A Sense Of Style Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

3 of 5 – “High School, dun dun DUN”

Okay, let’s get it out into the open right now – this post isn’t going to be half as adorable as the last one.  I know that, you know that.  Suave little 2 year old decked out in “pimp” attire, as the kids say, versus awkward 15 year old with a unibrow… well, there simply is no comparison.  Now that we’ve all accepted that, let’s move forward.

As I went through my first years of high school, many of the shirts I wore were hand-me-downs from my dad.  That’s where the Hawaiian shirts that I was so well-known for came from, along with others.  He had a constant over-abundance of clothes, and I was finally at an age in which our frames more closely matched.  I use the term “closely” very loosely, here, because there really wasn’t anything close about our sizes at all.  So, his clothes usually never fit me right, and thus began a long-running trend of my wearing clothes that were too big.  Sure, some of that was a carryover from my last following of the trends (“as was the style of the time”), but more than anything it spawned from my wearing whatever I found, regardless of fit.

I won’t even get into the resolution of that until my next post, but it certainly sets things up for some of the bagginess you’re about see below.  To start things off, though, and since sex sells, let’s take a look at the very beginning – my first day of high school:

Mark and Katie first day of high school

Pretty average, no?  Certainly.  If you look closely you’ll notice that my dog would rather not be up there with me.  If you look closer you may notice the complete terror and uncertainty in my face about my first public school outing AND that I was doing it without any of my friends.  Yet if you look even closer you may just recognize that shirt I’m wearing.  I still wear that shirt today.  In fact, I just wore it this Monday as I went to dinner at a friend’s house.  It’s now extremely faded and fits my body far more than it does there – but rest assured, it is the same.

That shirt, however, is one of the very few style choices that stuck with me through to the end of high school.  While Part 2 talked about growing up and struggling between following trends and my own eccentricities, high school was about something else entirely… giving a crap.

Now, I don’t want to make it seem as if I’m going back on my last post.  I ended there talking about how as I went into high school I was taking an interest in what I wore.  That’s true as far as following the trends of my peers, yes, but I wasn’t exactly Mr. Francois Fancy all of a sudden, as you can tell by the picture above.

No, at this point in life I was still nowhere near where I am today in terms of my sense of style.  These are teenage years, though, so there’s a new element that gets thrown into the fray beyond cool clothes or awesome shoes.  You see, as teenagers, our bodies begin pumping us full of hormones that do magical and strange things to us.  These hormones change us from kids to adults, but as anyone who has ever seen a movie in which a human changes into a beast, the transition period usually isn’t very pretty.  So, what is that one new element which I didn’t have to deal with as a boy, but now did?  Personal hygiene and facial hair.

And, when I say facial hair, I’m not just talking about a beard…

Mark unibrow funeral sports jacket

You see, nobody really told me about those things.  How was I supposed to know it wasn’t “good” to have a caterpillar crawling above my eyes?  For my first couple of years in high school I struggled finding my way through things like that.  I’d discovered the need for deodorant in junior high, and I’d shaved, but everything hit full force – including between my eyebrows.  At this point, though, I didn’t even think about it.

Also, note in the picture above that I’m wearing a coat and tie.  This is for my grandma’s funeral (dad’s mom), and I had to borrow an old jacket from my dad (or uncle, can’t remember now) to wear.  I just didn’t have those types of clothes.  I had some ties and dress shirts from when I had to go to chapel in junior high, but nothing “fancy” like suits, dress shoes, or anything remotely formal.  In my daily life I wore shorts, jeans, and baggy collared shirts… what did I need that other stuff for?

