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Recently, I bought a shirt from Target. I like it a lot — it’s a crisp, tailored blue button-down that looks like it could have come from Madewell, or maybe Uniqlo, or even the clothing section at Muji.
But much as I like my new shirt, I cannot for the life of me ever remember its exact brand name. As any Target diehard knows, women’s clothing comes broken down into different categories: there are the simple, brightly hued Mossimo and Merona brands (may they [mostly] rest), the trendy Xhilaration, and the new, poorly kerned A New Day. My shirt is none of these.
I Googled random combinations of words just now to try and jog my memory; I started with “Target” + “Common Threads,” followed in quick succession by “Uncommon Threads,” “American Thread,” “American Common,” “American Handmade,” and “American Thread Company.” Most if not all of these names actually do belong to brands, but the Target one, it turns out, is actually “Universal Thread.”
Sorry, but that is a generic pile of nonsense! It’s of a piece with the Great Flattening, where everything has already started to look like everything else (it’s not an accident that my shirt looks like it could have come from any one of the aforementioned popular retailers) and now all the words sound identical as well. No need to come up with an original name for your new sartorial endeavor; just throw Best Made Co., Good American, and Universal Standard in a blender and see what comes out. Or do what the kids do and feed ’em to a neural network, which I can’t figure out but I’m sure some enterprising soul could, hint hint, please oh please.
I should be glad for this welcome break from the [ONE-SYLLABLE NOUN] & [OTHER ONE-SYLLABLE NOUN] naming convention we’ve been subjected to for the past half decade. I literally work at a fashion site and still can’t 100% tell you the difference between Kit and Ace, Oak + Fort, and Ace & Jig. (The only apparent distinction is the many ways of styling “and.”) But there’s something sort of sinister about the new names’ aggressive genericness, their vague promises of uniformity and and underlying whiff of patriotism, even militarism. It’s like pledging allegiance to American manufacturing without actually knowing or caring about what the words mean. It’s like a WPA initiative devised by robots. It’s comforting, sure, but also a little eerie.
The thing is, though... it’s working. I bought the shirt, and I will probably buy it in another color this weekend. I’m helpless to the thrall of the mad lib that is modern commerce. So stay tuned, I guess, for when I finally launch the Universal Modern USA Apparel Corp™.