September Men's Room
Some of my students once suggested that I get rid of all my clothes. I had no idea they’d noticed anything beyond the grade requirements and attendance policy, but it turned out they had taken stock of my pleated khakis and button-down shirts. And they disapproved.
They told me to burn the clothes. Not while I was wearing them, necessarily, though now that I think about it, they didn’t rule it out. To them, my style was boring: predictable and bland.
“What,” I asked, “can possibly be boring about beige pants and an off-white shirt?”
They just looked at me. I could feel their judgment creeping all over my beige pants and off-white shirt. I should’ve punished them with a pop test.
The students didn’t tell me what replacement clothes I should get, but, judging by their own appearance, I imagine they would’ve recommended skinny jeans (black), an untucked plaid shirt (mostly black), a sport coat with sleeves too short (black), and, for rakish rebellion, a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers (if not red, then black). In other words, something close to the dour hipster look, fastidiously constructed to look oh so unfastidious.
There’s not a whisper of a chance that’ll happen.
Still, those kids raised the perma-pressing question: What is my style?
The students would say I have none, though I might argue that no style is a style. Kind of. In a way. You know?
Long ago, I gave up buying retail clothes and opted for thrift stores and consignment shops. There, the cast-off and hand-me-down threads from yesterday, yesteryear, and yester-decade (back when people called clothes threads) languish on jammed racks until buyers like me come along: bottom dwellers hunting for ridiculous deals on quality stuff.
Much of it isn’t worth even the paltry asking prices. I see shirts adorned with floppy disco collars and dress coats molded from the hair-brained concoctions of the chemical industry. Orlon and alpaca live on in the thrift stores, and you’ll always have your pick of relaxed-fit chinos and size XXXL sweats.
A lot of the clothes tell a story: That red sweater vest must be an unwanted Christmas gift. Those plaid nylon slacks say that a golfer has finally given up the game. The royal blue, ultra-suede jacket might mean someone’s grandpa has died.
But thrift-store shopping is like playing the lottery, only with realistic odds of winning. I’ve found enough cashmere sweaters to recover a herd of high-end goats, sport coats that will never go out of style, and corduroy jeans so retro that they’re once again current.
All of this has given me a style I’ll call haphazard cheap chic. Every day, I climb into my budget duds and just try to wear them well. At my age and with my personality, I have no desire to buy a concocted style. It would only go out of date in short order. And then my next group of students would build a fire and insist that I follow their advice and disrobe on the spot.
Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.