Like any good American tourist, when I travel, the fact that I am somewhere interesting doesn’t seem to count until I buy something. Pictures and memories aren’t enough to prove how exciting my travels are – I need the local merch to show everyone else that I went someplace cool and they didn’t. Souvenirs from my trips can be anything from a glass perfume bottle to a Chairman Mao cigarette case (no, I don’t smoke – which makes it totally ironic, right?). And more often than not, my souvenirs are some kind of clothing – that way, when I wear what I’ve bought, I can reminisce about the good times that I’ve had.
Following any big trip, conversation usually goes something like this for the next few weeks:
Plebian, un-traveled acquaintance: “Wow, I like your impractical, funny-looking fisherman pants/ ‘Bruce Lee is My Homeboy’ t-shirt/ itchy alpaca sweatshirt! You must have had some fascinating experiences in your life to have such a unique article of clothing.”
Well-traveled, worldly me: “Thanks! I got it while I was in a majestic, faraway land, having grand adventures that you could never possibly fathom.”
Plebian, un-traveled acquaintance: “Gee whiz, I sure wish I could be as cool as you.”
Me: “Alas, peasant, I admire your determination, but you never shall be.”
At which point I smirk and feel superior.
So, of course, when I went to Rome in December of 2008 had to find my usual interesting piece of clothing. But – damn that European sensibility! – nobody in Italy was selling kimonos, sombreros, loincloths, or any other bits of exotic clothing. And to make matters worse, all of the tourist t-shirts were a shade too earnest to be hipster-chic – and obviously there was no other way I could wear them.
As I walked through the streets of Rome, my thoughts were at constant tug-of-war between “Ooh, pretty old buildings!” and “What should I buy?!” Finally, I came across a street vendor selling soccer (or should I say… football?) jerseys. They were shoddily made, clearly knock-offs, and I immediately knew that I must have one.
Never mind the fact that I know next to nothing about international soccer – nobody else in America does, either (except for the STYLISH Americans, right Jeff Winger?). I chose my jersey based on silliness of the team name and unpronouncibility of the player’s name, and wound up with a red jersey that says “Wind” on the front, with number 3, Cicinho, on the back.
I was quite pleased with it.
As soon as I got back to the U.S., I started wearing that jersey. Nobody ever commented on my jersey by asking me about the team (which would, of course, have led to some kind of sports talk and the revelation that I was an idiot for wearing a jersey for a team I didn’t care about). So for this, I thank you, America: thank you for not joining in the rest of the world’s love of soccer. It may isolate you and make you look reclusive, but it saved me some pretty embarrassing moments.
Instead, the jersey just gave me this awesome – and somewhat unwarranted – street cred. People would say things like, “Wow, you’re into soccer? That’s so cool, I’ve always wanted to get into it, but I’ve just never been able to.” Voila: I was cultured, classy, interested in foreign sports. Cue superiority smirk.
Eventually the novelty of the jersey wore off (probably around the time somebody finally informed me how to pronounce “Cicinho”), and it faded out of my regular wardrobe rotation. But recently, I woke up one morning with the distinct feeling that that day was going to be a good day to wear the jersey. Although I am now located on a college campus – where people might know more about soccer – it is a college campus in the south. Soccer here is pretty much regarded as something un-American, like communism, the metric system and reproductive rights for minority women.
I happily wore my Wind jersey and didn’t receive a single “Go Rome!” comment or hear any other sports-related tomfoolery all day long. That is, until I left my last class of the day, when I crossed paths with another student wearing a Wind jersey.
He looked at me. I looked at him. I smiled in an attempt to mask the fact that all I could think was “Oh god please don’t ask me about soccer, oh god please don’t ask me about soccer.” He smiled back, said “Nice jersey!” and stuck his hand out for a fist-bump, which I pounded, and then he walked away.
And that was it. I lived it down. I met an actual Wind fan and didn’t even have to lie about liking soccer.
Although I was hesitant to wear it, I ultimately feel that the jersey is a great way for me to express my individuality in college. It says, “Look at me, I can be ironic about alternative sports!” while running a minimal risk of being engaged in a conversation about said sports. And now that I’ve gotten positive feedback, I’ll definitely wear it again soon. It goes great with my sombrero, after all.
If you have a piece of clothing that’s meant a lot to you – and you want to share on TheGloss – drop us a line at Jennifer [at] thegloss.com or Ashley [at] thegloss.com