Funny You Should Say That! Authentic Authenticity. Order Now!

Selling the allure of attire is an art all its own. 

By John Cadley

What are “performance chinos”? How do you “field test” a coat? What is a “barn jacket”?

I receive a good many clothing catalogs in the mail and this is how the sellers describe the merchandise. I wonder: How does a pair of pants “perform”? Hopefully, like a pair of pants: a garment with two legs, one zipper and a belt loop to keep me from getting arrested for indecent exposure. That’s about all the performing I want my pants to do. So before I buy “performance chinos” I want to make sure they don’t come with any surprises. The last place you want surprises is in your pants.

Then there’s that “field-tested” coat. Apparently, they want to reassure me that I can wear this coat in a field and be confident it will stand up to whatever the field dishes out. Which would be...what? Fields don’t do much. They just sort of lie there. Grow a little grass, sprout a few flowers, get a little wet from the morning dew. Doesn’t have to be much of a coat. And yet they tell me it’s built to withstand hurricane-force winds, pelting rain and freezing temperatures. I don’t know about you, but when the weather’s that bad I don’t go out in a field.

And how about the “barn jacket”? These catalogs go to people like me who live in residential neighborhoods. We don’t have barns. We have garages. I understand that “garage jacket” doesn’t have quite the same allure. You don’t really need special clothing to go get a rake. But what’s so appealing about a barn, anyway? It’s full of messy hay bales, greasy machinery and the acrid smell of cow manure. Ask anyone who really owns a barn to show you the jacket he wears in there and you will very quickly lose your appetite and fashion inspiration.

Notice a theme emerging here: outdoors, earthy, rugged – evocative of a time when people really did live in fields and have barns and needed pants that could “perform,” since they only had one pair, and if your pants wore out you basically faced the wilderness in your underwear. I see two possible reasons for this. One is that we’re all a little ashamed of being so thoroughly domesticated, and wearing clothes like these makes us feel rougher and tougher. The other is that these clothing manufactures are watching the world economy and realizing that the prospect of us all going back to cave dwelling is not so far-fetched. In which case they’re saying, “You may not need field-tested mountain pants with fleece insulation, water-repellant material, and 17 But you will!”

One catalog even offered a customer testimonial about an über-rugged raincoat: “I have worn this every day and have not gotten wet.” Great. Was it raining?

They also push another theme: not new. Clothes these days have to look like they’ve been worn before you wear them. One catalog described this broken-in look as “island wash,” which I take to mean: “If you got marooned on an island with brand-new clothes, this is what they’ll look like after a month. May I take your order?”

What’s wrong with new? The only thing I can think of is that these are vacation clothes, and most people vacation near the water, which is where the rich people live – all the time. So their clothes are naturally weathered and faded. Thus, if I’m strolling along in my island wash duds I can say, “See, I fit right in here. I’m not a tourist from Parsippany, New Jersey. I’m a rich person. I have to be. I paid $150 for a T-shirt.” New also makes it look like you’re trying to look good, like the guy in high school with the shiny shoes who played loudest in the marching band.

You also see words like “expedition,” “cargo” and “trek,” as if you’re outfitting yourself to summit Mount Everest. What’s that all about – especially when you’re going to Disney World in an air-conditioned van with built-in DVD, hands-free parallel parking and individual cup holders?

Well, if this is what people want, I’m going to start my own company: The Authentic Lived-In Catalog. I’ll write copy that extols the virtues of the well-worn look; I’ll offer a huge selection of men’s and women’s clothing; I’ll talk about the fashion allure of time-tested value, and I’ll claim a level of authenticity no one else can match. For while others are selling new clothes that merely look worn, mine will really be worn – right from the Salvation Army Store. 

John Cadley is an advertising copy-writer in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at