On Striped Rights

When I was younger, defining oneself to the outside world as edgy, difficult, different was comparatively easy. There was a pretty straightforward list of symbols and codes in which one could participate or not. Soccer shorts and sneakers meant you were a jock, whether or not you were really interested in playing sports of any kind. Black band t-shirts and a wallet chain meant you were a rocker kid, a badass with an interest in bands with guitars and a disdain for authority. Goth, of course, had the most fun symbols and so many ways to play dress-up. Fishnets, long black skirts regardless of gender, black eyeliner and lipstick, anything made of vinyl, all daringly worn to school where, I now reminisce, nothing was really at stake but one’s own vanity.

You know all of this already. Well, one of my favorite pieces of this code was and has always been the bold black and white striped tights, beloved of alternachicks and goth girls ages 12-32 coast to coast. Any plain black dress and boots ensemble could be made “cool” with a pair of these tights. They were like hipness armor at a vulnerable age when I felt I really needed such a thing. I probably still have my first pair somewhere, full of holes, this pair of tights, this very small thing that made me feel somehow protected from the horror of being mistaken for a slave of dreaded mainstream fashion and therefore boring mainstream thought.

It’s easy to make fun of teenagers. They don’t always get that major fashion brands aren’t purveyors of the new, they’re delimiters of the accepted. Their status as such depends on their continued marketing of themselves as edgy but this is marketing only. If it weren’t the money would dry up and disappear like steam. So I suppose the presence of the Coach advertisements currently papering most of New York amuses me just as much as it makes me feel wistful. The ads feature a close-up shot of a foot, shod in a new $300 Coach black leather Mary Jane style pump, the leg lovingly clad in that familiar black and white striped stocking.

When I first saw this ad, I admit it, I stopped and looked at it for a moment, thinking about the predictable clichés of my youth and feeling sorry for myself. I recognize it as yet another sign of the mainstream having absorbed what I once considered a vibrant subculture. This feels bad in the way that anything feels a little bad when it’s being shared, like seeing a fondly-remembered ex-lover smooching someone new in a bar: it’s good that it’s being shared and other people are enjoying it, but it’s painful to be reminded that something you loved isn’t really yours and never was, and anyway, just how many people will enjoy the corpse of this poor dead notion of edgy, sexy, dangerous subculture before we have some respect and bury the stinking thing?

The funnier joke of it is that I am 26. Perhaps there was never a subculture, even in my own lifetime. Perhaps by the time it got to me, all “subculture” I believe I have experienced was in fact a watered-down shadow of itself, already pre-digested by years of issues of Spin and W magazines. The wise old denizens of the spooky nightclubs I once frequented would probably say this is so. I write about the death of subculture like I really know what I’m talking about but then, also, in the back of my mind is the thought, like a hope, that subcultures haven’t died—I’m just too old and un-hip to find them anymore, infected though I still might be with this Romantic disease of seeking something called authenticity, and seeking it in the only way I know how: self-conscious consumer capitalism.

36 Responses to “On Striped Rights”

  1. Pinkie von Bloom Says:

    I caught myself looking at a pair of striped tights yesterday. As much as I wanted them, all I could see was myself at 14…and 14 year-olds wondering why that old lady is wearing goth tights.

  2. Alice Says:

    Bravo and bravo again!

    Oddly, I feel exactly the same way, and am barely 21. Maybe today’s 15-year-olds will feel all this, too, in a few years. Maybe this is just part of the whole grand tradition. Its fruition, maybe.

    (It IS a very pretty image that Coach has put out, though…the stockings and shoes even work nicely with their logo…)

  3. diamondback Says:

    I saw this ad and immediately saw bits and pieces of 10th grade flashing before my eyes. I wore those tights on my first day of high school, now seemingly eons ago. Appreciated.

  4. Lydia Says:

    I’m more upset by the fact that Coach has designed a shoe style I actually like. That’s depressing enough without the double-whammy of the striped tights. Bah. No matter. I wouldn’t pay that for a pair of shoes, even if I could afford them. I have too many friends who can’t afford to feed their kids three decent meals a day for me to feel okay about spending three hundred goddamned American dollars for something I put on my feet.

  5. MollyRen Says:

    You people just suffer too much. I might love you all just a little less after this post.

    ‘Cmon, people, you run a blog about strange things that you turned into a PRINT magazine. How big was your print run? Did you make as much money as you put time into it? And you think you’re old and tired by the time you’re 26? Sheesh. Look, I love you all, and I love this blog…but you’re not talked about the same way people talked about Starbucks or Boing Boing or Wal-Mart. Your hipster cred is still intact. Now get back to work and bring me more well-written posts about weird looking hot men.

