So I’ve already spent some column inches discussing clothes and the younger generation. This time I wanted to spend a little time talking about the clothes I wear and what I see others around me wearing. Monday through Friday between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (longer if I have to stop at the store on the ride home) I tell myself that clothes mean absolutely nothing. It’s what is inside that counts. I have to tell myself that. How else could I make it through the day wearing bad suits five days a week? If I didn’t tell myself that little lie I’d never make it through the painful experience of having a neck tie wound around my jugular slowly choking the life out of me. If I didn’t believe that wearing loafers and dress socks to work every day said no more about the type of person I am than what I’ll eat for lunch I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do it.
On the other hand, from the hours of 5:30 p.m. (later if I have to stop at the store on the way home) until I go to bed Monday through Friday and all day each and every weekend, I believe that one of the biggest statements I can make about who I am, what I believe and my station in life is communicated through my clothing. When you look at me every visual cue has been thought about and predetermined for maximum effect. My shaved head, well I’d rather look bald by choice than a decision of nature; the larger watch that looks like it’s from the 70’s, that speaks of my desire to completely ignore the last two decades in at least fashion and culture; those rock t-shirts, you can tell what type of bands I like and draw conclusions about the type of person I am from those bands and those styles of music. I could go on but you get the point. Clothes matter to me. Say what you will but Kurt Cobain’s anti-fashion was as important to him as Michael Jackson’s zipper jacket, it just wasn’t cool to say that it was that important.
Given what I’ve just said, you can understand my concern when I see a majority of other men my age. I want to believe that what they’re wearing probably isn’t that important to them, that they’ve given up trying to impress anyone with fashion statements, that they’re just that Zen. I know that probably isn’t the case though. Most of the men my age I know who don’t care what people think about what they wear tend to be clothed in different attire than the majority of men my age. They wear jeans and nondescript t-shirts, their tennis shoes are bought at somewhere like Target or K-Mart. They show no allegiances to any cultural touchstones. They’re better than the lot of us, but they’re pretentious enough to know that it, like so much else, matters not in the end. No most of the men my age fall into a few basic categories. There’s the sports nut, the aging frat boy, the Grateful Dead/Jimmy Buffett fan and the conservative poster model.
The sports nut is the guy that wears the Steeler’s jersey, jacket, baseball cap, sweater, etc. They’re dressed badly by all accounts, probably blue collar (and I mean no disrespect when I say that, it’s who they are and they’re very good at what they do) and wear the outfit no matter what season it is. After all, they have to support the team man. When it’s playoff time they’re very likely to be sporting a beard. They call radio talk shows and discuss why this quarterback or that running back should be in the hall of fame and why we’re only one win away from another super bowl win. As you can imagine if you know me, these people might as well be dressed in smocks and speaking a language with no vowels, they’re completely foreign to me. The neXt group is aging frat boys. You’ve seen these guys, they wear cargo shorts and have a Calvin and Hobbes logo on both their t-shirt and truck. They’re upper middle class and really pleased with the penny loafers they bought and wear with no socks. They discuss keggers of the past and Dave Matthews concerts where the band really kicked ass. A close cousin is the Grateful Dead/Jimmy Buffett fan. For some reason this group tends to boat a lot. They were sandals and button down, linen shirts. They like tail gating. There different from the frat boys because there’s a real possibility of a pony tail and are probably more liberal than their frat boy cousins. They care about the environment, drive a Prius but probably still work for a large, multinational corporation. Finally there’s the conservative poster model. You know these guys, the Hannity and Rush fans. They wear khaki’s and polo shirts; watch tennis, quote the constitution (usually they’re wrong about its application but it’s their America and we’re just lucky to be along for the ride damnit!) Yeah, they’re assholes and as foreign to me as the sports fans.
Given this information we can draw a few conclusions. One, when I walk into a room in my Deep Purple, David Bowie or Guns N Roses t-shirt and engineer boots I get looks right away. This after all isn’t the outfit of an adult. It doesn’t fit in with the kid’s either by the way. Two, I don’t fit in with these people at all. My cultural touchstones and what I consider important just don’t jive with these people. When we see each other at events for my son or at a neighborhood fair we’re both uncomfortable and spend far too long searching for things to say. Three, the people my age who dress like me (and don’t kid yourself, they’re out there), don’t live my lifestyle. They’re now presidents of ad agencies or working at a start up somewhere (they just wear a sports coat over that rock t-shirt). They’re still getting together to play dungeons and dragons until the early morning. They don’t have kids and certainly aren’t splitting their time between suits and jeans.
As in so much of my life as I age, I’m alone, adrift out here trying to find my place in the world. I take solace in the fact that my son thinks I’m cool because I have a Marvel comics or Transformers shirt. I appreciate the fact that I don’t fit in with the other guys my age wearing suits, living their dream at cigar bars and only seeing their kids in the evenings and weekends. I love the fact that I’ll never be confused for a sports fan (although people tend to assume that if you’re from Pittsburgh you know the difference between games played with balls). My clothes say a lot about me. I assume yours do as well and judge you by them. I try but just can’t live in a world where Parrothead and dittoheads dictate fashion. If you know what those terms are then I’ll bet your making your own peace with your advanced age as well.