By Richard E. Peck
The tie my aunt gave me for high school graduation had writing on it. Halfway down one edge were two embroidered initials, “CM.” I assumed the store had given her someone else’s tie. Someone initialed “CM.” Maybe Connie Mack, or Corbet Monica, or Charles Manson, who could tell?
I picked the initials out with a needle and wore the tie.
My aunt was horrified. “That was a Countess Mara!” she said.
I’d never heard of Countess Mara. Or Ralph Loren. Or anyone else who wanted to write their names on my clothes. But that was long ago, about the time the fashion began.
Look through your closet. You’ve probably got shirts with strange names on them – Cutter & Buck or Tommy Hilfiger (which sounds topographically obscene). Or cute designs and even cuter little animals. Polo ponies, alligators, rabbits, a happy face, the swish. A tiny tag reading “Members Only” or “No Fear.”
Why don’t I get it? How did marketing mavens persuade millions of American consumers to wear advertising for some designer’s product? Worse, to pay extra for the privilege!
Some shoes carry the manufacturer’s name: Nike, Keds, New Balance, Adidas, K-Swiss, the labels framed in DayGlo colors or flashing lights that blink with every step.
When the dealer I bought a new car from drilled holes in the trunk deck to attach his company name to my car in chrome letters, I rebelled. “Take it off,” I said.
“It’s free,” he said.
“Free? Do you plan to pay me for advertising XXXX Motors?”
He took the letters off, filled the holes, repainted the trunk deck, and stopped smiling when we spoke. Then he hung a license plate bracket on the car, advertising “XXXX Motors, Albuquerque.”
A week after taking delivery, I sent him a bill: $70 (leased advertising space on my car, @ $10 a day). It took three invoices, totaling $210, before he believed me and sent a man to remove the license plate bracket. I kept it.
I’ve since painted over the name on my sneakers, burned every visibly-labeled garment in my closet and vowed to stop wearing labeled clothing, unless their designers pay me to advertise the stuff. The future starts now! No more free writing on my shirts!
When the owner of XXXX Motors refused to pay the invoices I continued to send, I located a 1949 XXXX, rusted, missing a fender, windshield shattered, tires bald and flat. It’s pure-D ugly. I’ll put it up on blocks out front and hang that license plate bracket on it. We’ll see how much a week XXXX Motors will give me NOT to advertise their cars.
If that works, I’ll try wearing Tommy Hilfiger stuff, unpressed, stained, and two sizes too small. Tommy ought to pay me not to walk around like that.
- Richard E. Peck is a part-time Kaua‘i resident and a retired president of three universities. He has written numerous books, plays, columns and TV shows, and his work can be seen at www.richardepeck.com.