    And burying the stripey socks? Why can’t they be like the little black dress of the fashion world? The ad is still cute–and I sure as heck would look twice at a girl wearing stripeys, even if she turned out to be a conservative. Which really is all I think fashion is for, deep down: to give you an edge in getting fucked.

  6. MollyRen Says:

    P.S. and really, who says being in a “real” subculture is really all that shit hot? I’m in what seems to be one of the rareist fetish groups in the world…and all it means is that I’m more likely to be misunderstood and far less likely to ever find a partner. I think everyone from the Dadaists to the Velvet Underground left this part out: being in a subculture means you’re poor most of the time, and the rest of the time no one listens to you.

  7. Mer Says:

    You people just suffer too much. I might love you all just a little less after this post…‘Cmon, people, you run a blog about strange things that you turned into a PRINT magazine…

    Molly my dear, with all due respect, no more of this “you people” stuff! We’re not the Borg. This is an opinion piece by a specific writer. Her voice is one of several distinct voices involved with CH. If indeed you love us, as you say, please treat us as individuals instead of making sweeping judgments.



    (Incidentally, at 32, I’m officially the grizzled old fart of Coilhouse, and I still cheerfully and shamelessly wear my stripeys a regular basis. Why? Because I love them, and they make me happy. No other reason required.)

  8. James Shearhart Says:

    Good piece, Irene!

    Wait until you are galloping towards forty (as I am) and watch as you first have the iconography of your youth stolen away and transformed into marketing devices (as your stripey socks have now become [$300 for shoes? Really?]), and then delight as you slip out of the all-seeing eye of marketing demographics, wherein most things in the popular media simply make no sense to you….

    I for one continue to “discover” stuff that makes the commonplace population whimper and frown in confusion (Newest Nifty Thing – Tarantula Hawk) – That’s the subculture to which I subscribe, that which has _always_ been an unmarketable curiosity to the “mainstream consumer”. If something I like gets appropriated, fine, doesn’t mean the original worth has diminished. Just as Mer said, if you love it and it makes you happy, that’s all the reason one needs.

  9. Ryan Says:

    Alternachicks…Ha! First time I’ve seen someone else use that term. I don’t know where I first heard it, but it’s one of my favorites.

    I miss those simpler times, now I don’t know how to define my “personal brand”.

  10. Irene Kaoru Says:

    I feel a little funny about even having written this post, being an enthusiastic Rand-reading free-market capitalist. I wrote it mostly to explore some unexpected emotions I was having about something very normal: the recycling of elements of a subculture into the mainstream and back again. MollyRen, I think you missed some of my intended amused/self-deprecating tone. My surprise at ever feeling “old and tired” at 26 and how silly that is was part of the point! Perhaps you and I just don’t share this particular memory from childhood. I’m glad some readers could relate.

    @Ryan: I think as I’ve gotten more self-confident, I have felt less need to create a “personal brand” based on how I look. I think that’s a good thing.

  11. Mer Says:

    Aw. I could definitely relate, Irene! And your humor comes across loud and clear.


    This discussion has made me think back and actually figure out when exactly I came to terms with/dismissed commercial appropriation of stripeys. Know what? It was when Phoebe, the “wacky chick” on Friends started wearing ’em. HOLY FUCK, THAT WAS FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. Haha.

    I think as I’ve gotten more self-confident, I have felt less need to create a “personal brand” based on how I look. I think that’s a good thing.

    Yuss. A verrrrry good thing. Quite liberating, really.

  12. Jack Says:

    Consumer capitalism has only won when it can pry both your striped stockings and the very idea of what striped stockings represent from your cold, dead hands. Or some other Heston-esque metaphor.

    As for me, striped stockings were a formative part of my teen years. If I saw a girl wearing them, I knew I would probably stand a good chance of having an interesting conversation if I approached her. They were one of those indefinable markers of being a Weird Person.

    Ad campaign aside, I’ve never seen a Manhattan fashionista sporting a pair of stripeys in the meat world. I think it’s an ad agency fiction.

  13. Jordan Says:

    Nothing is original; striped stockings and fishnets were no more original when you were a youth than they are now. If fashionistas want to wear striped tights with their overpriced shoes, let them. It doesn’t discredit your enjoyment of things. It’s fashion, don’t take it so personal; it’s supposed to be dynamic, and fun.

    I, too, am 26, and the best revenge I can have in life is enjoying style regardless of trend, subgenre or age.

  14. rickie Says:

    i saw this picture just the other day and thought ‘wow, those are cool! wait…why is it in *this* magazine?’

    i gots stripes too. i love ’em. long live stripes!

    and yay for halloween! we can buy more stripes!

  15. Irene Kaoru Says:

    I, too, am 26, and the best revenge I can have in life is enjoying style regardless of trend, subgenre or age.

    Jordan: Well said.

