4 of 5 – “The College Years”
No, I didn’t actually go to college, but how else does one label the 10 years, from then until now, that I’ve been out of high school? The Attended Junior College For A Little While Off And On And Spent Time Working At Blockbuster And Even A Little While Trying To Be An Actor Years? Not quite as catchy, is it?
So, I left high school with a general idea of what kind of style I was after. I truly was living in the wrong part of the country, because my interests were revolving around cold-weather fashion: sweaters, suits, hats, coats, etc.. I was choosing fashion based on the untrue fact that I was living in a Chicago suburb in the 1940’s. I also chose to ignore any other possible clothing solutions – I wanted to look “nice” all of the time, and so away went my shorts and t-shirts. Living in southern California and wearing only heavy clothes can create a rather sticky situation.
And a rather smelly one, as well. Ew.
The purpose of this period, though, was refinement (as I mentioned at the end of Part 3). Case in point, a shot of me before I headed out in late 2001:
Note that I have now purchased a hat that fits me. This suit wasn’t a hand-me-down, but, instead, something I had purchased for myself (though it still didn’t fit right). I had started searching online, not for just generic mobster pictures, but to actually seek out information about style and fashion of a time I never knew. The only problem was, in seeking out this generic advice, I was ignoring my own senses. Ironically, I was starting to follow the trends again – they just happened to be 80 years old ;).
Oh, and don’t worry – this entry won’t be as long as it’s predecessor, either. At least, I don’t think it will be… ;). Actually, by default, it shouldn’t be, just because I don’t have as many pictures of myself from this time. I’d pretty much cut off my involvement with the family by this point, other than on holidays, so pictures of me are scarce. Of course, maybe I’ll just make up for that by talking a lot…
Shortly after graduation, I started working at Blockbuster. It was my first job, so I was actually able to spend my own money freely. I went on a few shopping spurts, and that is where most of the clothes I wear today come from. The problem was that back then I hadn’t yet become accustomed to something known as “fit” and most of what I purchased was rather large on me. I’m a small guy, not just in height but in my entire frame. I didn’t yet understand that small guys generally don’t look right in double-breasted suits – so I bought one. I purchased pants that were too long and too wide. I didn’t know. I had nobody to guide me, because I was treading waters not traveled by my dad or uncle. Their generation of baby boomers hasn’t consistently dressed “nicely” since they were forced to as kids. Their rebellion and change to the system was to introduce shorts and Hawaiian shirts as a stylistic norm for grown men, which makes it rather ironic that my generation is now seeking to go in the opposite direction. However, I digress. Regardless of a history lesson in generational style choices, I was trying things in which my only resource for help was the beloved Internet. And when browsing through a rack at a department store, feeling awkward and too insecure to ask questions, and when the only knowledge of style comes from a few sites online, one often comes home with things they probably shouldn’t have. In fact, I have one shirt that I’ve never worn, because I bought it before realizing it was very shiny and made me look like I belonged in a nightclub in Miami somewhere.
I made it all work, though (sans the shiny shirt). I managed the best I could with what I had, and at that point, I didn’t think much of it, anyway. I was blazing a path for myself, so for a while I was pretty rudderless even though I was blissfully unaware. I enjoyed my fedoras, yet they weren’t very practical in a daily world – they were more about following an ideal and making a statement of who I thought we should all dress like. In an odd way, my choices of more extreme style were just as much about trying to change the norm as they were about finding my tastes. There were some definitive things, though… things that I chose purely for me. These were the refinements I mentioned. It was me taking an extreme style, with its strict adherence to the past, and molding it to fit practically in today’s world and to my own individual senses. This all really started with the one bit of fashion for which I am most well-known: suspenders.
Stemming from my early interest in 30’s fashion, suspenders had always just looked nice to me. They weren’t an ideal of some bygone era, I just think they look really smart. I knew my dad had some clip-on pairs, so one day I sneaked into my parent’s room and “borrowed” a set. I put them on and they worked for me. Back then I had a number of stomach issues, so wearing tight belts (which I need since I don’t have much in the way of child-bearing hips) would get bothersome. I wore the suspenders to work (Blockbuster), and I of course had to endure many questions and jokes from my co-workers that first day… but then I did it again. I didn’t really ask my manager, I just talked with her under the assumption that they’d be just fine as a uniform replacement for a belt, and she was all for it. So, I kept wearing them. I quickly realized that clip-on anything isn’t very fashionable, so I went on a search for a real pair. Wouldn’t ya know it… it’s rather difficult to find suspenders in this modern day. The only place I found them was Burlington Coat Factory, though since then I have discovered them in a few other places, as well. I bought four pair: two black (one for work every day, the other to keep nicer for myself), a light tan, and a brown. Those are still the same suspenders I wear today, and that was about 8 years ago. As I’ve mentioned above, that is the case for most of my clothes I now have – they’re veterans from this period of my life.
