Friday, September 5, 2008

Cape People

At my high school in Northern Virginia in the mid-nineties, we did not have Goths. Instead, we had the Cape People. (To my knowledge, I have only one regular reader who attended high school with me. RJT, you totally remember the Cape People, right?) The Cape People were a clique of what I would maybe call nerds or dorks, if it were not for the facts that A) That's not nice, and B) I attended Geek High, so, technically speaking, every single one of us was a nerd-dork of titanic proportions, even the coolest of the Cool lacrosse players, cheerleaders, etc. So instead I will say that the Cape People were a clique of students who were considered to be socially undesirable by most other students at the school.

The root cause of this undesirability is hard to locate. It is true that many, if not all, of the Cape People suffered variously from social awkwardness, zits, and a measure of poor fashion sense. However, it is also true that pretty much every high school student on the face of the earth, whether Cool or Cape Person or somewhere in between, suffers variously from social awkwardness, zits, and a measure of poor fashion sense. (I, myself, had two of those problems to varying degrees, and one, not at all.) So, while it made perfect sense at the time, I cannot now come up with a clear explanation regarding the unCoolness of the Cape People. I can only really resort to tautology - the Cape People were socially undesirable kids, and they were socially undesirable kids because they were Cape People.

In any case, unlike most other cliques in the school, which stuck to the fail-safe high school formula of T-shirt/jean/sneaker, the Cape People had a distinct look. While a fair number of the Cape People dressed fairly normally a fair amount of the time, a Cape Person in full-dress uniform, so to speak, would wear the following*:

  1. Tight black jeans. (We call them "skinny jeans" now, but I think, back then, they were just tight.)
  2. A washed-silk shirt in black, teal, or burgundy. A male Cape Person would wear one of those broad-shouldered ones favored at the time by Jerry Seinfeld or Garth Brooks; a female Cape Person would wear one of the ones with ruffles down the front that you could get from Express or the Victoria's Secret catalogue all through the nineties.
  3. A large silver pendant and one or two large silver rings. Always with a magicky sort of flavor - a battle-axe maybe, or a dragon with a "ruby" eye. Also, for juniors and seniors, a class ring (everyone in my school had one) that was either one of the chunkiest or one of the most delicate designs available, but never in the standard size.

  4. A belt-loop-to-wallet chain that (somewhat puzzlingly) often also held a large number of keys.

  5. A black cape. Often homemade. Sometimes elaborate, with flourishes such as a large hood, a silky red lining, or frog closures at the neck.

  6. Black Minnetonka Moccasin Knee-Hi Fringe Boots. These were the real must-have for all Cape People, and were often worn without the rest of the Cape Person getup.

  7. Optional: Homemade chain mail tunic.


The majority of the Cape People were, oddly, in the color guard, meaning the people that run around after the marching band while throwing flags in the air. Now, running around after a marching band while throwing flags in the air is a patently ridiculous activity, so between that and the Renaissance Faire attire, the Cape People, poor kids, really did not do themselves any favors. (The ridiculosity here is such that you may think I am making it all up. I am not. Ask my high school friend RJT. You tell them, girlfriend. There were medieval flag-throwers at our high school, right?) So, unsurprisingly, Cape People were roundly abused by all and sundry, though, happily for them, not as badly as they would have been abused at schools that were not Geek High. We Geek High-ers were as tolerant a group of adolescents as you might find, which I guess is to say that we were not tolerant at all, but rather too weak and/or too goody-goody and/or too loaded down with AP Bio books to actually beat anyone up.

While I am sure I did some behind-the-back snickering, I mostly just stayed the heck away from the Cape People. They made me feel unbelievably uncomfortable, wearing like a badge the ugly awkwardness, the sense of strangeness and otherness, that I saw in my own self and took so much care to hide. I was deathly afraid that any accidental association would lead my peers to see the truth that, under my eyeliner, clogs, and veneer of aloof sophistication, I really was a Cape Person, ungainly and out of tune in a way that could only provoke laughter and ridicule.

I had not thought about the Cape People for a really long time, not until about a month ago, when the image of a Cape Person popped, unbidden, into my mind. And do you know what thought accompanied the image? Not, I wish I had been nicer to those people. Not, I wonder what they're doing now. But, Those are some hot boots. Yes. The black Minnetonka Moccasin Knee-Hi Fringe Boots. Now, in addition to serving as a symbol for the extreme social isolation, the sheer crazy dorkitude, of Cape Personhood, this flavor of footwear fits squarely into the current Williamsburg Hip Ugly Chic aesthetic that I so revile. Those two facts alone should make these boots anathema to me, not to mention the bare, unavoidable fact that they are knee-high suede moccasins with fringe. However, I am entirely immune to reason in this matter. Renaissance Faire? Nonsense! Bedford Avenue? Pishposh! These boots - soft, slim, and dark - are clearly the epitome of modern elegance. A woman wearing such boots must necessarily exude an air of sure-footed sexiness, and in my current state of fevered fashion myopia, I simply cannot understand why anyone would think otherwise.

When I explained all of this to my husband, making sweeping hand gestures to illustrate the glamour of the boot, he asked, "So, does that mean that the Cape People were right about things after all?" This sort of stopped me in my tracks, because it seemed to me fairly clear that the Cape People were right about nothing at all - not even the boots, really, because as lovely as they are to my eyes now, they were not that lovely in the mid-nineties on zitty fifteen-year-old suburbanites wearing capes. While it's a tempting conclusion for this author of gently touching blog posts to reach, I cannot finally say that the Cape People were deeply wise about anything, footwear-related or otherwise. They were just deeply silly, or more accurately, deeply adolescent. Perhaps the idea of discovering something beautiful in that morass of adolescent silliness is at the root of my sudden, mad desire for Natty Bumppo boots. It is true that I am finally at an age at which I can look back at my high school years with a measure of detachment, separating out the true from the false, the vision from the blindness.

In the end, I'm not really sure what my desperate boot-need means - a re-visioning of my teen years; a secret desire to be a young, drunk, and careless Hip Ugly Chic Brooklynite; a subconscious salute to my fascination with the Leatherstocking novels of James Fenimore Cooper; or merely a slightly delayed buying-in to a sartorial trend of dubious aesthetic value. It may be all of these things or none of them at all. Luckily, when this particular fever passes, though I may never discover its source, I will only be out $75.95 plus shipping and handling, which, when you think about it, is not a bad deal at all.

*This uniform is not what I was referring to when I mentioned poor fashion sense. The poor fashion sense came in when they were NOT in uniform. The uniform itself is rather brilliantly beyond fashion in its bizarre, but somehow internally consistent, rules.

1 comment:

lydia said...

Nice Natty Bumppo reference.