I am not an expert on clothing. The Trad’s fascination with my footwear will tell you as much, yet I would wager I spend more time thinking about clothing than your average man. The level to which I fail in clothing myself properly yet still appear more focused on doing so than normal, says something about the sartorial state of the modern American male, but I don’t think it is completely our own fault.
Take for example a recent experience.
Much has been said and written about the Ivy style and the traditional brand J. Press. I recently found myself in the neighborhood. I was in town for business at the University and was wearing a charcoal suit, sky blue shirt, and straight fold blue pocket square; nothing groundbreaking but no visible mistakes (cue shoe joke here). I stepped inside.
The shop is beautiful. Orderly racks of jackets and coats intermixed with collegiate memorabilia. I would have loved to spend hours just touching the tweeds and checking the dates on old deflated footballs. A grey haired man near the register was roused from his boredom by my entry and giving me a once over asked, “Can I help you?”
I had no money. I would be buying nothing and felt a little ashamed because of it. Not wanting to be too intrusive on a business I replied, “I just wanted to look around and check things out a bit.” He shrugged a “very well” and went about fidgeting with folded sweaters whatever else. He did surprisingly well at lingering around but avoiding anything close to eye contact or, heaven forbid, a smile.
I made a couple rounds of the racks, touching very little, thanked the man and walked out of the store. What fools the two of us were that day. Yes, both of us.
The man showed little to no interest in me or my business, which is fair as I was not likely to be business that day. But that once over and his curt manner did not communicate helpfulness but rather he was the steward of something to be protected from outside intrusion and in our case it felt as if he was more of a security guard at a museum watching to make sure I didn’t cross the velvet rope and touch the paintings.
I didn’t need a security guard I needed a docent, a tour guide.
Perhaps he would have been one but when I looked at the crusty old man I froze. My normal bold self retreated. Not only did I refrain from asking my long list of questions but I lost all desire to ask. I had small things like wanting to know if the stripes and colors on the scarves represented schools, which I know they do, but which represents who, I have no idea. I would like to know. I like hats. I also have one of the largest heads on the planet and am conformist enough to not want to look like I’m headed for a costume party. In that store was a long table piled high with head wear options and I didn’t touch a single one.
I should have asked. I could have asked but I didn’t.
I am surely not the only one struggling with personal insecurity and sartorial ignorance. It is a shame, and this is not the only such store where I have experienced this, that those who man the floor of such a menswear legends are repellent rather than receptive.
So what do I do now? Maybe I go to the Gap or some other affordable box where teenagers flirt with each other and expect me to unfold the entire stack of sweaters. I’m sure young Tiffany would be happy to tell me what Sarah thinks is so “way cute” for old guys like me to wear… which means my ignorance, and the ignorance of all like me, will continue.