“But Mom, why are the buttons of my new shirt on the wrong side?” Mom would just smile and say “Huh…You must’ve gotten a left handed shirt. Don’t worry, they’re all the same.”
And so the years of fashion abuse began. This ended up years later with a diagnosis of Traumatic Fashion Injury Disorder. I suffer with it today. I wear clothes that tend to be out of style, don’t quite fit right, or don’t match. I’ll walk out of the house oblivious to the crazy state of my clothing ensemble.
The result is a lifetime of old photos which you wish had been burned the day they were taken and a list of girls who went to extreme lengths not to be seen near you. When I got older it was easier to make excuses such as I’m your crazy Uncle John, or you know I bumped my head once and have never dressed the same since. Or, as my wife does at the mall, “This man?…I’ve never seen him before…Just look at how he’s dressed, he must be partially blind…Poor strange man…No officer, I don’t know him.”
The causes of this condition can be varied, but in my case it was a combination of several factors. The first one was that mom was a child of the Great Depression. This meant that she saved and reused absolutely everything she could get away with.
The second factor was that I had 5 sisters, so there were a lot of girls clothes stored away and mom was much more attuned at selecting and buying girls clothes. The issue was that many of these purchases were at yard sales where the clothes weren’t labeled girls or boys. You’d have boys shirts with John Deere and Caterpillar mixed in with girls shirts picturing Wonder Woman and sweet little Hello Kitty.
Thirdly, mom didn’t have a lot of money to spend on anything, including clothes. The salary of a Methodist minister in a small church could be rather thin, especially with a big family. Mom wasn’t interested in fashion or what was in style. She was concerned with function and whether the item took care of the need at hand. Was it in one piece, became the standard.
The result was that I would outgrow a pair of jeans or rip them out to the point of not being fixable and mom would throw me a pair of jeans she’d just picked up. I would put them on and suddenly notice strange things like the button on the top was on the wrong side and that they were cut way lower in the front than my previous pair. They just seemed a little snug in the crotch. Sometimes I would notice that they had extra flared cuffs or even fancy stitching on the rear pockets.
She’d give me a new dress shirt and again, the buttons would be on the wrong side and the collar would be much smaller than normal, with possibly a little ornate stitching on it. It never appeared that the collar would cover a necktie like my other dress shirts.
If it was a t-shirt, the sleeves might be shorter and have a fluffy puppy on the front. I’m not against fluffy puppies, but when you’re in 6th grade it tends to attract unwanted attention from the other guys in your PE class. “Hey John, does a skirt come with that puppy shirt?”
It took me a while, but eventually I realized that sometimes I was being dressed with girls clothes. When I questioned my mom, she would have a good excuse or pretend to be clueless. “There’s no difference”, she would claim. She got to where she was a great actress.
This “fashion trauma” caused me not to worry about whether my clothes matched or were appropriate for an activity. In fact, the best I ever did was the 20+ year period of time I wore a uniform for my job. This relieved me of the task of picking out clothes. I had jeans and a few button down shirts for my days off. Nothing complicated or fashionable.
In my present job as an attorney, I am required to pass a visual inspection before going to court, because I tend to throw on a tie and shirt without regard to matching. My clothing still isn’t of a high fashion caliber, but getting it to match is enough for me. Failing this, my wife, the inspector, will tell me to return to the closet and try again.
I’m so used to not worrying about fashion, or clothing in general, that I tend not to be aware of how I look. I just have too much of mom in me to get excited about an overpriced pair of pants from a “good” store.
Now that I’m over 50 it has gotten easier to wear mismatched and out of style clothes without drawing as much attention. Folks just think I’m a vagrant, off my meds, or blind. In fact, I’ve been restricted from certain clothing stores, not because of anything bad I’ve done, but because they’re afraid I’ll scare off the customers. Mall cops tend to follow me around to see if I’m mumbling to myself or lurking about the food court. They talk back and forth on their walkie-talkies about the old dude in the sandals with black socks, baggy shorts, and a bright red shirt. Their supervisor tells them to steer the old coot away from the young and impressionable kids. We can’t risk a “fashion incident”. The worst thing that could happen is that some kid likes the old guys look and it becomes a clothing fad…. Fashion Armageddon.
Fortunately, as an adult, I’ve been able to buy clothing I’m sure is made for guys. Sometimes, when I drive by a garage sale with piles of clothing, I will smile as I remember my devious mother. How she acted like nothing was amiss when she came home with a ladies blouse. Mother would then pass it off as my new dress shirt for church.
Luckily at church the people were much more forgiving, as far as what I wore. It was at home where I ran into trouble. I tried to wear school clothes to church many times and was told that God expected us to be dressed in our best clothes for him.
I don’t know that I ever truly believed in that. I was taught by my parents, the people dressing me, that God loves you for whats in your heart. He will love you no matter how you look. The inconsistency between this teaching and the clothing provided was not lost on me. I think it actually had more to do with the minister not wanting his kids to look like a band of hooligans. At the parsonage, as well as, in public, to be seen and not heard, were considered the attributes of ideal preachers kids.
I tell this short story about my mother with the deepest admiration and love. She was trying her level best to dress and feed a family which was always on display for the church and community. She did this on the tightest of budgets.
I know our mother was a very smart lady so I know that she was making due with what she had. And sometimes all she had were girls clothes. She only had the kindest of intentions……..most of the time. Sometimes, she had to have a devious streak also. I really think she giggled to herself as I left for school in my new shirt on picture day. She probably thought, “I’ll bet he’s the only Junior in high school wearing a Hello Kitty shirt in the yearbook!”