I. Setting: Still-idling 1986 Olds Cutlass Ciera, strip mall parking lot, April 1998
Girl in passenger seat, redhead, will one day marry and witness painful egress of children (2) from her nether regions (on this day: silently hopeful of such a possibility in some distant future). Girl's head turns with key counter-clockwise as ignition halts: "I wish you'd dress a little nicer. . .You ought to stop buying all your clothes at that thrift store. You know who dresses nicely? Mark L-----."
[Mark L-----: girl's roommate's current boyfriend. Carefully-trimmed goatee. Cologne. Khaki pants, often cargo-style. Polo by Ralph Lauren shirts (embroidered horseman logo, prominent). Black Doc Marten oxfords, yellow stitching. Devilishly handsome. Suddenly hate him.]
My wardrobe: Same Check Your Head t-shirt I'd been wearing since 1993. Rustler blue jeans stolen from father's laundry pile, waist size 36 (actual waist: 31). Boxer shorts (rear top inch visible, worse when bending over). Puma sneakers, ratty.
TJ Maxx receipt: One pair, Tommy Hilfiger khaki pants. Two Chaps-brand button-down shirts; One pair, linen trousers. Short-sleeved rayon Hawaiian shirt, muted earth-tone floral print.
Several months later: Visiting high school friend who's since moved to San Francisco, walking along Noe towards Duboce Park, wearing linen trousers and muted, earth-toned floral shirt. Aware of own scent, suspiciously turnip-wagonesque. Old friend speaks: "I really like your new style! Are those linen pants? Is that rayon?"
Several months later: Realization that newly-cosmopolitan friend was totally fucking with me.
Conclusion: Why even bother trying?
II. Consistently Vexing Sight, Repeated Many Dozens of Times During Following Decade
Old man, maybe seventy or eighty years. Brogues pining for a shine. Dark dress socks (hole in toe?). Rumpled flannel suit, two vents, thin lapels. Striped tie. Possibly a fedora. He doesn't need to tell you he's been dressing like this nearly every day since the Truman administration. The suit itself tells you that. You picture your grandfather's closet. You remember that photo of him as a teenager. The photos of your other grandfather at leisure, fishing. He looked better fishing than you do at a wedding. You and your whole generation have the dignity of baboons in heat.
III. E-mail Received From Stranger after Picture of Your Ass appears in Local Paper (Verbatim):
IV. Physical Reaction to Walking in Park Slope, Brooklyn and Observing Dozens of 40-Something Tattooed Dads Dressed Like 20-Something Crackheads:
V. Snippet From Conversation With Law School Friend, Upon Divulging Current Status as Stay-at-home Dad
"I don't know, I don't think I could ever do that. I feel this need to have my kids see me in a suit every morning and come home every night to loosen my tie."†
†[Nevermind that in today's business casual environments, most lawyers dress like they smell like Arby Sauce; I was moved to mandalgazing by my friend's words. Will my kids remember my sweat pants?
Conclusion: Even the most undignified professions deserve a uniform.
VI. The Only Solution: Dress Like Your Grandfather on a Fishing Trip
It took a long time to fully realize the lessons of the old man in the rumpled flannel suit. Fashion is really just a conspiracy between New York City elites and their allies in the Communist governments of China, Laos, and Vietnam to keep Madison Avenue afloat and hundreds of thousands of Asian sweatshop workers employed. At least that's the sort of thing my grandpa might say (he also said "Japs"). T-shirts are undergarments. Why are you wearing all those logos? Does Phil Knight pay you to wear that? Your clothes aren't going to make you cool. Hey sonny, when I was your age I already had three kids in high school and a case of the gout. Now get off my lawn.
Still, the old man in the rumpled flannel suit is a good reminder that if you're gonna get stuck in a look, it might as well be a look with some damn dignity. This summer I finally broke free from the cargo shorts and mandals. I finally solidified my SAHD uniform: I've started dressing like a grizzled old gold prospector. Like Ed from those old Bartles & Jaymes commercials. Or old Walter Matthau. Someday my kids will be able to say they saw their old man get up every morning and dress himself like an old man. I got rid of everything in my closet made by Commies. I bought a bunch of used American-made work shirts from Cheap Charlies. With buttons. And I suffered for it this summer. I rolled up my sleeves. I chucked the mandals. I wore wool socks under old-fashioned work boots every golldang ninety-degree day.
And oh man, you guys: I have never been so glad that fall is finally here.