A little bit of time passed and then I made the second big discovery – fitted shirts. As I mentioned, I’m a small guy, so regular dress shirts don’t conform very well to my frame. One day, however, I discovered that dress shirts (especially of one brand, in particular) labeled as “Fitted” actually seemed to be my size. A fitted shirt style, for those who may not know is normal in the shoulders, but is cut to taper in and get narrow as it gets to the waist. You may be more accustomed to seeing this in female shirts:
Obviously, the male example isn’t quite as extreme (since the female waist is naturally higher, and also because the flare out at the bottom is going to be hidden on men by being tucked into pants), but the concept is the same. Ever seen the movie Transporter? His dress shirts are fitted… same thing there, too. Although the shirts in that movie are custom fit just for him, that is still pretty much how my shirts fit on me. Oddly enough, it kind of made me feel like that character, too. No, I didn’t shave my head and start kung-fu fighting people, but wearing a fitted shirt gave me a confidence I wasn’t quite used to. The tides had again started to change.
As I’ve repeated throughout this entry, the clothes I first bought myself didn’t fit well. However, after I discovered suspenders and fitted shirts, a new concept was dawning on me. When I went out wearing a fit dress shirt and suspenders I felt absolutely great – because I knew that I looked good. You’d be surprised just how much confidence can be garnered just from wearing clothes that fit well. The interesting thing about suspenders, too, is that they have always made me very aware of my posture, and so while wearing them I pay attention to standing up tall and straight – which for a man means the shoulders appear more broad and strong and the chest gets pushed out. In other words, by wearing suspenders I put my body into its best form, and by wearing a fitted shirt I was able to show that form off – a winning combination of extreme sexiness. Of course, up until the end of 2003, I had been lifting weights, eating a pretty calorie-high diet, so I was a bigger guy than I am today…
The most I’ve ever weight in my life was 150 lbs., and that was during this time. A number of things happened to slow that down (sickness, injured wrist, no more dairy in my diet), and I became very small again. However, even during that time when I was sickly, putting on a shirt that fit and suspenders that pushed me up straight felt great. It was these two things that really made me consider what I was wearing.
I began to notice when my pants were too long – so I had them hemmed. I noticed that some shirts I had were just far too big for me, so I put them away. I no longer strove for obtaining a slick, 30’s style haircut, and instead embraced a style that fit me: still classic and clean, but not something that sticks out as being “old style.” I started to refine my look, which wasn’t about finding nicer things, but more about finding things that were more me. I was basically finding my sense of style. After a long journey, from the time when Mommy picked out my clothes, through the rebellion of high school, to my confused adherence to old trends, I was taking it all and creating something that was uniquely myself. The final nail in the coffin of my Mobster Era dedication, however, came in 2005 in the form of something very simple – a pair of jeans.
I grew up wearing jeans, as anyone, but as I entered this time after high school I put jeans aside as “sloppy” and uncouth. However, in 2005 I started spending more time with a certain female friend of mine, and that all changed. Sarah is a very laid back, classic California beach gal. She’d wear flip-flops, shorts, t-shirts… whatever. I never wore shorts out of the house unless to the beach, and slacks were the norm for me. We decided to go ice skating, though, and for that I had to do something I hadn’t done in years… buy jeans. I wasn’t going to be upright the whole time I was on the ice, so I couldn’t go down in a pair of nice pants. I needed the toughness of jeans. Of course, not having bought a pair since I was younger, I bought some that were perhaps a little loose-fitting. They weren’t huge or extra baggy, as I had begun to no longer appreciate my giant clothes, but still – they weren’t snug. That didn’t matter, though, because I now owned jeans and as she and I spent more time together, I wore them more often. It’s odd to consider just how certain changes in our lives can affect a permanent alteration to our style choices. Because of that relationship, I bought jeans earlier than I probably would have without it. Also, because of Blockbuster I ended up piecing together my famous pirate outfit, and I otherwise wouldn’t have come across my coat, which I absolutely love to still wear.
Of course, there were the boots, too – but that comes later.
And that, my friends, is where we’ll end today. Unlike my move to or from high school, there is no definite marker between what I’ve talked about in this entry versus what I’ll talk about next week. There are certainly changes, and next week I can more definitively talk about what has become my current style sense and why I choose what I choose, but the final entry of this series is just as much about the future and the ideas that sparked this entire thing to begin with. It took me awhile to reach this point, where everything I put on each day is a conscious choice that I feel good about and where I am comfortable enough to explain these choices with more valid reasoning than “uh… it’s classic, when men dressed like men and, uh… I like hats?” A funny thing happened during my 25th year of life; I became a man. Emotionally, mentally, and also stylistically, I had finally matured to a stable point of adulthood in which I was brimming with confidence and self-understanding. The choices I made were now wholly my own, and the mistakes I made were things I could honestly confess to. In the past 2 years since then, I have started making style choices that interest me for absolutely no other reason than that they interest me. I am no longer wearing what I’m told. I am no longer wearing what my friends say is cool. I am no longer wearing what I think a girl might like, and I am no longer wearing what I thought I “should” based on the criteria of another generation. I am wearing what I find interesting, practical, and stylistically appealing… because I want to. I have finally discovered my sense of style, and I look forward to expanding that as the years go on…
but we’ll talk about that next week :).
P.S. – I know I got this online a number of hours later than I normally might (if anyone even noticed), but friends in need take priority over this site.