Worn and Comfortable, 2011
I love it when I read something about someone else that confirms that I’m not the only person with what I’d previously thought was my own idiosyncrasy.
This observation is prompted by me having accepted yesterday that the time had come to throw out two of my favorite shirts and two pairs of really comfortable jeans. I knew that throwing these items away wouldn’t leave me unclothed. But I still felt like I was throwing away children.
There’s a life cycle to the clothes in my closet. They go through a prolonged period of “presentable use.” That is, I can wear them in public without my wife being embarrassed.
Then they are reduced to two levels of less presentable use, the first of which is that I can wear them under something else to cover up the stray hole or fray. The last step is “suitable for yard work.” Jeans with blown out knees and shirts and sweaters with frayed collars, lost buttons and ripped elbows can still be worn to rake leaves, pulls weeds or clear underbrush.
Some clothing items stay in circulation for a long time. Suits, for example. Shirts, too. About ten years ago I went on a shirt buying binge. In those days good Brooks Brothers dress shirts were worth every penny because they could be counted on to endure a lot of washing and pressing. And indeed I’m still wearing some of those shirts without my wife being embarrassed. Shoes and boots can last for decades if you take care of them and buy enduring styles. I do draw the line at socks and underwear, however. Nothing like new socks and underwear to make you feel fully dressed.
So there you have my whole wardrobe “system.” I’m not responsive to fashion seasons, and I will stipulate that I avoided buying clothing for much of the 1970s. So there are no flammable polyesters lurking in the back recesses of the closet.
I really had been thinking about writing about this condition of mine. But then, as Providence (“the protective care of nature or God,” not the city) frequently does, I picked up the paper yesterday morning and read about a benefit held in New York the other night for Ralph Lauren’s cancer research charity. What caught my eye was not the celebrity guest list or the accolades for the poor immigrant painter’s son from the Bronx who became a style arbiter and poster child for the aspirational marketing movement.
Rather, it was the mention that Lauren “keeps all his old clothes ‘because you never know when you’re going to need them.’” I never thought I had anything in common with Ralph Lauren. But here was the evidence that we share not only similar classic styles—me, at least, without all the pretentious Anglophilia—but also a penchant for utility and, well, cheapness.
Ralph—I’m comfortable calling him that now that I know we have this deeper link—explained that he likes to go back and look at his older clothes from time to time to get inspiration for new styles. I have no such excuse. I’m also sure he has a bigger closet than I do. Still, I am going to try that line out on my wife even though I’m not sure it’ll earn my old worn clothes any more space or reprieve.