I was a style virgin well into my thirties. It fell to my wife, the fashionista, to initiate me into clothes awareness while we were dating. Propped up on pillows after the deed, with senile Mr. Cohen yodeling in the next apartment, we paged through Mirabella and Elle together, and I learned pumps aren’t necessarily used for irrigation, and dinner dress doesn’t mean lumberjack shirts.
Even so, Marsha still buys most of my attire. I figure that, as I go shopping for stuff other than Chips Ahoy! once a year, on Christmas eve, whereas various apparel shops have set up tents for her to bivouac in, she knows the ropes a lot better. And anyone who can actually look at Balenciaga ads without calling in an exorcist is privy to sacred garment mysteries I’m not.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of clothing areas I’d prefer she butted out of, starting with the one adjacent to that part of my anatomy.
As a rule guys don’t even notice what they’re wearing down below, unless it’s designer condoms. We just wear what we always do, and I mean always, till they’re so tattered they look like those of some rock star clawed by groupies. That business about wearing respectable skivvies in case you meet with an accident is strictly y-chromosome stuff.
I was no exception to any of this, a happy oblivious BVD man since birth. Then, after meeting Marsha, I started finding boxes of what looked like Coast Guard signal flags under the Christmas tree and in my birthday cake. Boxer shorts. Suddenly, I was in an anomic underwear situation.
“Do I moon someone in these during an emergency?” I said. Marsha beamed one of her you-know-I-know-what’s-best-for-you smiles and said, “You look great in boxers.”
I found this rather presumptuous. I’m self-conscious enough as it is on my annual visit to the gym. You can disguise a bulging gut and love handles while working out by wearing baggy shorts and tees, but in the locker room drawers bedizened with gingerbread men tend to stand out. I haven’t forgotten the time Mr. Muscles-In-His-Navel at the next locker started edging away from me when I took off my socks and discovered, too late, I’d failed to remove the crimson nail polish Anna had applied to my toes that morning as a joke.
But that’s a pretty discreet problem compared with Marsha’s outerwear meddling.
Somewhere in a clothing manufacturer’s vault lies a template marked Old Men’s Shirts. Popular for women’s blouses as well, it accounts for ninety-eight percent of clothing sales in Florida. It features:
In other words, a shirt that wouldn’t have looked out of place on my grandfather-in-law, who lived to be nearly a hundred. My wife still has a crush on this man who, to his credit, abjured puke patterns in favor of plaid, and would never have stood in line at the P. O. wearing pajamas, as I saw one golden ager doing recently. Nevertheless, though I sometimes feel older than him when chasing down Anna, my demographic postdates his, which Marsha sometimes forgets.
Returning from a wedding in Galveston recently, she flashed me a smile redolent of Gulf sunshine and crushed a Marshall’s box into my chest. I didn’t have to ask what was inside. After modeling its contents, which fairly screamed “no-load Mai Tai fund,” I rummaged in the pocket. “What, no stool softeners?” I said.
I wasn’t trying to be unkind. I just get sick of being a mannequin for surrogate geriatric garb. When I was a kid my mother dressed me in duds suitable for my grandfather in England, whom she obviously missed terribly. “A stretch belt? Shoes with laces?” crowed my wide-belted and moccasined peers. “God, you’re so unstylish.” Especially galling were the trousers, which might have held a watermelon in the seat. This, when everyone else was sporting drainpipes.
The only good thing about wearing clothes for a generation older than yourself is that you look younger by comparison. They function as a kind of apparel Picture of Dorian Gray. What’s a few wrinkles when you’re treading the AARP catwalk?