Velour, Status, and Organized Crime

Today I invite you to set aside thoughts of the major stock indexes, the job market, the health of the broader economy. Instead consider symbols of status and their inherent mysteries.

The backdrop is the arraignment of some 45 men who are accused by federal law enforcement of various illegal activities, mostly on behalf of the famous Genovese crime family. The New York Times this morning describes the scene at Federal District Court in Brooklyn, “packed” with FBI agents. “The agents,” Alan Feuer writes, “drew cool stares from the elderly men in velour track suits who sat outside the arraignment court. …”

The deeper meaning of track suits, particularly as it pertains to, for example, Run-D.M.C. or the 1980s, has been thoroughly worried about elsewhere. It doesn’t interest me. What interests me is that every cultural tribe has its symbols of status, the trappings of conspicuous consumption and leisure meant to signify success of one sort or another. A Manolo Blahnik shoe collection. A Frederic Fekkai haircut. An Armani suit. The Feds borrow from the lexicon of status possessions by describing the Genoveses as the “Rolls Royce of organized crime.”

But velour track suits? I, of course, have no way of knowing whether these men are actual made members of a Mafia family. And like anyone else with a passing interest in La Cosa Nostra, it’s the endless mysteries of that world that capture my attention as much as anything else. (Although my interest is not so great that I’m willing to pay whatever it costs to get HBO and watch The Sopranos.) Of all those mysteries, the idea that what may wait at the end of the long and perilous life of crime is the opportunity to go about your daily business in a track suit made of velour—this to me is the most perplexing.