Sam Kremke: Velveteen Dreams

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - 5:38pm

Sam Kremke

Sam Kremke Buy this photo

I don’t think I found out about online shopping until I was 11 or 12. I surfed the Internet before then, sure. I may have found the model bios on Abercrombie & Fitch and read up on how Nathan likes to spend his summers sailing off the coast of his family’s vacation home in Nantucket. I studied how he wore his jeans low, and how he didn’t seem to be worried about their grave potential of falling off at any moment in the pictures he posed for. I owned several pairs and approximated his look to the best of my ability —which, for me, somehow meant layered t-shirts in a variety of colors, ripping apart my carefully distressed denim to display a tasteful peep of thigh, and a propensity to suck in my cheeks and push out my lips that plagues me to this very day. 

I may have spent some long nights having long, separate conversations —on my phone and through my newly minted email ( because I wanted to seem sporty), at the same time and with the same person. Hunter was funny, bubbly and just cruel enough to me that I felt comfortable coming back to him every night to bond over our mutual love of … corn dogs? I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I remember that he ate corn dogs and twinkies every day, and that I fantasized about shacking up with him as we prepared for the nuclear winter. He looked like a literal fox with fine, almost platinum blonde hair. I knew he secretly hated me, and I was enamored to the point where I could only bear to try and connect with him from the safety afforded to me behind my desktop computer screen.

We would play soccer and football together, but I only really knew how to run fast. I thought that if I ran laps around the scrum of players in the middle of the field — and I harnessed the cool masculinity that Nathan wielded so easily with my ripped jeans — then I would finally be picked to be on his team. I thought if I saved up enough of my allowance, I could buy myself into this boys’ club that was always just out of reach. Hunter could play sports, and I just wanted to look the part.

Themes were very important to me growing up, whether that was the — shall we say ill-fated — PBTeen, tiki-inspired confection that became of my bedroom or the worlds that I could build for myself with its contents. A model car or a cutout from a magazine were one way tickets to a fully realized fantasy — complete with houses by the beach, jobs, 401ks, spouses across a spectrum of genders, precarious social networks that had to be traversed in Machiavellian fashion and clothes. The clothes I got to wear! My self expression was completely uninhibited in this fantastical, if not slightly vacuous space of mine, and the only kernel that could be salvaged from my reverie was what I wore to school each day.

It turns out that I was the last person to get in on the ground floor of my sexual deviance. Rumors about my friendship with Dorothy began to circulate around the same time I started exhibiting that subtle flash of leg. The stress they brought, combined with the absurd popularity contest that was my elementary school experience, seemed to color what I viewed as an escape from daily life. My fantasies weren’t absent of the creatures that created the need for them, I was just powerful enough to cast them off into vague opportunities for conflict in which I could be successful and clothes were my sword.

It makes perfect sense that everything changed for me when I found out that Saks had a website. It took very little time for dancing around in a towel dress and my mom’s open-toe pumps to turn into canary Zac Posen taffeta and a pair of cork-soled red bottoms. Pressures to conjure up a wife and focus on what she would wear more than myself were vanquished, and all of a sudden I got to be Isabella. Or Cheryl. Or whoever. I got to be Sam, too — I didn’t have to choose. Every ideal that I would happily bridge chasms to satisfy in my mental landscape, be it my relationship to gender and sexuality or all of the attributes entailing that easy masculinity I so valued, almost instantaneously collapsed upon entry into the consumer marketplace. 

My first forays into an empowered sense of femininity, one that skulked in and out of the Park Avenue penthouse she found on Christie’s and wasn’t afraid to indulge in long, long stares at the all-nude Dolce & Gabbana Menswear ads of the time — into queerness, really, happened at the same time I started to realize what class was. And that the things I feel drawn to have a nasty tendency to cost lots and lots of money. Dressing myself not only reached new dimensions of aspiration, but became a way for me to shield myself from a community that was hostile towards difference. As a very nervous young boy preparing to go down a road that spoke of vulnerabilities having yet to reveal themselves, a facade that read as impenetrable to others seemed like a sensible way to go. 

This of course, is not a love letter to consumerism, or a failure to acknowledge that part of what I aspired to had very much to do with surviving (even selfishly thriving) in a system that afforded me some privileges and not others. Rather, I’m saying that there are great truths that lie in fantasy, in what we envision ourselves to be, and how we communicate that to others. Clothes, in choosing them and throwing them on our back, can give us the keys to explore parts of ourselves that we're not yet fully conscious of. They let us create characters, fabricate whole worlds, and try to sell them as best we can. They can be armor. They have the power to unite and divide, and as with all modes of expression that lie at the intersection of history, culture and status, finding the self starts with what we can only dream of. Fashion, style and art are too often discussed as musings of the mind — born of, but ultimately detached from, the matrices of power from which we all operate. So if you’ll humor me, from my velveteen dreams to yours, I’d like to start a conversation.