What I Wore When

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
Henry David Thoreau

I never made the best-dressed list. Not yet, anyway. I didn’t think about clothes. I felt it was vanity and I had loftier concerns in mind all my life. It drove my mother crazy. Once she gave me money for shoes I came home with Wellington boots which were popular then with aspiring hoodlums. I know it took years off her life. I must have looked like a Nazi to her. I never changed. Years later Barbara saw me walking towards her when we met at the beach and — what I had on — she just up and dumped me. Temporarily thank god!

My postal job was the best I ever had for a few reasons but mainly because they supplied uniforms. My closet filled up with blue shirts, navy pants, three kinds of hats. I just put on what was clean, nothing else to consider.

In 1979 I had to show up in court. I won’t explain why right now but suffice to say I wasn’t a criminal or being tried as a Nazi because of the boots. It was a civil matter but my lawyer advised me to wear a suit. So I went to Mark James, a classy shop on Broadway, and said, “Mark, I need a suit. It’s the only one I’m ever going to get so make it classic. You know, conservative.  Good enough to last my lifetime and appropriate for any occasion requiring a suit including my own funeral.” I got a dark grey three-piece, a white shirt, and a tie.

As you know, about once a decade (although it hasn’t happened in the last thirty years) I succumb to the notion that I ought to become a normal person – like the time I showed up at the government employment office having decided I should have a job of some sort and wound up selling my counsellor drugs. So one day about a year after buying my suit I decided to dress better generally and went to see Mark James again. “Mark, I want to dress better but I haven’t got a clue about fashion or what I should look like.” He sat me down in one of his great overstuffed easychairs, brought me a cappuccino, an ashtray, and a stack of very expensive Italian men’s fashion magazines. “Relax, have a coffee, look through these and find a look that appeals to you.”

Ten minutes later all I could remember seeing were gorgeous Italian men in jeans and army surplus jackets. It was the look that year I think because Jimmy Carter wore that outfit a few times, trying to look like just a regular guy I guess. It was also the look every year for me. That’s exactly what I’d been wearing since about 1950. I thanked Mark, explaining on my way out that fashion was insane.

I wore my suit exactly three more times. Once, as a lark, on a dinner date when I thought it would be fun to pretend to be sophisticated. The meal was priced accordingly and I never tried that trick again. About a year later at Ken Pickering’s wedding, and then again in 1989. My niece was getting married and I decided to defy my own principles by wearing my suit for no reason but to please my mother. When I showed up at her apartment in Montreal she asked, “Do you have a suit?” Yes, ma. “Let’s see it.” Later, ma. She didn’t trust me and I don’t blame her. She probably imagined that if I did indeed have a suit I probably got it at a Nazi surplus store. She kept asking to see it and for some reason I stalled. I was in denial about even owning a suit, I guess. Sunday morning, wedding day, she insisted. So I got it out of my suitcase. “Are you sure it fits? Let me see it on you.” Of course it fits. I stopped growing at age twelve for godsakes. “Please. I brought you into the world – the least you could do is try on the suit.” Guess what? I stopped growing taller at twelve but I started getting fatter at forty-five. It was impossible to squeeze me into that suit.

I found a seamstress two blocks away. Her day off, I begged her to save me. She did. It was still a tight squeeze but I made it. I was the laughingstock of the wedding until I assured everyone that Vancouver was always in the vanguard of fashion – “It’s the west coast, you know. Same coast as California. Really. Bell-bottoms are back!”

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