John W. Pinkerton

I’m not a clothes horse.  Hmmm, I’m just taking a moment to wonder if that is still an expression used today.  At any rate, I’m not.  I guess the closest I ever came to being a clothes horse was receiving recognition as the “Best Dressed” when I was in high school.  This award I can contribute to my mother who pretty much decided how I would dress while in high school.  I guess I wasn’t self-actualized yet.  She pretty much bought my clothes and made my shirts and other items for me to wear with little or no input from me.

Early in life I realized that I was not the handsomest fellow around and that I shouldn’t bring attention to myself by wearing flamboyant clothing.  I tended to wear grays, and browns, and blues, my own version of camouflage.  The one item of clothing that I paid a lot of attention to was shoes.  My shoe size was 11 1/2 AA with a AAA heel.  I know a lot of you younger fellows don’t have any idea what I’m talking about.  You see, when I was a youngster, shoes actually were matched to the shape of your feet; today, apparently, manufacturers of shoes assume that all men have the same width of feet.  My feet were flat, and a proper fit was important to my comfort.  As for the style of shoe, mostly black leather with a smooth toe.  I was pleased when Hush Puppies came along.  They were easy to care for and gave me an excuse not to get a shoe shine when I went for a haircut.  Another item I paid attention to was the sport coat.  I don’t know if these are still in vogue.  There was a great men’s clothing store in Alexandria, Caplan’s.  I preferred wool and corduroy sports jackets.  They allowed me to look dressed up but casual on dates, and I wanted to look like a gentleman if my evening activities landed me in jail.  Over the years, I wore all of these out, and now I have none.  I do have one suit.  Of course, it’s blue.  A man needs a suit for weddings and funerals.  It fits well.  It was the one suit out of a couple of hundred in the store which was actually my size.

My mother, bless her heart, bought me a casual suit after I was grown, had been through the service, and was married.  At least it was blue.  It came with a shirt with a huge red strawberry on the front of it.  I wore it to a couple of dances, but burned it after a decent period of time.  Speaking of gift clothing, my brother once bought me a pair of cowboy boots.  Not just any cowboy boots: the ugliest pair of boots ever conceived by a cobbler.  They were made of a patchwork of various leathers.  I never wore them, but I did find someone, finally, to give them to.  Bless her heart.

As for hats, I never really got into them.  My dad was a big hat guy.  He would spend a lot of money on his Stetsons; that’s a brand name, not a style.  Nobody touched his hat, nobody.  You may touch mine.  Who cares?  When I first started playing golf in high school, I wore a hat like Sam Sneed, a porkpie straw.  I was reared before baseball caps became popular, and, besides, the bibs were just long enough I couldn’t get them out of my line of sight.  Hat companies must have hated Jack Kennedy: he’s the guy who really killed the popularity of traditional hats.  He just refused to wear them.  He was a real trend setter for men.  Frankly, I hate the caps that men wear now and the painter caps some wear are really ugly.  I do wear one type of cap when I play golf or otherwise know I’ll be in the sun for an extended period, a pistol cap.

All of my belts are brown leather.  I once had a cloth belt with a brass buckle, a hangover from my military years.  One of the worst belt decisions I ever made was the purchase of a mesh gold metal belt when I was still in high school.  I’m still embarrassed when I think of it.

Almost every man carries a billfold with them in their hip pockets, usually leather, black or brown.  I carried one from a teenager to about twenty-five years ago.  Billfolds have a tendency to grow in girth from the accumulations of cards and various papers.  Finally, one day I realized that when I sat on my lightly padded backside, I felt as though I was sitting on a rock.  I eliminated the billfold altogether placing all those plastic cards and pieces of paper in my hip pocket sans leather.  I’ve done this for years and have never lost anything or had trouble finding anything, but that’s just me.

I’ve always carried handkerchiefs with me in the other hip pocket.  I’ve never been picky about the cloth.  Just plain white handkerchiefs.  Believe it or not, I always appreciate gifts of handkerchiefs.  My neighbor, Mrs. Hill, gave me handkerchiefs more than once, and each time I appreciated them.  My handkerchiefs usually meet their end when they are employed for more aggressive uses than patting sweat from my forehead, like cleaning paint brushes or using them to polish shoes.

The one real eccentricity of clothing that I have is my choice of color for my trousers and shirts.  I say “color” singular because they are all the same, blue.  I think I mentioned that at one time my choices for the color of my clothes were pretty simple: blue, brown, or gray.  I hated having to make a choice between these three colors each morning.  Additionally, I realized that my job as a teacher did not require me to dazzle students with a variety of color in my clothes, and the one thing kids deserve from their teachers is consistency.  My choice for consistency was blue: blue shirts and blue trousers, no patterns.  I’ve always liked the color blue.  I probably started wearing only blue about twenty-five years ago.  It took others a long time to realize that that was my only color.  I once worked with a group of young men who were my fellow teachers.  After some time of working together, one of the young fellows asked me if I wore blue every day.  Of course, I told him that I did and the reasons.  He and the other young fellows were amused by the old guy’s choice of one color.  At some point I realized that they had colluded to wear blue shirts and trousers on Tuesdays.  Amusing.  They looked very nice.  One of them suggested that I surprise everyone by coming to work in a different color.  He didn’t realize that blue was the only color of clothing that I owned.  Well, that’s not totally true: I do possess one white shirt which I use for funerals and weddings.

These same fellows were the beneficiaries of my affinity for sweaters.  I look forward each year to the fall of the year when I can once again wear sweaters.  Here too I’ve simplified my choices.  I do allow some muted tones with muted patterns of wine, blue, brown: colors that match well with my blue shirt and pants.  I have to admit I’m pretty picky about sweaters: they have to be a certain weight, weave, and have a crew neck.  Being picky means that many of the gift sweaters I receive and even many I purchase myself, I never wear.  The young fellows were like mad dogs in a meat market when I took about a dozen of these beauties to school for them to pick from.

I’m a little reluctant to discuss ties.  The reason for the reluctance is that I once wore outrageously flamboyant ties.  I think this was during the period when extremely wide ties were in vogue.  I had many loud ties with wild patterns or figures on them.  Obviously, a mistake.  I finally came to my senses and did the best I could to give them away.  Plain blue or dark red ties are about all you’ll find in my closet now.  Oh, by the way, fellows, don’t wear clip-on ties.  They’re tacky.

One more note on clothes.  When I was in high school, blue jeans first became popular items of clothing for other purposes than work.  I wore them a lot.  I finally quit wearing them because they take too long to break in.  There is nothing more uncomfortable than a stiff pair of jeans.

You have probably concluded that I was right about not being a clothes horse.  I’ve had my moments of madness, but on the whole I’ve kept it pretty simple.


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