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10 May 2008

Freedom lovers unite! Down with fashionable pants!

I’ve successfully sustained a weight loss of 40 pounds over the past five months, and, while that would seem to be a happy development, I’m discovering that it comes with some negatives.

To be sure, I’m awakening to greet the day with a new sense of purpose and vigor, but, as the day progresses, the pleasure erodes under the influence of pants that keep wanting to fall down and shirts that hang on me like Caesarian togas. Struggling with this annoyance, and facing the need for correctives, I’ve been wandering the labyrinthine jungles of menswear departments, oppressed by the tyranny of fashion.

The journey becomes more fearsome with the understanding that, by retaining my new svelteness, I risk the loss of one of the major delights of the freelance life — freedom from clothes.

This is not to suggest that (1) I’m a nudist or (2) I have something against fashions in specific or the clothing industry in general. I mean simply that, by working for myself, I’ve long been liberated from the semiannual clothes-shopping tour — a ritual which, for a citizen of my age, shape, and temperament, is as much fun as changing a flat tire on a rainy night.

When I first began working for a big-company salary years ago, there was a tacit understanding that one did not report to his desk on a weekday a.m. unless he was fully suited for the task — that is to say, wearing a coat and pants that matched and a shirt and necktie that were at least roughly harmonious.

Although there were (to my knowledge) no written stipulations, the understanding had all the strength and thunder of those bulletin board sheets announcing the “Uniform of the Day” that used to be posted in Army barracks. No bosses ever said anything, and nothing official ever appeared in your inbox, but you knew, by God, that sport coats were verboten and the omission of a necktie was cause for instant transfer to the Gobi desert branch office.

Gray flannels were industry’s Class A uniform, acceptable under all conditions and on all occasions. Covert, tweeds and gabardines were OK, too, since they were, in those days, usually muted in hue and pattern. White broadcloth shirts were de rigeur, but button-down Oxford cloths of blue or Brooks-Brothers-pink were most acceptable, provided you were tall, lean, earnest, and pure of heart.

Lapels were narrow, jackets were three-buttoned, ties were usually knits, and trousers were cuffed and came precisely to the tops of cordovan wingtips that were expected to glisten like Rolls-Royce fenders. The idea was to appear quietly elegant and rising fast.

Which was fine, to be sure, but since everybody was trying to look quietly elegant and rising fast, everybody seemed to look alike. There were times, waiting in a meeting room with a gaggle of my flanneled peers, when I felt the urge to leap to my feet and shout “Atten-hut!” as the boss entered in flannels of his own.

During the second of my two decades of toil in industrial vineyards, a peculiar change began to take place: the starchy formality began to soften. The iconoclastic bellwethers of the Now Generation, freewheeling free spirits that they were, had infiltrated the hushed halls of Big Business and had, in their irrepressible and exuberant way, worked their influence on us older prunes.

Lapels began to widen. Shirts began to taper. Ties, once like strands of dyed spaghetti, began to look instead like polyester bibs. Coattails flared; pants bottoms belled. Younger employees (and even some older ones) would show up at meetings in polka-dot jackets, paisley pants, three-tone suede shoes, turtlenecks and medallions.

Since I’ve never been tall, lean, earnest, and pure of heart, logic told me that I should welcome these freshening winds. Truth was, though, I had more difficulty with the new fashions than most. With each new Over-30 adoption of an Under-30 fashion, men’s clothing went directly contrary to the contours my ripening body was presenting to the world. Almost without exception, suits and shirts and jackets and slacks seemed to be designed for boys shaped like yardsticks, while I, alas, was shaped like a dangling light bulb.

I persevered, though. Twice a year, I’d slink into Brooks Brothers and try on the latest threads to see what I might do to keep up with the quietly elegant, fast-rising dudes. But even there the wide lapels prevailed, and, catching myself in the mirrors, I’d be reminded of Hermann Goering at a Bund rally.

Under counsel, I’d back off a bit, sampling a more traditional tweed, but then, the mirror told me, I’d typify the rumpled inspector in one of those pip-pip-and-cheerio English murder mysteries. Moreover, the full shirt collars, so cool and trendy on the store dummies, on me seemed always to look like those tissues a barber wraps around your neck before he sticks you with a pin.

I despaired, depressed by the notion that, all my life, I’d been fooled by the fickle finger of fashion and that things were not about to change.

But they did.

Because I changed. I changed careers. I became my own boss. I worked where and whenever I liked, wearing whatever the hell I wanted to wear. And for years I rejoiced, until my recent change in shape filled me with foreboding.

My angst was lifted the other day when, while leafing through a very New Yorky newspaper, I came upon an ad for men’s off-the-rack suits, and it featured the picture of a very crisp, stiff-upper-lip corporation bloke who assured me in an impeccable type face that his European look (vest included) was available to me for a ridiculous, low-low price of $2,375.

It was then I stopped fretting about my clothes problem, which, when viewed over my flattened tummy, was proving to be no tyranny at all. I’m still a freelancer with no need of such costly togs. I am already solidly entrenched in my real world, wherein twenty-dollar, 40-waist blue jeans, five-dollar medium-size T-shirts, and bargain-basement sneakers fit just right and are, for where I live and work, fashion first-class. Screw the European look. Wal-Mart, here I come!

Next week I propose to blog about my wild adventures in the kitchen. Since my physician has enthused over my weight loss and urges me to avoid any food that tastes good, I’ve been compelled to prepare my own meals, which assures that I won’t overeat because everything on my plate tastes like old roofing shingles.

Bon appetit!


Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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