Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Koch identifies a kind of “lifestyle history” as part of the American character, and though Americans surround themselves with references to the past, Koch suggests that this is merely commodity fetishism masquerading as an understanding of their literature and history and its importance to contemporary life. While his examples, designed for comic effect, might not seem familiar to the reader (who has probably never seen a blouse divided into squares with a picture of Edgar Allan Poe in each one), every reader is likely to be able to identify similar objects in American culture. Koch suggests that Americans seem to think that by wearing a T-shirt embossed with the image of a famous person they can take a shortcut to true knowledge and understanding. However, a certain malaise results from practicing blind reverence toward surface details of American history rather than attending to actual meanings. When the narrator smells the hair of the girl he is with, he gets a whiff of “the mould of [her] seaside resort hotel bedroom,” suggesting the moldiness of the lives that pass through historical resort locales as well.

Readers see very little of substance in any of the characters in the poem; thus the “You Were Wearing” title acts as an indicator of practically everything the narrator remembers about the young girl he may have met at the resort. While there is something of a nostalgic tone conveyed by the past-tense description of the happy details...

(The entire section is 546 words.)