Winter is over. I mean, I just moved my snow shovel into the shed from its permanent place on the porch, so it has to be. Right?
I raked the crud out of my front lawn, straightened the stakes in my side yard that support my anemic rose bushes, swept the salt and sand off my sidewalk, filled the bird feeder. In the process I discovered the first green shoots of spring forcing their way upwards through the muck. So naturally my thoughts turned to summer and my annual struggles with wardrobe selection.
As I started my research on this post, I searched the internets for complementary images of men wearing shorts. I couldn’t really find any. Most of the pictures I found made the models wearing said shorts look about as sexy as partially-shaved albino gorillas. See above.
The great wit Fran Lebowitz, in a recent interview with Elle Magazine, lambasted the modern development of men wearing shorts in public. I was alerted to this article by my favorite podcart of all time, TBTL, of which I’ve posted about here and here. I have to say, after reading what she said, I kind of agree with her. The entire interview is worth a read, but I’ll just quote her here on the shorts issue:
“I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I’d just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It’s disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they’re wearing shorts? It’s repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can’t take them seriously. It’s like any other sort of revealing clothing, in that the people you’d most like to see them on aren’t wearing them. And if they are, it’s probably their job to wear them. My fashion advice, particularly to men wearing shorts: Ask yourself, ‘Could I make a living modeling these shorts?’ If the answer is no, then change your clothes. Put on a pair of pants.”
As a man who has for years unthinkingly worn shorts during the warmer months, I believe it’s time for a change. I’m going to try a little experiment this summer. I can’t guarantee success, but here goes: I’m only going to wear shorts when I’m: 1. exercising, 2. at the beach, or 3. home when no one is looking.
Living by these simple sartorial rules will make it so much easier to decide what to wear every day. I already have an extensive collection of pants, t-shirts, and low-cut Pumas. I won’t need to feel self-conscious about my pale legs. I’ll save on pedicures. I’ll never have to put away the “winter stuff” and dig out the “summer stuff.” Like Einstein and his daily white shirt and gray trousers, I won’t have to think about my wardrobe and can instead just concentrate on the fun things like playing the guitar, listening to early Sabbath, and writing inane blog posts. And since my legs do look like those of a partially-shaved albino gorilla, I’ll be saving everyone else a ton of grief.
Last point I’ll make: I’m supported in my decision by all the greats. I have a feeling that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie never wore shorts unless they were in a swimming pool. And maybe not even then.
I’ll go with greatness. And go easy on everyone else’s eyes.
Although I find him witty and occasionally entertaining, I don’t often agree with Times columnist David Brooks, either in print or when I see his political commentary on public television. As a grad-school philosophy drop-out, I feel perfectly qualified to say that I often find his reasoning faulty and his logic filled with holes. So I was very surprised that I actually liked most of what he wrote in his June 4 piece called The Way to Produce a Person. I won’t summarize the column here (that’s what hyperlinks are for) but I will quote one sentence that stayed with me: “You might become one of those people who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately around.” The key word in this passage is “might.” I know we can all love each other locally and still contribute to the greater global good. We can even butt-text to a charity if we aren’t careful. Of course I want to help the starving children in Africa. But I also want to help the starving children in Chicago. In Portland. In Bath. On Edwards Street. Or my own starving children. Come to think of it, there’s a rumbly in my own tumbly right now.
Friends and acquaintances in my age, education, and income bracket often speak about this mode of being as “balance.” As in, we need to balance work and family, private and public life, selflessness and selfishness (in the good sense), local and global activism, etc. Even though I consider myself a Buddhist, and agree with the Buddha’s advice that we live the “middle way” between extreme indulgence and equally extreme self-denial, I hate the word balance. Balance suggests some kind of compromise, and the older I get, the less I want to compromise. The great Irish writer Edna O’Brien said in a recent interview that she wishes more writers were the drunken brawlers of old rather than the modern ones who now make a lovely risotto. If I had to choose, I’d be the drunken, brawling, bohemian rather than the gourmet chef. (Much to my wife’s chagrin. Although I am a pretty good cook, for a man.)
There is so much pressure these days to be blameless in all of our consumer activity. In his column, Mr. Brooks taps into this idea. He expresses a thought that’s almost dangerous to mention in polite, left-leaning, environmentally-conscious company: that you don’t have to save the world. Or as the great Stanley Fish wrote, Save the World on Your Own Time.
I call it the tyranny of perfection.
Think of the endless questions, the crushing din of our inner leftie dialogue: Did we give our spare change to the Heifer Project? Is our plastic baby bottle BPA-free? What about the air pressure in the tires on our Prius? Is it maximized to produce the greatest gas mileage possible so that we use less oil and thereby don’t deplete the ozone layer any more than it already is and so cause a spike in greenhouse gases that produces extreme weather conditions like tornadoes in the heartland that reduce elementary schools to rubble within seconds? Did a child laborer have to endure incredible suffering under barbaric working conditions just to make my t-shirt, or Air Jordans, or iPhone 5? Is our meat local? Is our dairy hormone-and cruelty-free? To paraphrase that brilliant scene from Portlandia, did we know our chicken’s name before we ate it for dinner? His name was Colin, by the way.
