CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN
© 2010 by David Wainland
I have worn a lot of uniforms in my day and it is true that you are what you wear. As a youth in the Bronx my clothes were just about the same as every other boy my age, until I turned thirteen and then I suddenly became style conscious. It was not so much of a style but rather a designation or statement of who I was. In those days I fancied a high pompadour, shirts with sleeves rolled up and collar lifted at a jaunty angle. My Levi jeans were supported by a thick black leather banding referred to as a garrison belt. It sported a heavy brass buckle and one of the first things I learned was how to use that belt and buckle to my advantage in a fight.
My feet were dressed in Tom McCann’s penny-loafers with shiny copper Abe’s wedged into the slots. For a time there was an iridescent craze and I wore electric green or blue socks underneath the rolled cuffs of my dungarees. Off duty I was stuffed into corduroys and PF Flyers high tops complete with white laces and white rubber patch on the ankles.
Dad tolerated the clothes, but mom, not really.
“When you go to sleep I’m cutting off that ugly lump of hair on your head and burning those clothes.” She never did, but as the years progressed the threats grew.
We moved to Long Island and I stuck out like a black grape in a green bunch. Kids there were more sophisticated or so they thought. They wore beige chino pants with little belts in the back, white buck shoes carefully smudged to show indifference and button down shirts. Crew cuts were the fashion statement of the early fifties.
I molted into a further expression of my tastes. Sideburns edged down my face. “Cut them or I will put Nair hair remover on them while you sleep,” said mom.
I pulled a fist full of black hair down and over my forehead. Penny loafers morphed into black boots with steel heel and toe taps. Long sleeves became white t-shirts with a pack of Luckies wedged into the shoulder. Sometimes I wore a sweater vest and hot pink was now the accent color for us Rocks, Greasers and the like. Over my back I draped a black motorcycle jacket. For dress affairs I owned a charcoal grey sport jacket with pink stitching and threads. Light grey slacks with dropped belt loops that held a quarter in wide suede belt, a pink shirt and I finished it off with black pointed toe laced shoes.
I was a lousy student cutting class more than going
In 1957 I dropped out of school. For a time I worked in a bowling alley before they had automatic pin setters, manually setting the pins. I wore jeans, t-shirt and bowling shoes. Then the Ruben H. Donley Company hired me to load, unload and deliver phone books. I wore work pants, a wool lumber jacket and steel toed work boots.
“Go back to school,” Dad said.
I joined the Air Force instead.
They gave me three new sets of clothes, summer-weight beige, known as shade 505, winter-weight wool blues and sage green fatigues. I spent the next three and one half years in my fatigues. The dress clothes were for parade and inspection. Oh yes, they also gave me a parka when they stationed me in Alaska
I enrolled in a military sponsored GED program and received my high school diploma.
The Air Force discharged me in 1961 and dad said, “Go back to school.” This time I did and I enrolled in the New York School of Interior Design. My outfits were flamboyant, colorful and ridiculous.
After a year I went to work for my father designing building and repairing chandeliers. I found myself back in work clothes.
In 1964 my wife and I married. Dad’s business began to deteriorate and when in 1967 Jamie announced that she was pregnant dad said, “I’m sorry son. I think you better get a job.”
I put on a suit and tie, became a salesman and for the next bunch of years no matter what I did the suit was my uniform of choice.
Then I discovered metal sculpting and found myself back in jeans, t-shirts and boots. Thirty years passed, dad never again told me what to do. He was proud of me and. mom thought what I wore worked well, though she threatened to shave off my beard.
Those things helped.
Last year I retired. Now I only wear jeans or jean shorts, pocket T-shirts and deck shoes, no socks. Most times at home I go barefoot.
“You should pay more attention to the way you dress,” says my wife, “You do realize clothes make the man. “