Those who know me know one thing: I am sartorially challenged.
To take down a wholesale inventory of my wardrobe is to read a normal person’s packing list for a three-day work trip: Two pair(s) of jeans, one for work, one for Friday/Saturday go-out (no, they don’t have white stitches.) Two business casual work shirts with various buttons missing. Zero khakis. I lost my khakis. And a bunch of race shirts/workout clothes that need that special kind of detergent they advertise in the back of Runner’s World.
And that’s it.
Through a constant process of moving and purging, and on more than one occasion simply dropping what I’d accumulated off at a Goodwill donation center near a 7-Eleven and deciding to start over, I have maintained the minimum amount of clothes that are acceptable for a man in his fifth decade to posses…maybe less, actually.
My philosophy on wardrobe in general is along the same lines of Henry David Thoreau’s. Most people are familiar with the famous, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” soundbite, but usually they don’t know the entire quote: “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” I think what he’s trying to say there is don’t necessarily shy away from new duds, just value the person in them more.
I would love to someday be able to afford to dress. And by that I mean to acquire something timeless and tailored. I do not currently own a dress shirt or a suit or a tie but on the occasion of some type of windfall you better believe my first appointment beyond settling old debts and donating to causes worthy would be with a haberdasher. There surely can be nothing better or more satisfying in this life than to have an article cut to match your every curve and rough edge.
While I wait for that day, I do possess three items that, somehow, through every break up, eviction, termination and struggle have made the journey with me. One day, when I’m riding the rails, seeing this great country of ours and cooking my daily opiate over a lighter flame, only these three items will remain on my person.
- A concert t-shirt purchased April 23, 1993. The concert was Nirvana, L7 and Michael Franti’s first band, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. It was at the Cow Palace. If you look it up on eBay the shirt’s worth between three and five grand. I never wear it. If I ever get nominated for a Newbery award or a Pulitzer, I’ll probably wear it to that. Or maybe with a tie to get married in. It’s probably the only thing I own that intersects on the Venn diagram of actual tangible value as well as memories attached. Hopefully, in 100 years, one of my kin will take it on to Antiques Roadshow and some soft-spoken man will point to it with one of those sharp-ended chopstick pointers they have commenting on its condition.
- A navy blue Amoeba Berkeley t-shirt. This is the shirt my buddy Paul wore the last night we hung out together. He sang karaoke and got kicked off the stage for singing “Wild Side” too loud — as if that’s a song that can be sung at too high a volume. I remember when he left my apartment the morning after, he had it on. I didn’t hug him goodbye. A month later, a plane smashed into his building in New York.
- The Flannel. The Flannel was purchased for me by my mother in August, 1993, three weeks before I left to attend the University of Oregon. The Flannel has acted as sleeping bag, pillow, blanket, bar rag, flotation device (or rather, whatever the opposite of a floatation device is), barn dance uniform, handkerchief, mop of various body fluids we needn’t get into, and, of course, gameday attire. The Flannel was ever tied around my waist as I made my way “Stand by Me” style across the train tracks and over the footbridge to Autzen stadium. And when the perilous nip of impending loss on the pitch crept in with the night fog, I put the flannel over me and stopped at Burger King on the way back to the dorms for a consolation free Whopper courtesy of the back of my ticket.
Nearly all the people in my life who have known me a fair bit or still care about me have tried to in one way or another relieve me of this security blanket, either through shaming (I’m often referred to as “that homeless guy” when wearing it) or surreptitious disposal. The Flannel’s most recent brush with its ultimate fate was when a handful of long-time friends politely requested I no longer wear it to games by hiding it in the Valley River Inn dumpster. Lucky for me, I saw one arm sticking out and waving me down on the way to the car.
There it is, still in the back of the closet a good three or four hanger lengths away from the next garment which is a dry cleaning bag stuffed with one of my grandmother’s old quilts. I think the plastic bag partition is more a necessity than coincidence.
I do not now and never claimed it to be a “lucky” game day garment. I’d say overall The Flannel is more like the Casey Stengel of shirts. Remember, Stengel amassed 1,905 wins as a manager, an impressive number no doubt, but in the context of 1,842 losses, the notion that if one stays in the game long enough you’re gonna win some…and lose a lot…is strong with The Flannel.
The Flannel is also a symbol for why I reject the notion of our disposable society as reflected in the cheap philosophy of cycling through generation after generation of outfit after outfit sewn by the bloody and beaten hands of human slaves from developing nations. All of which are destined to join one of our ocean’s significant garbage patches.
This is exemplified in Oregon football’s most recent call to wear specific colors to specific football games this fall. It is the university working directly with Nike, the manufacturer of said disposable wares and the school’s biggest benefactor, which will pump said weekly color through the bookstore and online in the six-day lead-up to the contest.
It makes me a little sad that anyone, students especially, falls for this. College is a time, perhaps the only one for most, to find a voice, to claim your agency, to have certain ideas — right or wrong — about certain things and be blessed with the captive audience and the protection for true self-expression. To have lingering conversations about concepts as old as the campfire about humanity, sexuality, religion, but have them be new again for the first time, because they are yours.
College is not the time to goose step into the stadium wearing the exact same thing as the guy next to you. It is time to drunkenly twirl around the parking lot as if you are playing your own game of pin the tail on the donkey. It is time to trust your roommate who you only met three days earlier with your darkest secrets as you watch a spider move across the ceiling past 3 a.m. It is time to profess your love for a girl in the cafeteria just because you both enjoy eating generic corn pops with chocolate milk.
It is not time to become a corporate cog. Outside those gates of possibility is when you buy that lifetime subscription to groupthink and compromise your principles in the name of commerce.
But prior to that, those precious years on the inside and those precious minds you meet — many of whom are working the hardest they ever have to make something of this life — are a time not to adhere to cultural norms or buy shit so you can feel a part of something. It is the time to outright reject being told what to do or where to be or what to wear, because, you know — you fucking can.
There are so so many things wrong with college football in 2016: the holier-than-thou gluttonous coaches, the indentured servitude of players — the majority of whom are African American, the corporate money and the rampant greed that courses through the veins of the sport’s governing body that leads to the appointment of gatekeepers so serpent-like it is tough for them to grow arms long enough with which to suppress the free labor. And then there’s the false promise: Less than two percent of athletes move on to the next level and many major programs have difficulty graduating even fifty percent of those who take the field on Saturdays. Oh, not to mention it also puts the state of Florida in the conversation for at least four months a year.
But for me, the worst part of it is my own Alma mater continues to stifle, in exchange for profit, the one thing I got for free when I chose to attend Oregon: The ability to be different…and accepted.