Yes, I’m veering into sarcasm here and I am fully aware that these are serious questions that demand serious answers. Just last night, I was shopping at TJ Maxx and found a beautiful pair of FC Barcelona soccer shorts (crafted in that luxurious Barça scarlet red) on sale for $9.99. Then I looked at the tag and it said the shorts had been made in Bangladesh. I immediately thought about the garment factory that had collapsed there a few weeks ago and even though the shorts were already made and probably from last season’s kit or they wouldn’t have been on the rack at TJ Maxx and they were right there in my hands and they were my size (XL) and that red was so beautiful and I knew that I would look halfway-decent in them once my legs got a nice little summer tan going, I put them back on the rack.
See? So we can make informed consumer decisions based on the suffering factor of the goods we buy. (Read Unto This Last by John Ruskin for the full-blown demand that we take laborers’ working conditions into consideration before buying anything.) And I suppose we should. Surely, we can vote with our pocketbooks as my friend’s granddaddy used to say. But growing up, I don’t remember my parents having to make these decisions. Maybe because our milk came from a local dairy and our clothes were made right down the Thruway in Gloversville and Dow Chemical or DuPont hadn’t even invented BPA yet. Yes, we live in a highly complex, hyper-interconnected world. But what if we just want to get up when our alarm goes off, make our coffee, put in an honest day’s work, indulge in some not-so-serious vices on the weekend, take the occasional vacation, and simply live our lives, trying every day to be the best people we can be to our spouses, family, and friends?
Buddha also advised us to change ourselves first before we try to change the world. For most of us, myself included, that task alone is more than enough for one lifetime’s work.
When I started this blog six years ago, I never thought I would write about fashion. A cursory search through my 200-plus posts shows zero evidence of anything relating to clothing or other sartorial concerns. And yet, as summer approaches I feel an urge to speak out. To speak out about a trend that has consumed the nation. I’m talking about the ubiquity of the flip-flop.
How do I know there’s a problem? Because I just saw a grown man in my workplace dressed in a handsome button-down shirt and chinos wearing, on his feet, you guessed it, flip-flops. And it’s not even Dress-Down Friday.
The assumption here is that I want to see this man’s toes. I do not. I’ve been to clothing-optional beaches and I have been known to take a skinny-dip or two, but I have principles. A right time and place, please. For every thing under the sun, a season. Turn, turn, turn.
I’m actually quite modest when it comes to everyday dress. In college I started to button my shirts all the way up to the top button. Maybe this was because I was going through a David Lynch phase or I was a Smiths fan. I can’t remember. I do know that to this day, I have a thing about exposing my neck. All my white work t-shirts, the kind I wear under my own handsome button-downs, have to fit snugly around the neckline. I can’t truck any bit of sag.
I sometimes even question the wisdom of wearing shorts. Not really kidding. The aforementioned summer is almost here and that means I have to decide what my “look” is going to be. Last summer I attempted the Kyle Chandler/Coach Eric Taylor-from-Friday Night Lights getup with the khaki shorts, polo shirts, low-rise white socks and sneakers, but I couldn’t really rock it. In shopping for new summer shorts every year, I try to find the happy medium between Angus Young…
and Jerry Garcia…
In some cultures, wearing shorts in public is even considered rude. Mexico, for instance. And it’s much hotter there than in the food court at the Maine Mall. The skin I’ve seen in line at Sbarro you don’t wanna know about.
Again, I have no problem with bare flesh per se, but it has to be in the right context. Thursday afternoon in the office is not the right context. Meet me at Haulover Beach, man or woman friend, and we can talk about it. I won’t mind seeing your toes, or any other part of you, there. I’ll even show you my neck, in all its wattled glory.
College kids especially are flip-flop crazy. They wear them in the sun. They wear them in the rain. They wear them in the snow. As a Syracuse native , the snow part is especially heinous. When I see the little cherubs sporting their bare toes in January, I want to knit them all a pair of wool socks. And forcibly install them. And I don’t even knit. I even saw a career guide aimed at new college grads called “First, Lose the Flip-Flops.” I mean, duh.
I’m also becoming more and more convinced that as I age, there is simply no way for me to look good in summer. No possible way. I’ve tried all kinds of approaches. The above-mentioned Eric Taylor look. The Hang Loose Hawaii look. The preppie look with the salmon-colored shorts and long-sleeved oxford shirts. The basketball look with the baggy silk gym shorts and oversized t-shirts. No matter what I try, I always end up a sweaty, smelly mess. Maybe the nudist colony is the only approach that will work. For science’s sake, I’m willing to try.
Woman have it much easier in this regard. A skirt or summer dress is always appropriate. And women definitely have the best choice in flip-flops. Don’t even get me started there. Women’s flip-flops are colorful and cushiony. Men’s are like giant plastic yachts with an Adidas logo on the bow. So where does this leave us?
I would like to restore the flip-flop to a place of humility in our culture again. This prideful rubber beast must be brought low. To do this, we need certain rules. I would say rule number one is that flip-flops may never, under any circumstances, be worn with long pants. They must never be worn at work. They should only be reserved for summer days at the beach or trips to the tiki bar. They must not be worn in December, no matter the outdoor temperature. I would almost go so far as to say it would be better to go barefoot than to wear flip-flops at all. Let’s return the flip-flop to the place it occupied in my childhood in the 1970’s: as the footwear of last resort, bought for $1.99 out of cardboard bins at Fay’s Drugs.
All this being said, I have a pair of Havaianas on order, just like the ones you see above. They were $24, plus $1.00 shipping. They should be here in about a week. I’ll let you know how they work out.
I’m also going to tag this post “shoes.” I bet my readership explodes.
But no matter what happens, please don’t let me pull a Bob Weir…