I like to think of my grocery store as a dynamic, living laboratory. Working there is an effective way to keep current on consumer habits, behavior patterns, and fashion attitudes of average Americans in the 21st century.
Based on my observations, it's clear that what pundits and commentators call "the cultural mainstream" is getting wider and more inclusive on a daily basis. Personal style choices that were once considered odd, subversive, or bizarre are steadily becoming familiar pieces in the social mosaic.
Evidence of the expanding mainstream is impossible to ignore. My favorite example right now is hair tinting. On any given day I can look out across the aisles and see a veritable rainbow of braids, dreads, brush cuts, and other creative coifs. The trend is spreading into every age group. I've spotted entire families with parents and their kids casually sporting the same pastel-shaded scalp styles.
These encounters often take me back to my college days in the early 1970s, and I recall a poster that was taped on the wall of many dorm rooms. The poster featured a 56-word statement by Frederick Perls that begins with this line: "I do my thing and you do your thing." Now, all these years later, I feel like a hefty segment of the US population is incorporating those words into their everyday lives even if they never heard of Fred Perls.
An expanding mainstream makes it harder to form stereotypes or make snap judgments about a person based solely on his or her personal appearance. As stereotypes weaken, it becomes easier to step away from established traditions without being scorned or stigmatized. Questions such as "What's wrong with you?" or "What will the neighbors think?" lose their persuasive impact.
In any discussion about personality traits and emotional security, it's not uncommon to hear the phrase, "He's comfortable in his own skin." At this point in the new millennium I can confidently state that a whole lot of Americans are comfortable in their own hair, regardless of where it shows up in the visible spectrum. And the comfort zone is expanding to include all areas of the human head.
I recently saw a male customer with an impressive brown beard streaked with a subtle dark-green hue. I wonder if this whiskery fashion might be the next big thing and, if so, what the longterm financial effects will be on companies that make razor blades and shaving cream?
As of now, there are no beards looming in my facial future. But I do feel like the time is about right for a dash of cranial color. A small patch of aquamarine seems like a viable option. I ran the idea past one of my bluish-tinted colleagues and she said, "Go for it. Aqua is pretty common, too. If you start with a little feathered spot, some people might not even notice."
It sounds like a good match. I'm not a person who wants to be provocative or cause big splashes. I think of aquamarine and visualize myself inconspicuously treading water in a calm, soothing current, somewhere near the middle of the mainstream.