Sperry Topsider: A Passion for the Sea by James Ralston

For my reflection, I chose an advertisement for Sperry Top-Sider Shoes that I came across in the March issue of GQ Magazine.  The advertisement depicts four images: one, the largest, is of four white people sitting in a boat, dressed in a nautical east-coast fashion, the second is of a golden retriever with a Sperry Top-Sider shoe in his mouth, the third is of an American flag attached to the stern of a boat, and the last is of a pile of the boat shoes in varying degrees of wear.  At the bottom is the catch phrase, “A Passion for the Sea”.  All of the pictures bring to mind the idea of rugged American individualism.  Each picture has distinctively American qualities.  For one, the worn out pile of boat shoes hints at hard work and reliance on sturdy work wear.  The American flag, pictured in the foreground of sea exploration, or the golden retriever, the quintessential American canine companion, both evoke American nostalgia.

Another ideology that is being conveyed is that of classic east-coast W.A.S.P. style.  The shoes and the people wearing the shoes in this advertisement are decidedly yuppie Nantucket island types who have the money and the free time to cruise around in their pristine white row boats with their loyal golden retriever.  Also, the flag is not a regular U.S. flag, but has an anchor in place of the fifty stars; yet another east-coast image.  Sperry is trying to make an association with their product and American east-coast living ideology.  Preppy style is slowly moving into the forefront of fashion after it lay dormant for several decades in areas like the Hamptons, Chesapeake Bay, and Nantucket.  And one of the essential pieces of footwear for the American preppster is the boat shoe.  Thus, Sperry’s advertisement is a homerun, playing off the American east-coast ideology that is captivating the fashion scene once again. 

In the last mentor session, Joseph brought up the idea of counter-bricolage.  As it happened, my clothing ensemble for that day was a perfect example of counter-bricolage.  The white Jack Purcell tennis shoes I was wearing were a remake of the first American tennis shoe that the American tennis star, Jack Purcell, wore during his career.  I was also wearing a worn-out Levi’s denim jacket, and a pair of raw denim selvedge jeans.  Now obviously I was not planning on playing any tennis, least of all in outdated sport footwear, I was not planning on lassoing bison from horseback on my ranch, and I was not going to be doing any hard labor that would require the use of extremely sturdy pants such as raw denim.  But, all these counter-bricolage products were created by companies playing off consumers’ desire for vintage American work wear and sportswear.  I am intrigued by this idea of counter-bricolage, because it is the basis for much of popular American fashion today.  Many companies are recreating bricolage clothing that people wear because it represents some sort of ideology that they admire, such as American sports or cowboys.  Sperry is doing the exact same thing with this advertisement.  These shoes were originally made for actual east-coast sea-goers.  People started wearing them again because they like that east-coast ideology.  And so, Sperry recognizes that and produces a counter-bricolage product, a new boat shoe, offered in many new color ways and fabric choices that were not originally available.  I have always been aware of this idea of bricolage and counter-bricolage, but now I finally know the word to attach to the idea.

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