Made in America: A Trad Fetish
Repeated, seemingly ad nauseam, is the divinity of Made in America. Those three simple words have evolved (devolved?) the way we judge a piece of clothing. But where did our fascination with Made in America begin? Have we always felt the same strong and persistent allure of those three words? In order to begin our investigation, we must, as is so typical in the history of trad and ivy clothing, journey back to the early 1960s.
In 1960, the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act and the Wool Products Labeling Act were signed into law. With the passage of these laws, all goods produced in the United States were required to have “Made in America” visible on the tag. As global markets expanded, and access to cheaper labor became more readily available, the staple items that we hold so dear were catapulted across the globe. LL Bean shifted production to El Salvador; GH Bass the same. Even Brooks Brothers, the single greatest representative of American clothing, was unable to resist the allure of globalized production. Working in a near symbiotic relation, that Made in America tag which had been taken for granted years before, became more and more rare as the enticement of overseas productions took hold; and what started out as a form of production identification, has become a form of qualification among purveyors of American dress.
The trad community will be the first to herald the Made In America tagline. We recount our love for it with the same monotonous and perfunctory tone with which we recite the pledge of allegiance. We internalize Made in America to be inherently superior to comparable goods and products. While I will not deny that a sport jacket made by unionized workers in Massachusetts is generally a better product that one made in a Cambodian factory, I will call into question the inherent snap decision to favor Made in America.
This may come as no surprise to those of you reading this, and those who can sense the tone of this piece thus far, but I find the congenital preference of Made in America to be disingenuous.
To illustrate my point, I’ll use two examples of pieces that would not be out of place in the closet of many readers; The Barbour Beaufort and the Saint James Breton Sweater. Two pieces with as rich a history as the Brooks Brothers button down. However, the Beaufort is made in England, and the Breton in France. If the Made in America adherence holds true, one would rather have a Beaufort that was made in Maine and not South Shields, or a Breton sweater that was made in Gloucester as opposed to Brittany. However, I suspect that many of you would prefer the original. The piece that is tied to land from which it was crafted. If my assumptions of your preference are correct, then the case for Made in America looks weak. It would seem, that our fixation is not on Made in America, but on Made in Tradition.
We seek out goods that were produced by cultures which found use in them. We seek out heritage and prideful work. Our love of American made goods is directly correlated to our love of American style clothing. There is a natural draw to favor domestic products when there exists no appalachia. However, this sentiment is not unique to our community. Any trad, workwear enthusiast, or hell even streetwear aficionado, will naturally favor a pair of boxers made in America over some foreign country, even if the quality is identical. What sets the trad apart, is the commitment to heritage. The unwavering love of products that consist of equal parts quality and ancestry. The pursuit of clothes that exude heritage and tradition just as much as quality and durability. Think, would you prefer a pair blue jeans made in America or Canada? Would you prefer penny loafers made by an family run shop in Maine or Milan? What about a tweed jacket made in Scotland or North Carolina? Or a persian carpet made Seattle or Tehran? As you answer these questions, think to yourself, “Do I value heritage, or country of production more?”
The trad community needs to reevaluate its adherence to these dogmas. It needs to have an honest discussion about where its priorities are, and where those priorities are leading. The practiced and rehearsed lines that are pontificated unremittingly by the community do not encourage debate or discussion, they stifle and kill exploration into what we so often take for granted.
In the coming pieces, I hope to explore the truths which we find self-evident, to be the gadfly who stings the lazy horse that is Trad, and, when all is said and done, to foster an authentic and productive debate about what we truly seek out as disciples of Henry Brooks.