Church Shoes & Jogging Suit

Your choice of clothes tells folks where you're from

By Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: September 28, 2002

Church Shoes & Jogging Suit

One of the quickest ways to tell if one is from another country is by the way they mix and match their clothes. If someone is wearing dress shoes and a jogging suit, chances are they are from anywhere but here.

Chicano philosopher Octavio Paz had a theory when it comes to decorum and/or decorating one's house. Paz surmised that Latinos try to pick the best-looking, most ornate piece of furniture irrespective of its relation to the general color scheme or motif of the house. I call that system of furniture selection "chattel myopia."

In the barrio, or at Mom?s house, that is how you can find a gray polka dot recliner, a red/green plaid sofa, and blue velvet futon in the same room. In the corners, French provincial and lava lamps, while two TV?s, the good one with picture on top, and the broken one with sound on the bottom.

Paz?s point was that Latinos seem to acquire the best possible object with little consideration as to how the other pieces compliment or detract from each other. To be quite honest, I never met Paz or been to his house, but based on pictures I have seen of him; he has some serious unresloved hair issues.

I don?t think his theory holds true for contemporary post-ethnic Latinos who have some economic decorating advantage or fung shui playmates. For students, ex-cons or those starting over, any furniture from any benefactor will do. Back in the day, we were certainly proud owners of spool tables, brick bookshelves, tandem TV?s, and bed sheet curtains.

It seems that household decorum and or personal dress is largely decided by relative proximity to the homeland. If you are a First generation Latino born outside the US, your tastes and demeanor probably reflects a certain Old World proclivity. Second, Third and Fourth generation Latinos have not only acculturated but are in fact effecting modern culture with their particular demeanor, dress and lifestyle. The Publishers of BLVD, the new magazine for lowriders, tells me there are Cholo dressers in Japan.

I do not know what folks are thinking when they decide. Since I?m going to bust out and floss my stuff out on Mission Street, I have to get some gear. ?OK, I?m going to hurt somebody by wearing the orange Reebok jogging suit with the brown penny loafers.? Alternatively, a woman who checks her closet then says, ?Mira loca, I?m going to be chewing it by wearing the baby blue Fubu outfit with the white, six- inch Payless pumps.?

A word of caution here: if an OG writer can figure this out so can the Migra.

Their wardrobe selection, however is consistent with Paz?s theory of Old World Latinos choosing the best item, irrespective of its artistic relationship to anything else. I suppose they figure that the jogging suit is attractive and so are the shoes, so if they put them together they will look fly.

No, you will like a foreigner.

What is the deal with Old World people and dress shoes anyway? I have seen farm workers in Florshiems, body and fender men in disco boots, and welders in wingtips. That?s not to say that you don?t see women in sweatpants and sling backs, open toed heels and overalls, and my personal favorite spiked stilettos and a Spaulding fit.

As a public service and as a way of welcoming our brothers and sisters to the land of milk and honey, I am going to break it down to a few simple do?s and don?ts:

Never wear hard-heeled dress shoes with jogging or work out clothes, no matter what. If you do everyone will know that you are a mojado of some sort, whether from Mexico, Canada, Russia; it makes no difference -- the same rules apply.

Conversely, never wear athletic shoes with a suit or formal clothes unless you are a rock star. Never wear athletic shoes if you are wearing a dress and or skirt unless you are coming from work downtown and your feet are killing you because the sexist boss wants all the women to look ladylike.

The good news for some is that if you are an immigrant from the first generation and have gender identification issues, your incredibly gay friends have already told you this.

A good American rule of thumb when it comes to local customs is this: If you don?t know, ask somebody who does, not one of your homies who don?t know, either.

About Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos is a weekly columnist and a screenwriter.

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