Peace signs had already crossed over into kitsch by the time I was aware of them. Symbols have their trajectory, from counterculture or code to widespread recognition. A single word stenciled on the curb, street after street. What did it mean? By the time you can buy it as an earring, it has lost substantial currency in its original intent.
I had not heard of the store Justice before we moved back to America but now I am very well acquainted with it. At first, I felt bad and wanted to help my daughters fit in, so we went while I became increasingly twitchy. Having gone in cheerfully at first, I would spend three times what I had expected to pay, buy three items too many while fending off requests for ear piercing and $7 novelty chewing gum only to realize that the bathing suits would quickly lose their snap and the clothes just aren’t that nice.
It postures like it’s for spending your allowance but, hmm, look around, it’s all girls with their moms. This is not where the teen girl shoppers go. I squandered my allowance on a lot of stuff when I was that age, and I totally get the appeal of the Japanese erasers and the little doodads that you exclaim over and go, “Cute.” I did this with vintage coats and eco-friendly, locally made handbags with two friends in Chicago last fall.
My friends and I went to Azuma (Peanuts and Hello Kitty miniature stationery supplies), that discount drugstore in the triangular lot on 7th right below Greenwich Avenue, Savage (beads), Crazy Eddie’s (records), Capezio (Stagelight make up), Canal Jeans (painter’s pants), and, sure, we “collected” lip balm, and so forth, but I did so with my friends, not with my mom.
Added to that, Justice has these annoying sales scripts where they ask you questions at the check out like, “What is your phone number?” To which you cannot demure with a polite “No thank you,” but must become somewhat churlish, a little defensive, surrounded by rainbows, fluffy pink plush hamsters, fuzzy, heart-shaped diaries and insistent pop music, saying, “I do not want to give you that information.” (I didn’t want to use semicolons in that last sentence; did I get away with it?)
Justice, like, Mom, no fair, total injustice, sells fake teenager stuff to pre-pre and pre-teen girls. It is not downright inappropriate like the Playboy line of girls clothing that turned up at BHS (British Home Stores) a couple of years ago; yes, we’re remarketing the whole bunny thing; we’re recruiting. No, that’s the wrong word. Um, we’re just wrong, wrong about everything. Please, don’t buy our merchandise. Just stop talking about us. It was a bad idea. We are very sorry.
And they are at a funny age. They still love the catalogs of their youth but when push comes to shove that’s not how they dress any more. Maybe I should work out a capsule wardrobe for them. I’m not sure how they want to dress. They’re not either. It’s a process of watching, following close behind, trying to stay a little bit ahead, (but not too far ahead. Are you sure you don’t want moccasin fringe boots? They’re about to be very popular), mostly keeping your mouth shut and coming up with the goods when they aren’t too egregious.
Once we moved into our own house, the girls again wanted to buy lovepeacesmile for their walls. The younger daughter so excited that the words blurred together into the world of bad interiors nonsense that it is. How can you argue with the word smile? How? It’s easy. What does that mean. Love? Peace? Smile? The words symbolize symbolic what? Teenagers 40 years ago? Love-ins? With smile the 21st century coda.
Last weekend, younger daughter saw an enormous pillow at Target. Target copies Justice. Justice copies PB Teen. I talked her down. When the adrenaline rush subsided six aisles later it was her decision to pass it by.
Love peace smile. It is the affect of 60s free-spirit grooviness two generations later, re-, re-packaged. Peace sign earnings in day-glo, late 60s meet the late 80s, acid meet acid house; as the Victorian Eel Man from The Mighty Boosh wisely said, “The past and future, combining to make something not quite as good as either.”