Now, above I mentioned that I was rather scared to be going to a public high school without my friends.  This is very true.  I went to Laguna Hills High my first day without any of my old group of pals that I’d been in school with from 1st-8th grade.  That’s not to say that I didn’t know ANYONE, though.  One of the gals I grew up with just so happened to be going to Laguna Hills, too.  She also just so happened to have an older brother, Jeff, who was a senior that year.  From the very first day he ended up taking me under his wing, inviting me over to hang out with his group of junior and senior friends at snack, and then, eventually, I started to join them at lunch, too.  I came from a rather sheltered Christian school.  Public school was pretty amazing to me – girls wearing things that left nothing to my hormone-driven adolescent imagination, kids swearing in class, all of it.  Then, of course, there was my new group of older friends:

KOH and Friends

That’s right.  Little ol’ Mark made friends with the punks.  Toss in a couple of goths (these were all very new terms to me, too, by the way), some hippies, and a couple of “regular” kids, and this is who I spent my two years at Laguna Hills with.  The thing was – they were all really freaking nice.  I wasn’t a pious guy, but I’d just never known folks who dressed like that or guys who wore make-up or girls who shaved their head.  I had no idea that they’d just happen to be the nicest group of folks I’d meet at that school.  But this isn’t about my eyes being opened to people – it’s about style.  Through this group I saw new and very interesting things.  Girls wore corsets (some of my greatest high school memories, I tell ya), guys spent time making their hair interesting in ways I’d never seen before, and the whole group opened my interests to a new sense of style and flair.

Now, this isn’t to say that I started dressing like them.  I was still me, and if you know me… I’m not prone to waxing my hair into devil’s locks or pinning anarchy symbols to my jacket (if you remember my Christmas jacket in the last post, that’s more my level of “punk”).  What made this group of friends very valuable to my style sense, however, was that they helped fuel my already growing dissatisfaction with “the norm.”  I had grown to love the eccentric side of myself.  In fact, after growing up being told I was weird so often, I had almost come to pride myself on it.  However, I entered high school at a very strange time.  What was once weird and unaccepted was becoming cool.  Just my freaking luck, but I was in high school as “the norm” was shifting so that it was now cool to be weird, strange, or wacky.  This screwed with my head.  I was still different from most folks I knew, but by trying to express that, I was seen as being like everyone else.  It was a vicious circle.  Case in point:  I would eat fruit roll-ups for lunch, and randomly decide to adorn my jeans with the long sticker that kept the roll-up from unrolling.  It was just a simple, weird little thing – something to decorate myself with, in much the same way my friends decorated themselves with patches or pins, yet it really wasn’t that odd.  I was struggling with a personal identity that had seemingly been stolen from me, and I began to try to be weird just to be weird.

Of course, come the first day of my Sophomore year, and I still hadn’t really done much to yet alter my usual attire:

mark sophomore year hawaiian shirt

There was a change in the air for me, though.  After the identity crisis of my first year and a half of high school, I settled.  I remember one day I had a pair of blue jeans on, a brown belt on, and a green collared shirt tucked in.  One of my favorite ensembles ;).  I still didn’t know why I liked certain things like that, but I realized that there was something appealing about trying to look nice.  Of course, that day one of my classmates saw me and called out asking, “What are you, a preppy?”  I had no clue what the heck he was talking about, so I just kind of shyly smiled and shrugged as I walked on.  I guess tucking in my shirts meant that I was this “preppy” I’d been called, but I didn’t know if that was supposed to be good or bad.  I just liked how it looked, and because of that, I felt better when I wore my clothes that way.

What was it I mentioned about my high school journey, though?  Oh yeah – the fact that it was a struggle over me giving a crap.  Let’s skip ahead to around the time of my senior year.  Let’s skip to a time when I quite often looked like this:

mark not giving a crap with sideburns

and didn’t mind going out in public looking like this:

mark with towel turban and smurf in jacket

I simply didn’t care.  I’d roll out of bed and throw on whatever shirt I found, some old pants that may have been jeans or perhaps my old black uniform slacks, and go to school without even bothering to fix my hair sometimes.  Quite obviously I was beyond tired of school and these style moments (or lack, thereof) were very indicative of that.  So, where was the struggle?  How did I go from that point to how I dress now?  Well, there were a few key things that happened around my senior year of high school that really started pushing me into a new stylistic direction.

