Mannequin Appropriation Project

People like to say that clothes make the man, but nobody
honestly believes this is true. I mean, why would they? Fabric is
merely fabric; wool is simply wool. I think a better (but perhaps
less practical) clich? would be ‘clothes make the mannequin.’

Last week I needed a sweater, which is always a problem. I don’t
understand how to buy things; I always choke in the clutch. But in
this instance I made (what seemed like) a brilliant decision: I
walked into a Gap store and immediately purchased every garment the
most eye-catching mannequin happened to be wearing. I actively
became the human incarnation of an inhuman model, primarily because
(a) I assume that the kind of people who dress mannequins spend a
lot of time considering aesthetics, (b) this eliminated
decision-making, and (c) I am somewhat mannequin-shaped. What I
bought, I suppose, is an outfit, which is something I’d never done
before.

Now, this outfit basically has three pieces: (1) a blue sweater
that looks like something I would wear if I became an assistant
coach for the North Carolina Tar Heels, (2) a collared dress shirt
that you’re supposed to untuck on purpose, and (3) new jeans that
are designed to resemble semi-old jeans.

I wore these items the very next day; the moment I looked into
the bathroom mirror, I could tell it would be a controversial move.
I looked totally fucking different in every fucking context. ‘Who
is this person?’ I thought to myself. ‘I’ve never seen this person
before.’ It suddenly dawned on me that I could disappear into a
witness protection program simply by combining a blue sweater with
an untucked dress shirt.

I start walking to work, and I can tell that everything about my
life is instantly weirder. I feel like a mannequin. And this
feeling is fascinating, because I have no idea how a mannequin is
supposed to feel; without even trying, I’m instantaneously
projecting onto myself my fictionalized assumption about how it
feels to be an inanimate object.

As I take the elevator up to the magazine that I work for, I
anticipate that everyone in the office will have an immediate
reaction to my sweater — fueled redesign. I am absolutely correct.
‘This is a stunning development,’ says a fact-checker. ‘Are you in
love?’ asks a woman I barely know. ‘I am going to make my boyfriend
buy that dress shirt,’ claims an editorial assistant. On the whole,
it seems, my ‘mannequin appropriation project’ is testing
especially well with female audiences.

Men around the office are supportive, but somehow more
skeptical. ‘What happened to you?’ asks a man I often eat lunch
with. ‘Are you supposed to be an indie rocker now?’ I cannot
overstate the cultural impact of untucking one’s dress shirt while
wearing a sweater; if you haven’t tried this, you totally should.
‘This is probably a good direction for you,’ my lunch companion
continues, ‘but this overt untucking is going to erode your
outsider appeal. Plus, now you’ll have to listen to Superchunk all
afternoon.’

‘But this isn’t a statement about social class or personal
iconography,’ I say in response. ‘Don’t you get it? I’m a mannequin
now. I bought these clothes off a mannequin, so I’ve become that
mannequin. It’s like I’ve turned into a new person by turning into
a nonperson, which is, like . . . oh, I don’t know — maybe this
offers some kind of interesting insight on consumerism and vanity
and what dictates who we really are.’

‘Oh, really,’ said my friend flatly. And in an alternative
reality, this is where he would have said, ‘Well, clothes make the
mannequin.’ But that’s not what he said, because — in this reality
— that is not a clich? that people say.

So we just went to lunch, and I spilled gravy on my Carolina
sweater, because I am alive.

Chuck Klosterman is a senior writer at Spin
magazine. His new book is called Killing Yourself to Live:
85% of a True Story (Scribner). Reprinted from the literary
magazine
The Believer (April 2005). Subscriptions: $55/yr.
(10 issues) from 826 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110;
www.believermag.com.

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