and I pass a window, behind which I see a blouse, or earrings, or shoes that appeal to me; I am allowed to go in and purchase said item.
My all time favorite clothing to wear is clothing that previously belonged to a friend. There is a feeling of keeping that friend close, keeping myself safe, being watched over or protected, or in the company of that friend. Of equal appeal to me are clothes that have a special story behind them. Maybe I bought them while traveling, so the trip, country, city, or experience is embedded in the DNA of the article of clothing. Maybe the clothes came from the wardrobe department for a TV show or film I worked on. My experience, my history, and by extension some portion of my personality, are in those clothes.
When I first thought about which article of clothing to write about, I thought of a sweatshirt (zip-up hoodie) that I “borrowed” from my dear friend Juliette Goodwin. I loved it because it belonged to her and I love her. I ended up deciding I would talk about the details of a garment that make it appealing to me other than the above mentioned. I like sleeves to be longer than normal. Preferably hanging down to my second knuckle, just my fingertips peeking out from the ends of the sleeves. It must be SOFT—I mean really, really soft. It’s pretty much the only word that I said when I was little. I love soft clothes. I don’t like collars or anything near my neck—I always cut the neck out of T-shirts. It should be loose fitting—nothing snug. I used to refer to certain articles of clothing I had (and to my imaginary Alix-Lambert-branded clothing line) as: Sleep Wear Day Wear. Anything that I would be comfortable sleeping in and could still get away with wearing during the day, qualifies.
Leaving clothes behind: When I pack for a trip, I always pack at least one thing that I feel like I might be almost done with. Either it is broken or I just don’t seem to ever wear it, or for whatever reason I don’t want it any more—maybe it has accumulated bad karma. During the trip I wear the article one last time. Then I like to find a place to hide it and leave it behind. Maybe I fold it and put it under the mattress at the hotel. Maybe I am house sitting and I tuck it into the back of a closet. I like the future narratives that this creates in my head. “Where did this come from? Who owned this?” “Why is this here?”
I originally met Jamie through my dear friend Damon who I have known for (gulp) almost thirty years. Damon was my prom date.
Here are Damon’s words about clothing:
“Maybe a sense of style became a concept in 1978 when I bought my first comic. It was X-Men #111 (drawn by John Bryne written by Chris Claremont). This was the first inkling that if a person simply put on an outfit they could transform their image and the way they were perceived. The introduction of comics did not have a great effect on my wardrobe (I was 10 years old after all). For the next couple years my idea of style was matching terry cloth shirts and shorts.
It wasn’t until I got introduced to punk and hardcore music that I realized the possibilities of activating my own fashion sense (punk came with its own fashion explosion). I was about 14 at the time. Punk music, science fiction and comics all converged and the possibilities were illuminated. Immediately I started distorting my image: mohawks, hair dye, spray paint, usurped military clothing, thrift store acquisitions, spiked wrist bands, bullet belts were all used to piece together my ever changing look. One great thing for me was that style could transform. Many musicians would change their looks from album to album sparking new excitement with each release.
The aggressive fashion of punk opened me to other stylistic ideas. I began to incorporate other influences into my arsenal. The genre scrapping “rebel rock” of The Clash matched my affinity for films like Escape From New York and Blade Runner. The sharp suited outfits of The Specials complimented my affection for tv shows like The Prisoner and The Twilight Zone. The bleak and stark mode of a band like Joy Division spoke to the part of me that enjoyed Eraserhead. This is the era where the thrift store purchase of the grey felt suit jacket with grey plaid cuffs and collar I requested for this project arrived in my world.
The jacket was so unusual and so classic it seemed destined for me. The jacket’s origins were hard to determine. The jacket was unique and untraceable. Was it someone’s personal creation or was it a uniform to be worn for a purpose? This jacket was as perfect a compliment to a tie and wing tips as it was to an army pant and boots combo. I don’t know where this jacket ended up. I loved it so but have no recollection of when or why it disappeared from my closet. It had all but faded from my memory until Facebook presented me with a photo of me wearing the beloved item.
Originally, the main object of the superhero’s mask was to protect his identity. So he/she could fight crime at night and live his days unnoticed as a part of the crowd. It is clear that the mask, cape, costume or elaborate headgear really created the identity. Over the years, in comics, the secret identity became less and less appealing because being the super hero was the more dynamic and expressive life. In my teens and beyond musicians became my superheroes. In real life, it is the musician that is given license to transform themselves into larger than life characters in the eyes of the general public. Punk music brought that idea to the basement and VFW Halls and the kids brought it to school.
The blurring of the lines between: uniform and unique, disheveled and clean, forward reaching and classic are all elements that can be found in my stylistic choices of today but the threads can be traced as far back as a grey felt suit jacket with grey plaid cuffs and collar.”
Here is Jamie wearing her garment:
And here are Jamie’s own words about clothing:
“My mother and grandmother taught me that if you love a piece, use it often and enjoy it, rather than saving it only for special occasions. This edict helped to form my high-low style at a young age. For example, I remember attending my first day of kindergarten wearing most of my late great-aunt’s costume jewelry, which I paired with Mr. Potato Head’s yellow plastic glasses. Similarly, when I was nine years old, I remember that my favorite kickball outfit was a cornflower blue satin, floor-length, tiered bridesmaid dress and petticoat, discarded that summer by my mother.
I adore clothes, but I do not treat them as precious objects. Things fall apart, and most especially when you actually use and enjoy them, and really live in them: biking and sweating and dancing and cooking and working and generally going about your business. That said I do not view clothing as a disposable item. As someone who makes clothing, I’m aware of the immense amount of labor and resources that it takes to produce it. I prefer to invest in a few high-quality items that I truly love, and have them for years, rather than buy a mass of cheap items that fall apart or go out of style after a few wears. Given the above, it’s probably unsurprising that I love vintage clothing: it is unique, usually of much higher quality than contemporary clothing, and yet typically much more affordable. It also exists largely outside of the trends and tends to fit my small frame better than contemporary clothing.
The piece I chose to have remade, a girls’ gym uniform from the 50s, embodies many of the tenants of my style—it’s durable and well-made, sharp and unique (its original owner, “Schulkin”, even customized it with some janky pink embroidery). Paired with red 40s-style platforms and a belt, I feel like Rosie the Riveter when I wear it—capable, strong, and sexy in a powerful rather than obvious way. I became the owner of the uniform in 1999, when my dear friend and style icon, Jena McClintock, traded it with me for a pair of pants that I made for her. It then languished in my closet for many years, because I was self-conscious in the short shorts. Finally in the summer of 2006, the uniform, and I, busted out. Since then, the uniform has made appearances at many a barbeque, show, and dance party, including several of my birthdays. I associate it with the sense of freedom and liberation that summer brings after the harsh and seemingly endless Chicago winter. In the dead of winter, I dream of being warm enough to wear it again and to enjoy being outside.
I have used it and enjoyed it, and now it is on its last legs, threadbare and a bit saggy. All good things must come to an end. But the uniform will live on, in this new version, made exactly to my measurements, interpreted by another tailor’s hand, yet another layer of history added, and now embroidered with my name. In a sense, it has become my summer uniform—the perfect item for all my favorite summer activities, in which I feel most completely and comfortably myself.”
There are many other extraordinary people, garments, and essays in this exhibition and I will bring some of them to you in future posts. If you are able to see this show in person – do!
Past Perfect– Jamie Hayes
Gallery Opening: Friday January 2oth 6-9pm
The Living Room Gallery
1530 W. Superior St
Chicago, IL 60642(312) 226-3020