First, I became friends with Joe.  We met in our junior year, but it wasn’t until our last year of high school that we really became closer friends.  Because of him I met Sarah, and because of her I chose my first cologne.  Of course, I had no idea how to use it, so I used to practically bathe myself in it until I walked by my uncle one day and he gave me great advice – “Use just enough cologne that a girl has to get CLOSE to you to really smell it.”  Haha, oh, Uncle.  I listened, though.  That’s not the only benefit Joe had on my budding style, however.  He was always very focused on fashion and trends, and so I was naturally more often surrounded by someone who talked about dress shoes, wearing nice shirts, and things like that.

Second, I got my first suit.  I BELIEVE this was over the summer before my senior year, but I can’t recall completely.  A friend loaned me one of his old suits for a fancy event we all went to together, and afterward he just gave it to me since it no longer fit him.  It was a fairly cheap boys suit, but it fit and all that mattered to me was that I finally had a suit!  Why the desire for a suit?  That brings us to the third influence…

Gangsters.  My interest and love of old mobsters from the 20’s and 30’s had grown over the years, and during this time I was beginning to find great interest in their style.  Yes, this is where my interest in suspenders eventually came from, but I wasn’t there yet.  For now, it simply gave me a new affinity for suits and hats.  Even more important to my senior-year appreciation for suits, however, is the fourth and final reason for my beginning change – Grosse Point Blank.

That movie inspired me in MANY ways, but the one we’ll talk about here is lead character Martin Blank’s sense of style.  He wore suits and ties and dress shoes, just like my mobster friends did, but he didn’t look old-style… he looked freaking cool.  So, while my interest in changing my style wasn’t complete emulation, I was certainly influenced.  More than anything, though, all of these things were just coming to a head to point me into a direction that I’d always been heading towards.  For Christmas that final year of high school, I received a hat and a trenchcoat from my parents, just as I had asked and hoped for.  Of course, I may have had all of these influences coming to a head, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily knew how to put it all together:

mark trenchcoat and hat

No, that picture wasn’t COMPLETELY serious, but the elements were there.  And yes, that is the most embarrassing picture of myself you’ll ever see in existence… and I’ve dressed up like a girl before.  I’d bought myself those glasses because they reminded me of a movie I was completely mildly obsessed with, The Professional.  The hat and coat were influenced by mobsters and the film noir era.  I was taking bits and pieces from things I liked, but I had not yet quite figured out how to make them my own.  In fact, I wouldn’t discover that until well after high school was over.  For New Year’s that year, I was at least getting closer to what I thought I was after:

mark in suit and hat for new years 2000 with andrew snider

Even then, I was just making do with what I had.  Of course, I didn’t dress like this all of the time, and that was the struggle.  I would dress like this one day, and then revert to being a slob who didn’t care a day later.  It was all based on mood.  You know how it goes… some days you feel like a nut, some days you don’t ;).  I expressed interest in wearing my suit and/or hat to school one day, to which my dad put down his foot hard.  While my parents were always proud of my talents, they weren’t always so proud of my… uniqueness.  While in years past I might have just said they were stupid but still listened to what they told me, I was getting older and all I really wanted to do was just wear a suit to school.  I thought it would be fun.  So, I got sneaky.  The night before, I put my jacket, tie, dress shoes (they came with the suit), and I think even my hat, into the trunk of my car (which was no easy task since I had to get them all by my dad and to my car on the street).  The next morning I tossed on a white dress shirt, untucked, and my suit pants and headed off to school like nothing was different.  Just outside of my neighborhood, behind Chick’s on Alicia, I transformed from my usual slacker to the suit-wearing guy I wanted to be that day.  It wasn’t about being strange to be strange, nor was it about rebelling against my parents to prove a point – it was an act of rebellion for the sole purpose of simply being able to do what I wanted to do.  I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me again what I couldn’t wear, and from that day on, I never did.  I ended up wearing my suit more often, and I didn’t hide it from my parents anymore.  Sure the suit was cheap and my overall sense of style was really just beginning to blossom, but that was a very important step for me.  I had to push those personal envelopes to try new things, though they were out of the norm, or I wouldn’t have been free to begin really experimenting with my style.

