SMOKE: A Lifetime Of Clothing

Originally published: 20 September 2004

I've never been much of a one for clothes - like anyone I've been through my "phases", but these days I see them as utilitarian and usually in the way.

I was at a mate the other day and we were discussing our old trenchcoats we used to wear all the time as students, and it got me thinking back to all the various clothes I have worn which have either defined - or been defined by - the time and space I was in.

Kids have always been fashion-conscious, but nowhere near to the extent that they are these days. I spotted a two-year old the other day walking around in a leather jacket with a skull and crossbones on the back, and a "I screwed your Mama" t-shirt. It's getting ridiculous.

But I was never particularly fashionable nor trendy when it came to clothes - they would be purchased for me and I would wear them and the amount of garments I have actually chosen for myself in the past can probably be counted on a pair of hands.

It all started out with brown...

The seventies were a very brown place, and I was stuck in the middle of them. The earliest clothing I can remember wearing was a tight little pair of brown shorts with an elastic belt stitched into them, a brown and cream check shirt and brown sandals - topped off with my Mom's famous Pudding Bowl Fringe haircut, the horror and scourge of many a young child.

My hair was long as was the fashion, and with the Pudding Bowl and my tight little shorts I closely resembled a female. I went to the shops with my sister one day and had to suffer the ignominy of being told by the shopkeeper that I was a very cute little girl.

Lasting psychological damage right there. But it was nothing compared to the eighties.

Once I reached double figures in terms of age I started to be more aware of what I was wearing, and after a trip to the United States in the mid-80s I'd seen a world of colour and garish excess.

When mixed with the excitement of a rebellious culture spearheaded by Madonna and Michael Jackson it left a big impression and I started wanting certain clothes.

I'd had it impressed on me from an early age (I know not by whom) that pink was a colour for sissies, and being the 80s - a time for shocking The Establishment - meant I had to have pink.

A lasting image of my dreadful wardrobe was of me in pale blue pants, a white patent leather belt, a tight pink shirt and a pair of white shoes. That outfit didn't last long, but it happened. I can't deny that it didn't.

But it was also in the 80s that I began my collection of crap t-shirts, a phenomenon that still exists today. T-shirts with meaningless designs or words on them - often with corporate logos or slogans on them (they were always free).

In high school all I wore was my school uniform - I would come home from school, make tea and get into bed with everything bar tie and shoes on, and read a novel or two before supper.

On occasion - if I could sneak my way out of having a bath - I would simply sleep in my uniform and pull my shoes on the next day.

When going out it would always be jeans, with a t-shirt and a long-sleeve grunge shirt hanging open over that.

But once I left school and got to varsity the image thing kicked in bigtime, and I can still remember being in matric and dreaming of the student years to come - I wanted black jeans, a black shirt, a black trenchcoat, black boots (preferably with spurs on the heels) and to top it off a black hat.

And that's precisely what I got and I spent two long years wearing only that.

The trenchcoat in particular was a vital accessory - not only could you cut a figure striding down the road in the middle of a Cape Town heatwave, but there were lots of pockets for contraband as well (cigarettes, alcohol, grenades).

I must stress that I wasn't a goth - just an oke who liked black. I probably fancied myself something of an urban cowboy (blissfully unaware that instead I looked like a fucking tit), and it became my defining look.

Once that phase - and my varsity career - were over, I gave up trying to compete in the fashion stakes and resorted to jeans and t-shirts. Far easier and you're less of a fashion threat than when you prance around like a tit in pink shirts and blue pants.

I dress for convenience now. Which is another way of saying there's no way I'm forking out R700 for a pair of shoes, or R200 on a shirt.

It's my hobo phase.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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