Wednesday, August 31, 2005

On the History, Theory, and Application of Jeans Shorts

"The alternative to extinction is stagnation, and stagnation is seldom a good thing in any realm."
-Ian Tattersall, anthropologist

In the early 1990's and until the True Advent of the Internet (by standard reckoning T.A.I. is calculated as the first time I saw a naked lady on a computer screen-- April 12, 1995), there was one article in the fashion book that was not on everybody's mind, and that was Jeans Shorts. This is because we wore them naturally, we donned them as instinctively as a hermit crab shimmies his vulnerable backside into a spiral seashell. Jeans Shorts were inevitable. Jeans Shorts were immanent. I myself had four (4) pairs; one (1) of which, a fetching electric orange number, I used as a proxy for my own forgettable personality all through the 6th grade.

The scene: a party of 6th graders

The setup: me, in my radioactive orange Jeans Shorts and a dark shirt (to intensify the effect of draping my loins in fabric the color and radiance of the setting sun), and any girl in the 6th grade

The words:
"I like your shorts" -- the pubescent cookie, probably in earnest
"... thank you.." -- me, perhaps a little too fervently and not looking her in the face

Immediately thereafter she would walk away and I would imagine that I had broken even, not having gained her respect or admiration or friendship as a human being but feeling pretty god-dang good that my Jeans Shorts had forced her hand. But such fire and flare were the exception: Jeans Shorts might as well have been extensions of the human epidermis in those cool heady days of the 90's. They were what we wore, we wore them.

As is the way of the world in Life as in Fashion, Jeans Shorts had their epoch and then retired, chased underground by fabrics like khaki. But they did not die out. Jeans Shorts (as opposed to their lengthier cousins, Jeans) had the curious misfortune to decamp to a place in the American cultural psyche-- and I don't know where the heck this could be-- in which they picked up basically every awful connotation clothes might acquire. When we think of Jeans Shorts we think of what, of families scampering un-self-critically and joyfully around Disney World, headed by men whose hair spills over their collars and peopled by children with rat tails. Of older but not old men signalling to everyone that they are maybe beginning to think about not caring about living any more by tucking a polo shirt into some starched Jeans Shorts, severing themselves effectively from the society and the culture. But did you want to know a secret, gentle reader? These people are awesome. They bedeck themselves in pariah's rags and maintain. They galavant under scornful gazes and do not flinch. Jeans Shorts are the Trilobyte that Lived, the Coelacanths of the Pant Kingdom swimming lazily in deep modern seas, persevering, not evolving. It is telling that one of the last taboos of fashion still unexploited by our gluttonous hipsterism is, you guessed it: the unimpeachable Jeans Shorts! Hipsters will wear suspenders, jellies, tapered pants, but not Jeans Shorts-- this is mystifying. Jeans Shorts and their wearers are at once downtrodden and unassailable, the ultimate noble sufferer whose survival cannot be definitively attributed to either resilience or ignorance. Jeans Shorts! Huzzah!

Now let me tell you another secret: I wear Jeans Shorts. I wear them when I desire a subdued and smart fabric to complement a killer t-shirt I have freshly procured-- a true reversal from the 6th grade. I wear them when I am not sure if my night will end up on a soft beach of the Gulf Coast with my Lady or in a panicked sprint, running from an attack dog, and I must dress to accommodate either eventuality; they grasp the great coin of form and function, as Martin, Nietzsche, and Ida Rolph collectively and wonderfully envisioned it, between thumb and forefinger in a practiced grip. I wear them so that when people pass me and my Jeans Shorts in a grocery store aisle they will ask themselves "Does that guy even pause when he hits a small mammal with his car?", and, honest to goodness, they won't be able to reach a conclusion either way.

The Rockport Prowalker

“Form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created.”
– Ida P. Rolf (1896–1979), U.S. biochemist, physical therapist

“…truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions, metaphors which have become worn by frequent use and have lost all sensuous vigour, coins which, having lost their stamp, are now regarded as metal and no longer as coins.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher

Lionized for their durability and comfort, Rockport’s illustrious Prowalker packs name recognition and street-cred all the way from speckled retirement home linoleum to school yard black top. A friendly Nordstrom’s shoe salesman named Robert told me the design hasn’t changed in 30 years, and I believe him. They are like a tradition everyone can agree on, and truly, who could disagree with a tradition of comfort, pragmatism, and class.

In all fairness, these are old guy shoes. The majority of the pairs that have been produced in the world are most commonly found at early-bird specials getting cozy with the tennis balls affixed to the bottom of walker legs. This demographic trend only adds to their appeal. I refuse to reach old age only to repeat the same tired maxim, ‘I wish I knew then what I know now.’ Clearly if most old people had it all to do over again, they would have started in with the ultra-comfortable shoes at a much younger age.

But let us turn toward a discussion of style: the prowalker’s cool beige austerity and sleek, classical contours evoke at once the lazy, ‘I don’t give a what-what’ bravado of a satin smoking jacket as well as the humble wisdom of a herringbone tweed coat, or say, any hat with no bend in the brim at all. It’s just like my man Kev say about the downtown Tampa skyline: “Casual, but classy.”

The Prowalkers maintain a solid, unwavering beige-grey—in a crayola crayon set, this color would be ‘apple IIcx’ or maybe ‘old computer’—a color only off-set by a thin eighth-inch thick strip of darker, brownish leather running parallel to the lace ladder on both sides – a solitary, understated racing stripe that achieves greater profundity in it’s restrained announcement from underneath swaths of imbricated leather siding. The Prowalker doesn’t have to speak loudly to be heard. These shoes are hella comfortable with their own sexuality.

As with most things in this world with any sack at all, the whole Prowalker is greater than the sum of its parts. The Prowalker’s appeal begins at the apotheosis of functionality. As soon as you get these puppies broken in, however, this pure celebration of pragmatism gives way to an aesthetic glorification of this once earnestly coveted functionality. Functionality is trumped by the aesthetic of functionality. This, of course, is nothing new. This concept lies at the heart of all geek fashion as co-opted by non-geeks. I already know what you’re thinking: I should go get my fanny pack right now. That would be, like, the same thing. Or better yet, I’ll get that old elastic wrap around thing that attaches to the ends of a pair of glasses so they can hang around my neck and not be lost (definitely look for an entry on this accessory in the future). Yet, the Prowalker confounds this simple arithmetic of cool: spend yet another six months breaking-in and buddying-up to these kicks and you will find that the unadulterated glory of practical comfort re-asserts itself with a vengeance. This usually happens after living in these shoes while touring one or many foreign countries. Good for cobblestones as well as formal dinners. Impromptu Foursquare tournaments and black-tie fundraisers. If you are like me, the two sides of your foursquare/black-tie fundraiser coin tend to run together, if not right plum into one another head-on. Yes, The Prowalker endures and will continue to endure as an elegant, tumbling marriage of form and function.