Call us naïve, but we’ve never contemplated the flame resistance of our underwear. Fit, price, strange color choice, or daffy logo, perhaps. But it’s nice to know that courtesy of Soho shop Operations, we too can don the life-saving underpinnings of firefighters and welders everywhere.
For like the lever and the pulley, “the simplest of machines and most efficient,” the shop’s seemingly proletariat philosophy pronounces, “workwear is the most efficient and creative clothing design, inspired only by need.” This ethos is printed on the tall shop windows of the store, a converted Soho loft, next to enlarged, black-and-white photos of factory workers from days of old. The “a” in the Operations logo, also printed on the windows, is the identifiable construction sign of workers shoveling dirt. Inside, shoppers can flip through unadorned and sturdy-looking button downs, military jackets that look as if they came from the Eisenhower era, and aviation sweaters with leather-patched shoulders. Some of the products here are “found” uniforms from around the world; others, like a pair of Portuguese masonry pants, have been modified to more closely resemble the urban-warrior aesthetic forged by G-Star and Diesel. “Through the simplest of modifications,” the store’s press release asserts, “Operations transforms these items into fashionable street-wear; emphasizing and respecting the garments’ history, quality and construction in a young, edgy and bold statement.” The masonry pants, with added contrast stitching and an additional shade of fabric, go for $255.
Appropriating workwear garb as street clothing is hardly a new concept—we need only look to Timberlands, carpenter-style pants, and blue jeans as evidence of that. But Operations indulges in J. Peterman-like waxings-on repulsively about the working man’s resilient spirit to sell a top: “This polo shirt was inspired by a shirt the Operations team came across in northern Mexico. We met a factory worker who, despite illness or inclement weather, had a perfect job attendance record. He also wore the same polo shirt to work everyday . . .” Damn, musta been that trusty polo shirt! (We listened close for the soft strains of Woody Guthrie’s guitar echoing from an in-store soundtrack, maybe even a little Bruce or John “with or without the Cougar” Mellencamp, but there was none. We were, in fact, one of two people in the store that afternoon, carefully examining gas masks and industrial-chic raincoats suspended from large meat hooks.)
Beyond contemplating whether this is celebrating/exploiting the salt of the earth, we were curious about the degree to which the rich of the earth are getting swindled. A jacket from Refrigiwear, a company that manufactures insulated apparel for contractors and equipment operators, sells coats, vests, and bibs on their website that hover mostly around the $100 range or below. At Operations, a Finnish construction jacket of theirs sells for $250. The store justifies a pricey high-visibility construction jacket because it is not just from any average American toiler sporting a cut-rate, $100-or-less version; it is more stylish, more . . . Finnish. It has a cellphone carrier, goddammit. But even with the crappy exchange rate, we doubt Finnish construction workers are dropping the equivalent of $400 on their fluorescent apparel.
Operations is located at 60 Mercer, at Broome Street; 212-334-4950.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 6, 2005