  16. Erin Says:

    “Which really is all I think fashion is for, deep down: to give you an edge in getting fucked.”

    Fucked as in getting-laid-fucked? Because… no. Just no.

  17. Jani Says:

    I can feel you now. I never had these kind of tights, but I feel the same with some things that have passed for me now.

    But I am little shocked, that Coilhouse crew is no borg! That’s one of the reasons I loved you guys so much. Maybe I can get over it.

  18. R. Says:

    Irene, great post. I’m 25 and I understand exactly where you’re coming from. It’s like how I felt when Japanese animation became this huge thing over here and I was happy being the only kid in school who knew anything about it. It was the same also with my favorite band…now jocks know some of their songs. I just make a “tut” noise and go back to enjoying those things. Jordan really did put it best though.

  19. Kitty Napalm Says:

    I’m wearing black and neon green striped thigh highs today. Under my demure work trousers. Why? Because I couldn’t find any other socks, actually… but the point is I still have them and don’t wear them where people can see them. Unless it’s a very a specific clubbing outfit or something that they match. I have multiple pairs of striped socks, all in different colours, stuffed in my drawers. And I hardly ever wear them.

    The reason is *not* because ‘all the kids wear them now,’ it’s actually because they’re not really my style anymore. But I have to admit to a slight feeling of melancholy when I see children crawling the streets wearing them with ballet flats. You can buy stripy things everywhere now, in places that wouldn’t have touched them ten years ago.

    I’m younger than you, so I’m basically longing for a subculture I was never part of as well. But it is true that in the past few years the alternative signatures have been raped by fashion for all they’re worth. Scene is trendy, goth is high fashion, and you may just walk down the street and find someone who has your hairstyle, your boots, your dress, or all three. My boyfriend has white spiky hair which is what he’s known for, however for a while now there have been copycat clones popping up all over town. I guess it could be flattering. They’re no competition to the original.

    But I usually describe it as jealousy, I’m quite a jealous person and it’s not pleasant to see someone playing with what you think are ‘your’ toys. It may be old hat to scream that ‘I was doing this before it was cool!’ but in some cases it’s actually true. And it’s actually quite different for something to be widespread within a scene, and for it to be swiped and marketed for a mainstream that will forget it when the hype is over.

    P.S. After writing all this I kinda want to dig out all my stripies now and wear them at the weekend.

  20. Adam Rice Says:

    Irene’s reaction is understandable, but in a sense, that dismay at seeing a totem of an alternative subculture appropriated by mainstream advertisers is a sign of the health that the alternative subculture is still lively (perhaps that’s the wrong word for goths, but you get my point).

    Advertisers aiming for novelty, surprise, and edginess need to borrow from outside the mainstream, but that borrowing in itself does not make something mainstream. On the contrary, it could be seen as cementing that totem’s outsider status.

    It’s possible that some Coach customers will decide that stripey stockings are cute (which, after all, they are) and start wearing them. But probably not too many. And for that matter, it’s possible that a few of them will wind up being drawn into an alternative subculture.

  21. Tequila Says:

    It feels like a kick in the teeth. Like the Transformers film…hearing Michael Bay go “I was never into the Cartoon…I was into girls” in such a condescending way pretty much cemented him on my “People to shoot into the Sun” list. Cool and unique things get absorbed into the mass conscious all the time and while on a rational level it’s natural and makes sense…it just plain sucks when a fond memory or thing gets turned into something just plain blah.

    @MollyRen…”…Which really is all I think fashion is for, deep down: to give you an edge in getting fucked…”

    A bit of truth to that but if you mix in enough alcohol or assorted narcotics it becomes a non-issue. I’m sure we’ve all seen proof of that.

    @Mer…”We’re not the Borg”

    From the Wikipedia entry: “Though Borg rarely look alike, they share several common characteristics. Borg commonly have one eye replaced with a sophisticated ocular implant which allows them to see beyond the human visual spectrum. This implant usually projects a red laser beam, particularly in later appearances. They also usually have one arm replaced with a multi-purpose tool.”

    I dunno…it WOULD explain how you all get so much done AND why those who enter this Blog never leave. Plus the style the Borg have is eerily close to the aesthetic many of you have a keen interest in.

    Suspicious. Very suspicious.

  22. [?] Says:

    HA! im only 20 and i already cringe at what i wore in my teens, the coloured tights with ripped black ones over the top, and when it was particularly cold, some stripers too…

  23. Ben Johnson Says:

    If you ever doubt the existence of subcultures, attend a gaming convention. Geeks are to subcultures what fertilizer is to flowers.

  24. Jon Munger Says:

    I don’t think I like what you just did to me there, Ben.
    More interesting than the absorption of subcultures is the notion of personal branding. All the people I know, or am a degree of separation from who have succeeded in fashioning a brand from their bodies have done it because they abjured subcultures. You can’t get there from here, as they say.

