For many of us a look into our closet is a look into our history, both the recent and the distant past. While clothing styles may change regularly some of us, such as “yours truly,” are not fashion icons and change our styles slowly, often due to the condition of our favorite outfits. My closet is in the guest bedroom…we all understand why.
I moved to Southern California in 1984, a native of the New England coast arriving by way of four years in Michigan. While I was not particularly conservative in nature at the time, my wardrobe was reflective of the mid-west and east coast regions I had spent my past years in, which were conservative compared to California. Summers on the east coast were spent on the beach where a bathing suit and tee-shirts were the norm for guys, and is still the norm for guys worldwide. However, dress for the workday or an evening out was traditional and conservative. Remember, the Pilgrims landed just down the street in 1620 and styles have changed slowly.
My arrival to Southern California in the mid-80’s was an eye-opener. As a single man new to the area I ventured out to the clubs in the evening in my light grey slacks, pin-striped shirts and penny loafers, a classic and current style where I hailed from. While a classic outfit in Michigan and back east I looked the throwback to the 1960’s of Southern California, the days of the Beach Boys arrival and all that was good. All that was absent were the thick eye glasses and pocket protector to complete the “geek” look. The resulting evenings at the bars and nightspots were “uneventful” to say the least as I stood out from the crowd with my white freckled Irish skin draped in my “back east” styles, clearly the “new kid on the block.” It was a lonely summer but I was in Southern California and determined to blend. The beach scene, no problem, but the remainder of the wardrobe had to change.
And so I ventured into the lifestyle and dress code of 1984 Southern California with enthusiasm. Eddie Bauer and Lands End clothing gave way to Tommy Bahamas, Quick Silver, Kalaha, Laua and a host of other tropical style shirts, slacks and shorts. Aloha Bro! The enjoyment I had in the 1980’s watching Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum decked out in his Hawaiian garb in “Magnum, P.I.” set in Oahu, Hawaii, coupled with the influence of “Miami Vice” set in Miami, Florida and the cool outfits of Don Johnson (Det. James Crockett) and Philip Michael Thomas (Det. Ricardo Tubbs) transformed my closet into an array of floral and pastel colors, cool threads, fine shirts, sandals and shoes. My old Toyota Celica, steeped with miles from trudging through the snows of Michigan and New England eventually gave way to a sleek white Nissan 300ZX T-Top. Sandals became the footwear of choice and shoes, when worn , were always sockless. My white Irish skin became tanned after a series of painful sunburns and the memories of the cold winters and heavy clothing of the past quickly became a distant memory.
Visits back east to my family during the years and on holidays became an eye-opener for them and an opportunity to see my newest threads. At one point during a visit my brother asked me if I was wearing my pajamas….he, the true New England native and life-long hometown character. I am certain I was out-of-the ordinary when walking along the streets back east during the years I overly embraced my Southern California lifestyle and dress, but I enjoyed it. One Christmas my gift to all the men in the family (Bostonians to the core) were Hawaiian shirts, ranging from my Grandfather in his late 80’s to my Dad, Uncle, brother, young nephew and new-born nephew. The shirts looked wonderful as they opened their packages but I truly never saw them worn, or saw them again for that matter. Eddie Bauer and Land’s End do not give up their east coast turf easily.
As the years progressed and I grew in age, interests and maturity (yes, a loose term, I know) my styles in tropical dress “quieted down” and the tropical florals gave way to solids with more subtle patterns. Khaki pants began to replace the colorful slacks of the past years, yet the style still remained tropical…just toned down a bit. And then this year I found myself shopping for the classic golf shirts, pleated slacks and Cole Haan shoes of a more conservative vain, a style I find universal to all regions of the country. Not as thematic and creative as the tropical style but comfortable and good looking none-the-less, and me at this time in my life. I still wear my tropical shirts and slacks but now mixed with my current style as well.
Over the years I would regularly thin out my closet of clothing I no longer used, donating those items in good condition to charities to be enjoyed and appreciated by others. Yet certain outfits, shirts, slacks and sport coats from different periods in my life still remain as favorites and hang in my closet. I have a classic Harris Tweed wool sport coat perfect for winter visits to the east coast which I have had for 30 years and can still fit into, sort of. My London Fog winter jacket with removable liner, originally my Father’s and over 25 years old, still hangs in my closet on-call for those trips to the colder climates. Old dress slacks worn thin over the years, a good ten years old, hang at one end of my closet to be used for golf on the cooler, wetter autumn mornings when I want to look my best but know I’ll be walking the woods looking for my golf ball…another story, another day.
My growth and transition to the Southern California fashions and tropical influences are still expressed in my closet. The Kalaheo Hawaiian shirt lined with surfboards which I bought at K-Mart on the island of Kauai 15 years ago still can be found in a place of honor in the middle of the closet, worn and weary but still there. One of my original and favorite tropical shirts with a rich floral pattern of Hibiscus made by Jams World and bought almost 13 years ago is still worn, much to my wife’s chagrin, and often attracts hummingbirds when worn out in the backyard. An array of Tommy Bahamas summer slacks, most moving towards 8-10 years old, are still occasionally worn, therefore kept, and hang next to the newer more traditional khaki slacks from Nordstrom’s. New classic and traditionally collared golf shirts from Nike, Calloway and Tommy Hilfiger hang next to one of my favorite tropical golf shirts made by Luau with an embroidered parrot on the back with the saying “Loose the cracker, Polly want to shoot a birdie.” And Polly hangs next to a plain yellow tropical shirt by Jamaica Jaxx bought a few years ago at Costco.
In many ways my closet depicts the full circle of dress style I have experienced in the past 30 years. Both the old and the new continue to represent the various phases of my life and when I put on my older clothes memories of that period in time flood back. All good memories…a few embarrassing in a good way…but all good and fun. I always keep my closet doors closed to prevent the Hummingbirds from nesting in the Hibiscus.
And without a doubt, one of the most valued items in my closet is my bright red and green Christmas vest covered in Poinsettia’s which I wear every year during our annual Christmas Tree Trimming Party. Having owned and worn the vest for over 15 years during the holidays, my friends look forward to seeing it on me each year (I don’t think they’re laughing behind my back) and last year, for our annual tree trimming party, the wives of several friends made complimentary vests for their husbands in honor of my most prominent fashion statement. As famously recognized as my vest now is, the tree trimming party is the only day of the year my wife will allow me to wear it. Bought at the local drugstore for about $10.00 it’s the best deal in my closet. Very cool…..for years to come! Sorry dear.
Wait until the Hummingbirds find that one.
G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.