Yes, like everyone else the MIA has a copy of Robert Doisneau’s famously romantic Le Baiser du Trottoir (The Kiss on the Sidewalk) photograph, from 1950, better known as “that picture where the hot French guy is smooching a girl outside a cafe.” A lot of us had that picture in our dorm rooms when we were trying to figure out who we wanted to become, because this image (which was more or less staged) embodies not just the kind of impetuous romance we longed for but also stylish self-actualization: I look how I act. Admirable alacrity, nice scarf. Style and lifestyle are one.
The current six-week Northern Grade showcase at the MIA resurrects such ideals with its mix of distinctive American-made goods for your home, office, and person, raising the question of how exactly, somewhere between 1950 and today, style became separated from lifestyle.
We’re not the same, so why do we dress the same—the same shirts from the Gap, the same shoes from DSW? Moreover, why do our homes look the same, filled with the same blankets, towels, tableware, and all the rest?
Mass production, perhaps, which kicked in after the war and made decent-quality clothes and home goods available to almost everyone—so long as you didn’t mind blending in (think of those 1950s men in identical grey suits and fedoras waiting for the train).
Or maybe we’ve just become cheap. You could outfit your home and yourself at Northern Grade with Red Wing boots, a few Faribault Woolen Mill blankets, a raft of Field Notes notebooks and a Mother Freedom jacket—or you could buy a gently used Corolla. But plenty of people with plenty of money aren’t choosing to express themselves this way.
You only need to look through the MIA collection to appreciate the once-honored value of distinctive design, from ink stands to record players to cars. Sure, these weren’t things your dad or granddad owned—that’s why they’re in a museum.
But they do serve as enviable reminders that self-expression has long supported self-actualization. That the line between your inner world and the material world fades a little when you’re surrounded by things that express yourself—you have manifested some seamless version of your ideals. That you are what you wear, that clothes do indeed make the man, and that naked people, as Twain supposedly said, have little or no influence in society. Get the complete package at Northern Grade @ MIA, or at least put on a scarf.