Confessions of a Fashion Failure
“Hold still,” my mother commanded.
It was hard to understand her because she had straight pins in her mouth.
“Ouch,” I yelped as one of the pins poked my leg.
“See what happens when you don’t stand still,” she said.
I sighed knowing I would get no sympathy from her. I turned in whatever direction she indicated. I was bored and wanted to get back to playing with my Tinker Toys. I had been building a zoo with my stuffed dog, Blackie, as the main attraction when mama called me into her room. Now I stood on the chair while she used straight pins to mark where my pants had to be hemmed. I was not only small for my age but I had shorter legs than the norm so all of my pants had to be hemmed. If she didn’t do that, the bottom of the pants were soon ragged from me stepping on them. It was a look that wouldn’t become fashionable for many more decades. And even if it had been in fashion back then, my mama wouldn’t let her son go around “looking like a ragamuffin.”
I wasn’t sure what a ragamuffin looked like but somehow it involved pants with frayed cuffs or torn knees. Again, fashion statements that were way ahead of their time. The latter hazard mama prevented by sewing patches on the knees of my brand new jeans before I ever had a chance to wear them. The patches never worked more than temporarily. First of all, I was closer to the ground than most kids. Secondly, I was an only child with no other kids nearby to play with. Plus most of my toys required scooting around on the floor to use them.
The height of my haute couture as a child was a plaid red shirt and Sears Tough Skin jeans that were hemmed and had off color patches sewn on the knees. Throw in a green plastic Robin Hood hat or a fake Davey Crockett coonskin hat and I was ready for the Parisian runway. Or so I thought. Not that I really cared. Clothes were just something I had to put on every day. Jeans and a white T-shirt were my preference; in any case, they were comfortable and I didn’t have to think about them once they were on. If they got dirty, grass-stained knees in particular, mama just sewed a clean patch on the knees until I outgrew them. Since all of my pants were hemmed and I hadn’t an ounce of fat, (oh, for the good old days), the bottom half of my pants were often a different color than the rest of the leg as I grew and she let the hem out. Except for Sunday clothes. Those had to be just right and I hated them because they were always uncomfortable and I couldn’t do anything fun while wearing them.
The net result of my upbringing is that I haven’t dressed myself since 1974, the year I met my wife. Or to be more precise, I haven’t picked out my own clothes since then. Not that I ever had much opportunity. Mama picked out all of my clothes until I left home at seventeen. And she was good at it. The corduroy pants and paisley shirts she picked out let me fit in with all of the British invasion fans. After that, my bosses, including the U.S Army, picked out my daily outfits. There was a brief window of time, December 1972 to December 1974, in which I was in complete charge of my wardrobe. Of course between my total lack of experience in picking out clothes and being a poverty-stricken college student, it was pretty much jeans and t-shirts again. I did upgrade to band T-shirts, but not well known ones like The Stones. Those were too expensive. Instead I got leftover promo shirts that my roommate scored from his job as an usher at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix.
On my first date with Kim, I wore white pants with vertical green and black stripes, a green paisley shirt with a hole in the arm pit, and black cowboy boots. My future wife didn’t talk much during the beginning of our date. I thought she was overcome by my witty repartee. Turns out she was just stunned to be seen in public with me.
I am not the only American male with a stunted sense of fashion. Look at any department store and you’ll find three times as many aisles devoted to female apparel as male. And that doesn’t even include the shoe department. Even more interesting is how few men you will see buying clothes by themselves. There is almost always a mother, wife, or girlfriend along to make sure the guy doesn’t violate some female fashion sensibility. And half of the guys you see buying clothes for themselves will end up at the return desk. In fact just compare how many men you see in the women’s department buying clothes with how many women you see in the men’s department. If it’s not Christmas, Valentine’s Day or the woman’s birthday, the answer is zero men. It is understandable why women want such tight control over the outfits of their male companions. Left to our own devices, we men come up with some truly horrible ensembles. Exhibit A is the uniform of the Swiss Guard. It looks like it was designed by Ronald McDonald on ‘shrooms.
Magazines like Maxxim, GQ, and Esquire have tried to make some dent in the fashion deficiency of the American male. Some women try as well. Kim, for example, passed on good fashion sense to our sons. But for the most part, especially outside urban areas, American males opt for sports and hobby related T-shirts with ratty jeans and matching ball caps. And they are encouraged in this from an early age by women since it is usually women who buy the clothes for and then dress the boys. In most species, it is the male who is ornate and the female who is drably dressed. But not in humans. Perhaps it’s our hunter/gatherer inheritance in which men had to be camouflaged but women had to be easy to see and find after the hunt. Or maybe it’s just that modern human society encourages women to attract new more prosperous men with their own clothing while trying to hide the ones they have already captured from other women.
Some people might take issue with my thesis and say it only applies to straight white men. And I can admit there might be some truth to that. Jimi Hendrix and little Richard had much better wardrobes than Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison for example. On the other hand, all of them were rich and famous and therefore fashion trend setters. Besides, I see plenty of non-white males standing around in stores while women pass judgment on their potential wardrobe additions. As for me, Kim still picks out my clothes. She even GrrrAnimals them in the closet to make my life easier. It makes her happy and I don’t really care as long as the clothes are comfortable. I also get a lot of compliments at work for “my” sartorial selections. As for GQ arguments about how many buttons should be on a suit jacket or how wide ties should be this year, I’ll let the metrosexuals worry their little man buns off. I just found out that Roadkill T-shirts has a sale going on.