Clothes were important when I was a lad. Both my parents had been tailors, so clothes mattered and shoddy workmanship didn’t get through the door.
When pink-and-black was hip in the mid-’50s, I had a complete outfit with pink wool dress slacks, charcoal blazer, pink-and-black argyle socks, appropriate shirt and tie, and black wingtips. I was 10. Through high school my buddies and I at any given time were likely making payments on an item of clothing somewhere in layaway. As soon as possible, we got charge accounts at the men’s clothing stores in the Loop. My first was at Baskin, where they had the high-back wool caps from Scotland.
There were two main groups of black teens at my high school in the early ’60s—Ivys and Gowsters. Gowsters wore high-crown Stetson and Dobbs hats, cuffed dress slacks with front pleats, long-lapel dress shirts with wide ties, double-breasted suits, and sharp-toed Stacy Adams shoes. Gowsters never got good grades in school. I was Ivy. Ivys wore cuffless slacks, suede bucks or oxblood cordovans, dark socks, Brooks Brothers button-down dress shirts with the locker loop in back, blazers (perhaps with a custom-made breast patch), or single-breasted suits for evening wear. Ivys sometimes excelled scholastically.
For years after high school my uniform was jeans and a T-shirt, usually black. I started collecting T-shirts in the seventies, and they’re still my default, with a pocket, a triumph of simple functionality.
I once wore a different suit to work every day of the week and had Pierre Cardin dress shirts in every color made. I can hardly believe it now. I wore roomy purply wrinkly cotton in the late-seventies until my Lycra-skinsuit cycling days in the eighties. When I was cleaning houses in the late-nineties I wore mostly denim overalls, to which I may return. Now as long as the cloth is soft, I’m fine.
For a couple of years I wore mostly sweat clothes, until I was hanging out between acts at a theater once and saw myself in a full-length mirror. I was standing next to a guy who was also in sweats, and we both looked like bums. My ego couldn’t see its way to allowing that, and my sweats era ended that night.
I wore out the pants to my last suit a few years ago, and I can’t imagine replacing it. Augmented by an occasional Hawaiian shirt, now I make do with 48 T-shirts and a tuxedo. I’m giving up pants altogether.