The Personal Comedy of Men’s Fashion

In the world of fashion for men, I’m pretty sure that I would be considered a genuine country bumpkin. As someone who was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, I’ve kept what I’d like to call a down-to-earth, practical view on what men wear. Of course, we men generally have a different, perhaps more comfortable view on this subject from views that women have. Though we can be very competitive in other areas of endeavor, most men, if they’re being honest, consider clothing a necessity for warmth, coolness (regarding temperature), and modesty. Often, women are the ones who choose our neckties (those silk items that add a hint of color and interest to suits that otherwise all look pretty much the same). If we could, we men would wear faded blue jeans and flannel shirts to weddings, funerals, banquets, cocktail parties, ball games and church. Swimming might be the only activity for us that could require different attire.

I taught high school for thirty-five years, collecting over fifty silk neckties as gifts and personal purchases by me. I wore those neckties mostly with sport coats and sweaters and occasional dress suits over those years, but when I retired, I had a friend quilt those ties into toss pillows, which the dog and cat both enjoy now as cushions for napping. I saved one black silk necktie for funerals and another more colorful tie for any dress-up emergency for which I am expected to be more formal without looking too much like a Puritan minister.

The world in general has become much more casual, especially here in Colorado, where there are horses and ranches everywhere, so I seldom see suits and neckties, except as the iron maiden apparel of bankers and lawyers, who evidently feel more trustworthy through the stiffer dignity of Armani ensembles than through the relatively looser and more casual comfort of the Pa Kettle look, which happens to be a favorite of mine.

My real surprise comes from my occasional reading of publications based mostly in New York City with ads for Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Versace, Dior for men, and Hermes. Simple suits in these ads cost many thousands of dollars, and even a silk necktie can cost more than I’ve paid for some of the cars I’ve owned. Prestige is perhaps the most expensive commodity on earth and something for which many people are willing to pay almost any price.

This morning I saw an ad for Versace slip-on sneakers that looked for all the world like ones I’ve also seen at Target for less than $80. The Versace price tag was $1125. My Hoosier, homespun common sense kicked in, and I felt revolted. My apparently corn-fed value system saw this and other such ads as useless excesses in a world of starving children and abandoned pets needing rescue. Something strongly Midwestern grabbed my conscience and unsophisticated sense of fashion. There’s no hope for me, I guess.

Maybe I should be more grateful that there are at least some creative deviations in men’s clothing, which otherwise has not really changed much during the past century. I should also be thankful that we are no longer expected to wear knee britches, powdered wigs, or buckled shoes. Finally, men’s fashion for me is a kind of spectator sport, one that I observe happily from a distance, and at which I observe $700 silk neckties and $1200 sneakers as through a Hubble telescope…from many light years away.     JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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