Fashion has never been my forte. Clothing exists only to keep me warm or cool depending on the season and out of jail at any time of the year. Some people dress to impress. To me, clothes are just a necessity of life unless you frequent places with names like The Full Tan Sun Club or Sandy Bottoms Resort.
My sartorial IQ was zero (no Nike, no Gap) until I started Grade Nine and the compulsory tie entered the picture. That’s when I found myself enrolled in an all-boys high school run by a religious order noted for its strong discipline and emphasis on sports and academics.
That school’s many repressive rules notwithstanding, it did not have a rigid dress code, nor did it require the standard-issue blazer to distinguish us from the great unwashed on public transit. But they did require that we wear collared shirts and a tie and to this day, I still struggle to knot a tie. I wasn’t the only Half-Windsor-challenged student either. Clip-ons became the order of the day, and in a token display of rebellion, we often left them hanging limply from the tip of an open collar. Not quite what the iron-fisted headmaster had in mind, but we got away with it.
Upon entering university, and for the first time in my life sharing a classroom with members of the opposite sex, I became conscious of my appearance and adopted the Ivy League look that was all the rage. But my heart just wasn’t into it and my belated dalliance with fashion was short-lived.
Even when I got into teaching and jackets and ties were compulsory, I did the minimum required to avoid the wrath of my Harry Rosenesque principal. Years later, when the code relaxed, I eagerly embraced the new informality and quickly became the Imelda Marcos of men’s sweaters.
Now that I’m well into retirement, the word “casual” as it applies to my attire could be considered an understatement. Shorts and T-shirts in the summer plus a few sweatshirts and a couple of pairs of very spiffy sweatpants for cooler weather are about it. Joy considers my indifference borderline cringeworthy and is constantly bringing stuff home to “refresh” my wardrobe.
I thank her and stash the new arrivals away in my closet where they hang forlorn and forgotten while I trot out my old favourites. A lot of those old duds are vintage too. There’s a ton of history in my closet. Topping the list is my beloved short-sleeved golf-cum- rugby shirt (see Charles Bongers’ illustration above). A bit faded perhaps, but crafted from some exquisite fabric that caresses my tattered old torso in a way that I can only describe as sensuous.
Just the other day I said to Joy, “You know, I bet I’ve had that shirt for at least ten years.”
“You’ve had it a lot longer than that,” she laughed. To prove her point, she pulled out our anniversary photo album – a collection of pictures taken faithfully each year on the anniversary of our nuptials that we’ve kept since Day One. That’s 53 years and counting. There I was – a much younger George decked out in said shirt. The date? I was stunned. Anniversary number ten. 1978. Forty-three years ago. And who knows how long I’d been wearing my venerable old jersey prior to that photo shoot? But even Joy, who isn’t shy about describing my get-ups in less than flattering terms, admits that it still looks surprisingly good, with a lot of useful life left.
It must be made of some magical material because no matter how many excess calories I pack onto my frame, no matter how much muscle mass gives way to adiposity, no matter how much my bulk migrates from north to south, that shirt somehow accommodates my constantly mutating physique, making me look better than I deserve. It’s pure sorcery.
I’m not sure that it’s the oldest thing in my closet, but it is my favourite. Like an old friend, it’s seen me through thick and thin. If it could talk it would have many stories to tell, and the same could be said for a lot of the vintage threads domiciled in my closet.
From the Blue Jays jersey emblazoned with my name and a number commemorating a landmark birthday, to my Pee-wee Herman look-alike wedding suit, to that moth-eaten 1956 high school football jacket, to a collection of destination T-shirts, (mementoes of trips taken back in the day when travel didn’t seem such a hassle), that little repository of clothes old, older and very old has accompanied me through much of my life. How can you destroy history like that? The very thought seems almost sacrilegious. At least, that’s my argument whenever Joy suggests a purge.
In conclusion, let’s be perfectly clear. I am not a hoarder. I just have a deep and abiding respect for antiquity.