Red Carpet Interview
“Because if a symbol of entitlement can be transformed into a punk object of beauty, then maybe art really can save the world.” – Mama G
PUNKED OUT POLOS:
ATTITUDE = ART
FASHION = WEAPON OF REBELLION
PUNK = RAW, HONEST, INDIVIDUALISTIC, REBELLIOUS
POLOS = SYMBOL OF ENTITLEMENT
AttiTude Is Art:
Your AttiTude – the way you choose to interact with the rest of the world – is a unique, conscious expression of something significant, which happens to be the definition of Art. Your AttiTude may not be beautiful, smart, or witty Art. It might not be Art that any rational person would want within a 1000 miles of their home. But, your AttiTude still is a unique, original (even if copied, it’s your copy) expression of the sum total of who you are. Might be worth considering.
How did Punk Collide With Polo Shirts?
POLOS = SYMBOL OF ENTITLEMENT
Mama G, identical twin, and Grandmother.I grew up in the heart of Philadelphia’s high society Main Line with a well-meaning fashionista mother who dressed my identical twin sister and me in matching frilly dresses from the day we were born. I still don’t know which was worse –
Mama G and her identical twin.the dresses themselves or the fact they were the same. The only time I was happy with the way I looked was every Halloween, when I could dress as a pirate.
I went to a super-exclusive private school of snotty rich girls. The good news – no more lacy frocks every day. The bad news – they were replaced by something equally repellant, uniforms of Spartan blue tunics and saddle shoes. No longer was I indistinguishable from just a twin sister. Now I was identical to an entire school full of girls that I hated. Even worse – the uniform was a gym uniform, a constant reminder of my perennial status as “last one chosen on the team.”
It was during this impressionable (and hellish) period in my life that I first noticed polo shirts. They were worn by my sadistic gym teachers, who made Sue Sylvester on “Glee” look like Betty White. Every day I would stare at the little alligators on their shirts as they humiliated me in that condescending, Main Line lockjaw way. I felt like those alligators were their real faces – ugly and vicious. I soon realized that, in fact, every asshole I met was wearing one of those alligator shirts. Asshole = Polo Shirt quickly became Polo Shirt = Asshole. They were the perfect symbol of that elite, entitled, country club conformity culture I despised.
FASHION = WEAPON OF REBELLION
Mama G horseback riding.My first experience of fashion as a friend, other than dressing as a pirate every Halloween, came when I took up horseback riding, English-style of course. Man-tailored blazers, tight jodhpurs, ties, leather boots, whips and crops… Oh my!! I discovered that clothes can actually express who you are, even help you feel like more of yourself. What a radical concept!
A couple years later I discovered that fashion, or at least my fashion, could make authority types go crazy. It came when my school finally permitted us to wear “street clothes” to school on Fridays. Heady stuff. That first Friday, my classmates all wore classic preppie clothes – Villager kilts, shirts with Peter Pan collars pierced with circle pins, and Papagallo shoes. I showed up wearing a man-tailored white shirt, yellow vest, short b&w tweed skirt, black patterned stockings and white go-go boots. I knew I would look different than everyone else. I never guessed how upsetting that would be to so many people on so many levels… or I’m sure I would have done something sooner. But that was the day I learned that a piece of clothing can be a weapon of rebellion, and a very, very powerful one at that. Everyone was in an uproar about the way I looked and I became even more ostracized, if that was possible. But for the first time I felt like I was consciously presenting the authentic me to the world, and there was something very powerful in that. And while it seemed absurd that something as simple as a type of skirt or shoe could cause such a huge uproar, I also saw it could be useful weapon against a system I didn’t like.
Mama G as a teenager. I wasn’t the only one who figured that out. A couple years after I had my revelation the hippie movement started, and fashion went from self-expression to rebellion. I jumped into the counterculture right from at the start – even made it to Woodstock when I was barely in my teens, though my mother had to drive me. I wore all black for an entire year. I got sent home from public school regularly for wearing my skirts too short. Finally, I singlehandedly changed the school dress code and got girls allowed to wear pants (!!!) by coming to school in faded denim overalls and those orangey brown leather work boots we called Georgie Giants. Clearly a budding fashionista. My enemies at school were the jocks and cheerleaders. And what did they wear – polo shirts, of course. Alligators – every single one of them. My friends and I wore T-shirts. The lines were clearly drawn.
PUNK = RAW, HONEST, INDIVIDUALISTIC, REBELLIOUS
After high school I spent a year travelling through Europe, learning that the world was not the United States, then went to Sarah Lawrence College. I came out in college, lived in New York’s West Village, then moved to Los Angeles. I loved the punk/biker/bondage/ black leather look. I met many different circles of gay women. One disturbing trend – once most of the women hit their 30’s or 40’s they became very preppy-looking and wore polo shirts a lot. I vowed I would never turn into an alligator.
