I don’t remember ever looking at a co-worker, student or managing director, for that matter, in the U.S. and thinking ‘Wow! Isn’t she what designer fantasies are made of?’ It was more like ‘Those shoes(!) with that skirt(!)?Really?!’ And despite the fact that my fashion sense is, for Greek standards, pretty basic, in Washington I was the Lady Gaga of dress code in the work place, the epitome of well-put-together meets the perfectly outrageous amount of madness. I wore just the right skirt but my earrings were too shiny and even if the dress was grey, the multicolor fluorescent pink and turquoise necklace made it clear I was either oblivious or absolutely indifferent to the unspoken rule of ‘dress as badly as humanly possible, so long as one of your garments resembles a jacket or a tailored pant’.
Seriously, just one ‘business like’ piece of clothing qualifies you for safe entrance in the workplace and guarantees you fit in with the rest of the crowd, whose only worry is that someone one day may step up their game and force them to buy another pair of tailored pants from the local business clothes outlet chain or charity thrift store.
Walking around in Athens, on the other hand, may bring about symptoms of a mild inferiority complex outbursts. Be advised: In a city where recent Asian immigrants wear Armani t-shirts on their way to work at the Pireus loading docks at 5:30 AM, carrying around anything less than a louis vuiton purse may disqualify you from getting the elderly lady at the metro to tell you the time because before you even open your mouth, she has already assumed you are a beggar asking for money to buy drugs while you should be asking for money to buy the fake Cartier watch you are clearly in need of. Athens gives new meaning to designer branding.
Marketeers around the globe should study the Greek case to discover what triggered such outstanding results. In a culture where consumerism is shunned, name branding is glorified thus bringing about a great big oxymoron. Greeks don’t need the stuff, they are starving for the attention and the image the stuff provide.
In the East Coast, on the other hand the approval comes from dressing sloppily enough to show you don’t care, but not a whole lot sloppier than the guy selling hot-dogs at the bus stop. Unless it’s Friday. In that case, what the heck, anything goes.
It’s not an accident that Greek fashion magazines never advertize special yearly subscription offers, as U.S. fashion magazines do. Cosmetic companies gladly offer free products to be given away with fashion magazines, cause they know the magazines sell crazy. Especially when there’s a change in season and Greek women are overcome by the need to be the first insiders, the pioneers of international fashion victims who undoubtedly maxed out their credit cards before anyone else in the world got a chance and got the new ‘it’ bag which is now in ‘backorder’ while the Italians struggle to gather enough leather to cater to such a market.
The joy of consumerism, though, seems to ooze out of people’s mind and into different directions in each society. In the U.S. it shoots towards aquiring. It’s all about collecting all the weath one can and locking it up in a huge house. As huge as it can be. If it’s not huge enough, no worries, there’s always house remodeling. In Greece, it goes towards flaunting all the clothes and fashions accessories one has, or borrowed, at everyone they can possibly reach. It’s all out there. The brand names, the boobs, the trendy designs and impossible cuts, the big sparkly jewellry, the outrageously high heels. The house, though, hasn’t gotten to be such an obsession. Yet. Sure, anyone would like a house with a swimming pool in this weather. However, coffee culture and moving around in different groups of friends offers a lot more chances for exposure and glitter than hosting the occasional dinner party. Plus one doesn’t get to carry a new Miss Sicily handbag when hosting a dinner in one’s own house. Cause that would be lame now, wouldn’t it?