At a small shop in D.C., everything is Politically Correct

December 06, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

Washington -- Instead of a bowl of mints at the cash register, customers can help themselves to the bowl of complimentary condoms. Credit cards aren't accepted at this shop -- they only perpetuate the deficit, the owner believes. And if you want a bag for your purchases, you'll have to bring your own or accept one that's been used.

Recycled, that is. This, after all, is the Politically Correct Clothing shop, a little den of tie-dye and democracy in the heart of Washington's buttoned-down business district, that sells T-shirts, pins, jewelry and bumper stickers for the excruciatingly correct.

That isn't a leather jacket you're wearing, is it?

"Political correctness is pretty much in the air," says shop owner Jose Rodriguez, a T-shirt collector and peace activist who has leased the space for his shop from the National Organization for Women (high PC quotient) for this holiday season.

His assortment of goods -- environmentally enlightened earrings, peacenik flying discs, socks with a social conscience -- admonish buyers to "Love Your Planet," "Question Authority," "Kill Your Television," "Save the Rainforests," "Plant a Tree" "Create Peace," "Keep Your Laws Off My Body," "Protect Wetlands" "Beat the Bushes for a Better America."

There's the "Me too, Anita" button. The "Make Love Not Steak" earrings. The "God Is Coming And Is She P-----" bumper sticker.

" 'Lobotomies for Republicans' has been very popular," says Mr. Rodriguez, of Alexandria, who usually takes his act on the road, selling buttons and T-shirts at conventions, rallies and fairs.

His other biggest sellers this year have been "Elect the Underachievers in '92," a button with pictures of Bart Simpson and Dan Quayle, a T-shirt that proclaims "He's Tan, Rested & Ready, Nixon in '92" and the Democratic National Committee's "George Bush: Anywhere But America Tour" T-shirt.

"Humor sells much better than serious messages," he says, pointing to the comic-book style "Incredible Shrinking Women's Right to Choose" T-shirt which greatly outsells the grave "Your Body Is a Battleground" model.

PCC's clientele is a mix of tourists, K Street Suits and "politically progressive types of people," says the owner who worked on the 1988 presidential campaign of Sen. Paul Simon, and earlier campaigns of former Sen. Gary Hart and Sen. Alan Cranston. But while many Americans won't buy an ice cream cone or a can of tuna without a nod to political correctness, Mr. Rodriguez says a number of his customers still ask what the name of his shop means.

"Political correctness is just being nice to people around you," he explains to customers. "It's treating people with compassion and respect. Treating animals with respect. Treating the earth with respect. The bottom line is play fair and share."

In true PC fashion, the T-shirts are 100 percent cotton and made in the United States, in union shops or by those involved in particular causes. Earrings and barrettes are made from recycled paper, peace sign pendants from recycled plastic.

Which is, in fact, the only kind of plastic Mr. Rodriguez cares to deal in. For a visit here, you can leave home without American Express.

"I'd much rather have people buy something if they can afford it rather than go into debt," says Mr. Rodriguez, a Panama native RTC and graduate of George Mason University. "We try to do our bit to help the economy along."

For his part, he recycles, he volunteers, he contributes to numerousorganizations. "I don't have any leather belts, although do have leather shoes," he admits. "You can't be politically perfect. But you can try real hard."

But hard as one tries, there's a lot of room for missteps on such profoundly correct ground. Even a simple question such as "How old are you?" is met with a frown.

"That's not a politically correct thing to ask," Mr. Rodriguez scolds an interviewer. "Ageism is bad."

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