My fashion rebellion determined my career. I picked working in TV over being a lawyer at 21mainly because I didn’t want to wear a suit (or be too serious). Instead my uniform was T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Reaching the top job as executive producer, all my immature contrarian urges were reawakened and acted upon – I dressed worse than my sloppiest production assistant.
Mama G.Eventually I got bored with looking like a bum. The shock value was long gone — my status as both the most successful and worst-dressed EP at the network was very secure. Got it. Next. Time for a change. But for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what I wanted to look like.
Naturally, I turned to my most fashionable friend for help. She suggested trading T-shirts for polo shirts for a start. “They’re nicer and fit better than T-shirts. You can get them in different colors and they’ll look great under your blazers. It will be part of your new look.”
I flashbacked to all the cheerleaders, gym teachers, and other alligator-ed assholes in my life, but told myself to grow up. Times had changed. Don’t be stuck in the past. At least try it. So we snuck off set during lunch one day and drove an hour to an outlet mall where we went to the Lacoste store. My first surprise – they were SO expensive. My second – my skin didn’t burn off when I tried one on. I looked at myself in the mirror long enough to register that I looked better than before. I didn’t know what else to do, so I took a deep breath, bought a few shirts and hoped for the best. I told myself I was being dramatic when I felt something tiny inside me die.
But I couldn’t hide from the truth long. The way I dressed was BORING, and in my mind “boring” in any capacity was totally unacceptable. Even worse, I looked EXACTLY like the type of person I swore I’d never be. The problem was, I didn’t know what I should look like.
Mama G.Cutting off most of my hair seemed like a good way to jumpstart this discovery process. A hairdresser friend gave me a short spiky haircut, and when I looked in the mirror I finally saw me, a me that actually looked like the way I felt I should look. That haircut showed me who I was, and when I slipped on my black leather motorcycle jacket, the question “What should I look like?” was answered — “Like the woman in the mirror.” And her answer to “What should I wear?” “Any damn thing you want. And the more skulls, the better.”
I went home, took all the polos out of my closet and stuffed them in a bag. But that didn’t seem to be enough. They could have insidiously stolen my soul.
It began as a taunt, a threat. “I should punk them out.” As if doing that would show them, pay them back for all the hurt. After a whole lot of talk and bravado, I finally sat down and punked out my first polo. Mama G.It was a little scary at first, almost like I expected the country club police to swoop down and arrest me. But there was also something so satisfying about putting skulls on the shirts, not to mention actually cutting the fabric and stomping on it twice with a big boot. “Inception” was thus born – P.O.P 0.5. The response to that little shirt from family and friends was great – and my mind raced with possibilities. I went online and searched around, and found there was nothing like this anywhere. Either everyone knew something I didn’t, or I had found something truly original. Odds are, both statements were true, but I went for the latter.
Mama G.Then suddenly my show of 7 ½ years was canceled. Time for something else. Naturally I jumped into TV development, like most of the people on my block and in my city, but I needed something else. Something totally different in every way. Something not so dependent on others. I liked the idea of spending time making things that hopefully I could sell, but if not still could give away as gifts or just wear myself.
I loved what I was doing, but kept wondering “Am I crazy?” I had never ever even remotely considered myself either an “artist” (no talent) or, God forbid, a “fashion designer” (major Mommy issues). I realized that yes, I probably was crazy, but that was irrelevant in this situation.
Most art is done on a neutral (blank white board) or even positive (marble) canvas. Punked Out Polos are done on a negative one. To me polo shirts are an elitist symbol, with all the smug entitlement, soul-less superficiality, and unrelenting conformity that entails. They bring up a visceral wave of hurt and anger; countless incidents of rejection, injustice and cruelty distilled and honed over the years into a fine point aimed at country club clothing.
I feel a thrill every time I work on a polo shirt. Every cut, every patch, every paint stroke, every stitch, not only satisfies the primal need to hit back, but also, more importantly, becomes part of the exciting, surprising, creative ritual that transforms that horrible symbol into something raw, honest, authentic, unique and beautiful. It makes me feel that just maybe it’s true that art can save the world.
THE TRUTH ABOUT POLO SHIRTS VS. T-SHIRTS:
1. Even the cheapest wholesale polo shirt costs more than twice as much as a comparable T-shirt. Why?
a. The fabric is heavier and better quality.
b. The construction of the shirts is better.
c. The tailoring of the shirts is better.
Bottom line – They fit better, they look better, they wear better.
People have called me “G” for years. It wasn’t a nickname I particularly liked or encouraged. It was just the first syllable of my 4-letter, 2-syllable name, and it felt like they were just too lazy to say the last syllable. Then one day one of my staff called me “Mama G” and it felt right. I had recently been to Tanzania where “Mama” is term of a great respect, and so I felt honored. I saw Mama G as a wonderful nom d’arte, a name to grow into, a reminder to work to earn the respect and wisdom that the title implies.