Part of this high school era expansion involved digging through old family clothes.  I resurrected old shirts once worn by my dad or grandpa (mom’s dad), not because they were hand-me-downs I had to live with, but because I was getting a taste of new things.  I found an old hat that was once decorated with plastic safari animals as a joke gift for my grandpa (dad’s dad), and I absolutely loved it for warmer weather outings, so I had my mom put a cloth lining in it and made it my own:

mark straw hat

As you can see, I still had the occasional unibrow problem, but I was taking care of those things on a regular basis more and more often.  By the end of my senior year, I had started caring about and choosing how my hair was to be cut and styled.  I started taking more pride in how I presented myself both in terms of my clothing and physically.  Just as I had accepted my eccentricities four years earlier, I had finally started to care about my appearance as the norm, rather than the exception.  Basically, I had started to give a crap :).

I still had quite a ways to go, but my sense of style was starting to settle into its groove.  I still had “don’t give a crap” days, but that time was coming to an end, and I’ll end this week’s entry with two examples of that.  First, me in the tux I rented for the Newport Beach High School prom I went to with all of my friends:

mark tux for prom

BAM!, right?  That was not a posed shot, either.  My glasses were half-way down so I could see in the garage, and everything just kind of came together.  Even I want myself in this picture.  After prom, we all spent the night hanging out a friend’s house, and while pretty much everyone else changed (or, at least, wanted to), I loved being in my tux.  It was a new level for me :).

And finally, we end high school.  It’s an interesting time for everyone.  People discover themselves, or at least who they think they might be.  Kids grow towards becoming adults, physically and otherwise, and all in the span of four years.  Take a look at the first picture in this entry and then at the one below from my graduation and you will see the big change I alluded to last week.

mark nice suit for high school graduation

While the suit may not have been very nice or fit perfectly, I finally knew what I was after with my style choices.  I went out and bought that shirt and tie because I sought them out, not because I just happened to see them in a store while shopping with my mom for school.  I was finally putting myself together, stylistically and metaphorically, to become the adult I am today.  Never again would I see such a drastic change in style direction, because while I’ve adapted new ideas and evolved quite a bit since then, my general course had already been set.

So next week finds us not at a crossroads, but at a time in which I knew where I was headed with my style.  The elements were all in place, and the broad brush strokes were coming to an end, so that is why Part 4 is no longer about the same type of big changes I’ve covered so far – but about refinement.

Part 4


About Mark Mushakian

Just a man who loves God, women, kids, dogs, movies, and every other lovely thing in life :)
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6 Responses to A Sense Of Style Part 3

  1. James says:

    Hey Mark, I tried to comment on part 2 but it never posted… are you blocking me? Why don't you mention peoples names? You were at a "friends" house last night, you went to a "friends" house after prom?


  2. Mark says:

    It never came through here, either. I have it so that comments on posts over a certain age require me to approve them (so I don't get spammed in the archives), but I never saw it so something went awry.

    And my not mentioning names is a writing tactic. Those kind of details are irrelevant information to the story presently being told, so I keep it to a minimum to avoid confusion :).

    But, for the record, everyone… Monday I ate a lovely meal at the home of James and Katy, and after-prom was spent at Sarah's house.


  3. Pingback: A Sense Of Style Part 2 – www.MarkMushakian.com

  4. Pingback: A Sense Of Style Part 5 | www.MarkMushakian.com

  5. Pingback: A Sense Of Style Part 4 | www.MarkMushakian.com

  6. Pingback: A Sense Of Style Part 2 | www.MarkMushakian.com

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