In Plainfield, Kansas, almost hidden amidst the lush, green cornfields of the Midwest United States, blooms a new treatment center whose founders hope to leave a lasting imprint on the face of American society. This modest building of Tudor-style architecture is quickly becoming the symbol for those who harbor hope of restoring proper dress to its former place in American life-- as well as a target of derision and scorn by those who carry the tattered, worn banner promoting grunge from the laundry room all the way to the church and temple.
Almost 320 million Americans are estimated to suffer from grunge of one sort or other, as defined by the Anti-grunge Council: "wearing jeans and denim of any kind, exposed t-shirts, tank tops, halter tops, sleeveless garments, shorts, 'skorts,' sweat pants or sweatsuits, 'leggings,' mini-skirts and dresses above the knee, slitted dresses or skirts, dungarees, overalls, bathing suits, lingerie, leather jackets, fatigues, baseball caps, sneakers, sandals, thongs, hiking boots, cleats, or clogs." Some observers have suggested estimates even higher, although exact figures are difficult to obtain. These innumerable victims of popular culture had no place to turn to shed this affliction and were forced to "go along" because obtaining treatment for grunge was next to impossible.
"Welcome to the Institute for Grunge Rehabilitation!" reads the bright, cheery sign over the entrance gate. At first, a visitor passing into this refuge from sloppiness and slovenliness notices no apparent difference between this center and any other therapeutic clinic; the doctors and nurses wear white uniforms, as they would normally. When the patients begin to appear, however, the difference is quickly apparent. These people are wearing neat dress shirts or blouses and dress pants or skirts-- and not a sneaker in sight. "Note that they are not uniforms," explains Dr. Sally Homeister, co-founder and director of the Institute. "We allow the patients who have made sufficient progress to select their own clothing as long as it's not grunge. Only society forces people into acceptable 'uniforms.'" She further explained that new patients are given varied types of tasteful clothing, but no two patients are intentionally dressed alike.
Stays at the Institute generally last four to six weeks, although some patients are more difficult to treat and must stay as long as six months. "We take a slow, methodical approach-- we realize that this is usually best," says Dr. Holly Chapman, the other co-founder and operations manager. "We want our patients to take their newly learned good habits of dress into the regular world with them after their treatment is complete," she added.
Treatment begins with an orientation film titled "The Joy of Proper Dress." The film consists of several humorous skits in which neatly dressed people enjoy good fortune, while those who dressed poorly of their own choosing when proper clothes were available to them suffer serious misfortune and become the center of laughter. Later, the patients are introduced into group therapy. "We try to show them that they will still have friends after they dress better," says Dr. Homeister. "Many of them think that if they get rid of their jeans and sweat pants, nobody will talk to them any more." Dr. Chapman agreed, saying, "We try to instill in them a sense of self-worth so that they will think for themselves and not wear things just because 'everyone else' is wearing them."
After two weeks or so, depending on the individual's progress, a patient is led to a closet stocked only with dress clothes and is allowed to select his own wardrobe for each day. "This is the crucial point in treatment," cautioned Dr. Chapman. "Many patients just crumble, begging for just one pair of jeans or sweats or sneakers; it's back to group therapy for them. After another week of that, they almost all can handle picking their own clothing though."
Near the end of treatment, a patient is taken to a shopping mall and given a credit card with $500 credit and is expected to buy a whole new wardrobe-- and no grunge. "Our program is structured so that almost all patients have no problem at that point," says Dr. Homeister. "Occasionally, a patient relapses in the mall and buys a pair of jeans or sneakers-- these are the really tough cases," she continued. "If they falter there, we start treatment from scratch. It's sad, but grunge is really ingrained into most of us by our culture. In as little as a month, we have to undo as much as fifty years of indoctrination from the media," she lamented.
The Institute has treated countless patients, and after a successful shopping session, almost none relapse. Only two patients have returned for new treatment after being released into society. "We do it almost entirely without drugs," beamed Dr. Chapman. "It's tougher that way, but the results last longer." Except for some tranquilizers prescribed for the hardest cases on arrival, the program is basically drug-free.
The Institute is not without its critics. A leading manufacturer of blue jeans has spent $100 million in attempts to close it; a manufacturer of sweat pants has attempted to infiltrate it with undercover spies; and an importer of sneakers sponsored a walk-a-thon/rally which ended at the front gate. None of these companies would comment for this article, although a well-placed source at the sneaker importer said off the record, "What needs to be said? Those guys are out to get us, and we'll be fighting back any way we can." The founders are unmiffed by these protests. "You can't keep a good idea from taking root," says Dr. Chapman. "The Institute is an idea whose time has come," concurred Dr. Homeister.
Ralph Nelson, a patient at the Institute, would not hear of any criticism. "Before I came here, I thought so little of myself that I wore sweat pants everywhere. The good doctors and their compassionate program have shown me that I have great dignity as a human being, and I'm entitled to dress accordingly, not like some worthless piece of garbage." Jenny Barton, another patient, also expressed approval, saying, "I was afraid to come here at first, but Dr. Chapman and Dr. Homeister are the most loving, caring people on earth, and they taught me to pay no attention to what the masses are doing and just do what's right."
How long will Dr. Chapman and Dr. Homeister continue to nip at the heels of corporate America? "We will work to cure this scourge until the last vestiges of grunge are wiped clean from America," proclaims Dr. Chapman. "It may take a while, though," concedes Dr. Homeister.