  25. secretia Says:

    Mer: I love you!

    I, too, am 32 and I love my black and white stripeys as much as I did sixteen years ago…except I enjoy the look MORE now because I’ve learned how to rock the look in a stylish way.


  26. Esotericstyle Says:

    I came upon a few pairs of striped tights in the Halloween section of the grocery store a few weeks ago. I had a similar revelation, and couldn’t help but spend a moment thinking about the aging DJs at the local club wearing his black-and-whites every week. I bought a pair, on a whim, as they were only a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, they turned out to be children’s size, and after getting most of one calf into one leg, I gave up and threw them out.

  27. Mer Says:

    Consumer capitalism has only won when it can pry both your striped stockings and the very idea of what striped stockings represent from your cold, dead hands.


    I gotta say… at some point (pretty early on, actually) I realized that anyone who would mock me for wearing what makes me feel good is not someone I should give ANY power. Those are basically the same “cool kids” who sneered at me in junior high.

    This is not to say that I have not giggled myself sick over someone’s wardrobe choices many, MANY times. I’m as guilty of “othering” as anyone. It’s just that, more often than not, my giggles are tempered by a sense of kinship. And I’ve realized, any knee-jerk scorn and dismissiveness I encounter from someone who identifies as being “above” expressing themselves with something I love despite its commodification should be taken with a grain of salt, even a large degree of affection! I probably have more in common with them than not.

    Shoe on the other foot: I know that’s the case for me with steampunk fashion. I’ve gotten pretty grumbly about that emerging subculture (not so much because of the commercial appropriation factor as because I feel like it’s become a rather narrow-minded treehouse clique of self-described cognoscenti) but even in the throes of my grumbling, I’ll always appreciate that neo-Victorian/Vernian DIY style. I’m not going to stop loving it just because others have claimed it for their uniform.

    HA! im only 20 and i already cringe at what i wore in my teens, the coloured tights with ripped black ones over the top, and when it was particularly cold, some stripers too…

    I’d love to check in with you in another ten years… I have this sneaking feeling that when you look at pictures of yourself from “back in the day” you’ll be more prone to going “awww, look how cute I looked” than “ewww!” But hey, who knows.

    I… couldn’t help but spend a moment thinking about the aging DJ at the local club wearing his black-and-whites every week.

    Hee. Judging people who’ve been into something longer than you so easy, innit? Until it starts happening to you, of course. (I speak from painful personal experience, buh-LEEV me.) Circle of life.

    After writing all this I kinda want to dig out all my stripies now and wear them at the weekend.

    Do it, sweetheart. Seriously, if it will makes you happy to wear them, reclaim them for yourself.


  28. Jon Munger Says:

    So in short, what’re a few snickers between dorks.

  29. Ben Morris Says:

    There is a damn good reason they have reached iconic status to level of cliche: they are awesome.

    I’m 27 and I still find striped tights sexy, especially when worn by someone more or less in my age-group.

    Don’t let age restrict your fashion, wear what makes you feel good.

  30. choklit Says:

    Mer & Secretia – I’m 32 and I love my stripey stockings, too… of all colors. Hail, Sock Dreams! Are we some sort of mini-demographic of our own?

    And I’m so fervently behind the wear-what-makes-you-happy-no-matter-what ethos. I think it’s equally as silly to discard a look you love because it’s been appropriated by the masses as it is to pick something up because it’s popular. Either way, you’re letting the mainstream dictate how you dress.

    Long live stripeys! And long live Neo-Victorian anything-punk style! And long live… uhmmmm… just being yourself?

  31. Mary Ann Says:

    i’m 20 and i still rock the stripedeys! i love them, they are a part of me. there is no mary without her stripes. <3!

  32. Person Says:

    Uhm, this entry is way over my head. Little girls wear striped tights. I never saw any correlation between goths and patterned stockings.

  33. Joseph Francis Says:

    Goth chicks have been wearing black and white striped stockings since a house crushed The Wicked Witch of the East while she was wearing a pair back in 1939. I usually save my blog for more technical matters, but I made a little homage to the stockings in an MM thread a few months ago:



  34. Miss Tugui Says:

    Behold, the striped one:


  35. djeternaldarkness Says:

    Good lord, think you’re “old” at 26. I’m nearly 40, as is gothic mrs. manners. She is still only seen in Stripy Tights! Check her out in the newest issue of Bust, they gave her a reader of the month feature.

    And quit acting like a crazy kid. Swear, I’ll get my cane…..

  36. kai smart Says:

    The only time I got reprimanded for inappropriate dress at work in the crunchy anything-goes natural foods store that I worked in as a teenager was when I was wearing my black and white striped tights…..

    …as a shirt.