In the frigid air of March, in the gloom of a deep recession, Manhattan’s clothing merchandisers have announced the dawn of a new, happy age in which everyone wears lime-colored golf shirts and bright peach polos. New Yorkers pull up their collars and seem unmoved.
The street displays stand out for their rainbow of colors and for the brazen gamble they make on people’s optimism. “Welcome Back Color,” says Macy’s, the chain that just laid off 7,000 workers. “Put on a Happy Face,” says Lord & Taylor, whose jewelry supplier went bankrupt last month.
I foresaw this return to color last year but am still surprised to see it manifest. As I survey these loud offerings, I imagine the marketing people watching me through the security cameras, sweating and praying that I will enter and buy a purple polo off the rack, or for that matter, buy anything at all.
The last time clothes were this colorful was the 1980’s. My high school yearbooks from that time reveal beaming teens clad in purple Izods and pastel orange T-shirts the size of Army tents. The only ones who wore black were the kids in the smoking section. Those kids were kind of scary.
The Izods went away – as did the smoking section – but black spread like a contagion. The clubbers in the Goth scene wore black, and the hip-hop kids wore black, and by the 2000s everybody wore black, the retirees on a walk and the middle-aged women in the gym. Even the most enthusiastic youths draped themselves in somber cloth. Walking the streets of New York these days, I sometimes feel I’m accompanying the 1901 funeral cortege of President McKinley.
This is why these colors are so shocking to the retinas. Time will tell if the clothiers have made the right bet. Similarities stand; in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan announced “Morning in America” and successfully stared down Communism, as well as wide-collar shirts and bell-bottoms.
I, for one, will go out right now and buy a canary-yellow collared shirt with an alligator on it. Just send me the receipt for yours first.