Suppose I am a philanthropist who gives one million dollars each year to a certain charity. I love their cause, I identify with it in some way, and it does good, so I in turn, do good.
But every time I see you, I punch you square in the nose. Hard.
Not like my brother and I growing up messing around sort of pop, but reconstructive surgery on your face sort of right cross between the eyes. And not just once, but pretty much every time we see each other, which is a lot, because you live in the basement of my house.
Would you care about my charitable giving? How would you feel about me?
Now what if the charity I loved, was one that helped people with broken noses get their faces reconstructed, and I, was a plastic surgeon? Every year I donate that million dollars and 10,000 children with deviated septum are made to be able to breathe through their noses despite their inability to afford the surgery otherwise. Then, on top of that, I grow wealthy doing the work of fixing people’s faces, whether it be from damage, or maybe just some elective cosmetic touch ups, because I am a plastic surgeon. That is what I do.
But every time I see you- pow! And not just you, I punch your family too. Your grandma, your kids, your little sister, every one of you who live in my basement (it’s a big basement), get socked in the face. I go straight-up Tasmanian devil on you and your loved ones till everyone within my reach are bloodied and battered.
How would you feel about me?
Would you care about my charity or vocation?
I am a white man and as such I am the beneficiary of my Uncle Sam’s charity. He gave me the vote and a bill of rights. He gave me land grants, and Pell Grants, a HUD home, and the GI Bill. He built me public schools and universities and reduced my work week to 40 hours. He taught me that I belonged in his home.
All the while this same uncle was punching other people in the face. He denied them citizenship and the vote, kept them out of schools, red lined them, barred their testimony from courts, allowed their murderers to go unpunished, and he took their money.
Who am I to tell these other people to look past all of that abuse and praise this uncle for the charity he gave to me?
Most of us live in Ralph Lauren’s world, the one where we are a Lifshitz, which should be just fine, but in hopes of becoming something else, something we see as more, we put on the trappings of that more, portraying ourselves as belonging to, or being of, that other thing.
In Mr. Lauren’s case, he did it so well that he has not only gained admission to so much of that imitated world, but he has created a whole new universe built right over the top of that old one to the point that most of us are completely unaware of this past.
But this past still exists. As in it isn’t gone but is still alive; it just usually isn’t ours.
Rowing Blazers has been written up by GQ and Esquire, all sorts of style or fashion folks that know much more than I, so I will stick with what I got myself from them directly.
Jack is doing the work. At the Los Angeles pop-up I found him glad handing in a way that appeared surprisingly invested. LA normally lives up to its reputation of shallow fixation on the who’s who brand of social climbing, and here we have a clothing style rooted in emblems and icons communicating very specific memberships, and here was Jack paying authentic attention to all sorts of nobodies. Like me.
I have a lot of experience with nobodies and a now solid set of associations with somebodies, and way to much intimacy with wannabees. I have learned that a defining characteristic of actual somebodies is that they do not, or no longer, need to try to act or project their somebodieness. Wannabees on the other hand must constantly police and buffer themselves against the nobodies lest such association put their charade in jeopardy.
Jack showed no interest in sleuthing my pedigree before paying me attention. I watched him act the same with others.
That works for me.
Now I have never met Ralph, and maybe he acts the same, and for all I know all of this is just an act, I know how that works, but this sort of access versus authenticity matters in the realm of tradition and clubs.
And that is most definitely the world Ralph, Jack, and any other trad, prep, ivy, or otherwise institutional representative style of clothing are engaging. But while Ralph once sued the American body governing the sport of rugby for infringing on his presumed ownership of the word “rugby” (I will never let that go), Jack sells a line of rugby shorts that celebrate the rebelliousness of that sport’s roots. While tried, and tries, to pass traditional emblems off as his own creation, Jack has published books explaining the history and meaning of sartorial emblems.
In the end they are both selling things originally meant to denote in group to those who are most decidedly not in, Rowing Blazers is at least being up front about it. I should also note that Rowing Blazers is also the official outfitter for USA Rugby, USA Rowing, and a whole bunch of other actual clubs or teams. It isn’t all for the masses.