The following is a piece called “What We Wear” by Alex Law, reprinted from the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s November 27 “Mini Newsletter.”
Word that AJAC has actually launched a set of branded clothes struck me as quite meaningful, since the long history of the auto writing trade is to wear clothes with other people’s names.
It must be noted that Dave Booth, Jim Kenzie and I discussed a variation on this idea about a decade back, but it was limited to one of those jackets you see on people in a rock band. Our idea was to design a Car Guys World Tour jacket, with a map of the globe on the back. The first time you visited a particular city, you could sew a star on its location on the jacket in commemoration. Visit Moscow and put a star on its spot on the jacket, and so on. Ironically, we were traveling too much to make it happen.
But getting clothes from auto firms has been going on for as long as I’ve been in the business, a term which recently passed 30 years. According to a usually reliable source (Hi, Walt), the car companies only went to jackets, shirts and hats because in the 1960s the gift thing was getting out of hand. In the early days of auto journalism, the gifts would sometimes include appliances, such as fridges.
Now, somewhere in deepest Milton or in a four-star hotel in Xanadu or some such place, Jim Kenzie is reading this and wishing he could interrupt me to tell his story about the inexperienced Volvo PR man, but he can’t because I’m going to. This is only fair, as we have been stealing each other’s stories for years. Ask him to tell you about my worst experience with a copy editor. And for you Internet folks, a copy editor is someone who checks your story for errors before it appears.
Maybe 20 years back, Volvo brought a new guy into its European PR staff. He was smart and all those good things, but he did not know that the protocol there at the time was that you put the media agenda for the program on the gift in the hotel rooms. He realized his mistake the next morning, when a line of smiling hacks from all over Europe came down to check out with a TV under their arms.
The closest thing to a flap about gift clothes happened in Atlanta in the late 1980s. But you have to go back a year to North Carolina to appreciate the situation better, when GM had a program for its Buick-Olds-Cadillac division in the famous Greenbrier Hotel. At the time that immense, rambling structure was known purely as a golf destination, its secret life as a gigantic bunker for the U.S. government in the 1950s was as then unknown. Really. Bing it on the web. Anyway, we all got an ugly green Greenbrier Resort sweater when we checked in, and the PR people soon made it clear that they’d made no effort to guess our sizes. Take it back to the gift shop, they said, and get the size you want, or, you know, exchange it for something you liked better. My memory is that nearly all the sweaters went back in favour of something else.
So the next year, in a resort on Lake Lanier, Georgia, the BOC people cut to the chase and issued gift certificates for the gift shop or the pro shop at the golf course. Only you had to sign the gift certificates, and this struck a lot of people as a very bad thing, so no gifts were taken home. Ugly sweaters as currency is one thing, apparently, but a piece of paper with a dollar sign ($50 US) and your signature is something else.
BOC took note of this the next year and arranged for everyone to get a pair of Foot-Joys running shoes, with people on hand to measure your feet so the custom-fitted beauties would fit perfectly when they arrived at your home a few weeks later. They were great shoes, which I wore out on more press trips.
This chain of events got Jim and I to talking about gift clothes shortly thereafter, and he started to bemoan the fact that it was always jackets, shirts and hats, jackets, shirts and hats, jackets, shirts and hats, with a pair of gloves or shoes every now and then. This helped him keep his clothes’ budget low, he admitted, but he was trying to think of something that would relieve him of the need to buy pants, socks and underwear.
His idea was that the car companies across Canada should figure out how much they planned to spend on gift clothes every year and contribute that to a fund that would be apportioned to auto writers on an individual basis. That way, we would easily get enough to pay all of our clothing requirements, even though we would have order bespoke tailoring. After all, gift clothes always include the car company’s name or logo, so Jim figured that all of the shirts and jackets we had made would come with a Velcro patch on the chest, so that we could affix the appropriate logo depending upon whose program we were attending. When we wore the clothes away from a car event, Jim suggested, we should use a patch that advertised his band.
This seemed like an excellent idea to me, but I worried that it would be too hard for the car companies to agree on how it would work. My solution was simpler: we would find clothing items or other things that we really liked and tell the car companies about them for future use. Thus was the notion of The Graft Registry born.
Feel free to use the idea now, if you want. From what I hear, the shirts, jackets, hats and USB memory sticks are starting to build up.