Reckoning

It was time. Like some death cart from Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, which my morbid ass had reread at the beginning of confinement, I made the rounds, from room to room, over and over, slowly, wrenchingly, prising out each single condemned charge one by one from its temporary resting place in closets, under beds, at the back of drawers. Each had entered my world as a little piece of hope, a scrap of new identity. Heaped up together, ungainly, their legacy is not so much failure as reckoning with changed circumstances.

Most prominent among the departing: a host of broadcloth button-front shirts, most of them with years behind them before they succumbed to my inexorable cull. I had accumulated them, often through a providential sale where they poked up like rare truffles among the detritus brick and mortar retail was shedding, in days when they represented a particular fantasy. What was that fantasy? Where I could play the part of elegantly British-shirted professional in those rather lovely cotton checks, some with the perfect English spread collar, a fantasy that would call for me to be in a role where that sort of mummery would matter.

If it ever did, it sure as hell doesn’t now. I’m planing down my accretion disk of ready-to-wear haberdashery, all of these fantasies I thought I could shrink down to fit (being off the rack and made to fit the most generously proportioned among us). Each and every one of us from the old days of #menswear social media had Gatsby’s heaping piles of shirts behind his eyelids as he blinked at his hauls from the sales. Now, those are pre-confinement frivolities, non-essentials… with their passing out of my earthly dwelling they cycle back through sartorial samsāra, through what I might as well call confinement consignment.

Because I’ve realized that with confinement and working from home not only have I changed what I wear for practical reasons, I have new priorities in how I wear it.  When I confessed to a shirtmaker friend that in the last nine-months I had worn a button-front shirt literally once, he told me that I disgust him. But my weekly uniform is no longer the workday enchanted armor of a suit, buttoned shirt and tie. It’s more casual but no less freighted for me. Each day of the work week for the last nine months I’ve worn a soft, comfortable, polo shirt, its flimsy collar a passport to the flimsy formality of videoconferences. Soft cottons in the summer, cashmere-silk mixes the rest of the year, or a rollneck when things actually get cold. And jeans only on weekends; instead trousers in wool or linen based on those that Marc de Luca cut for me… a strange flourish in exuberant colors that I’ve shared with readers before. I guess that vividness is a desperate grab at flamboyance (and, yes, my mentioning him is a desperate flex) that only those I live with need to bear. After all, the old chestnut is that videoconference meeting participants don’t even need to wear pants since nobody remote will see them. I do draw the line before pantslessness, choosing instead the line Marc drew to elide my decidedly inelegant proportions.

Polos and pants are not exactly revelatory choices. The main interest of my choice is what it replaces: ironing replaced by the forgiveness of jersey knits, and the comfort of stretchy warmth. Can we expect another cycling after things change again to a new, unconfined normal? Simon Crompton of Permanent Style posited that post-confinement, people would pivot to aggressively formal dressing: wearing not just suits, but structured, shaped suits instead of the drapey, soft tailoring that had been fashionable for the last 15 years. Frankly, I kind of doubt it. Fashion’s pendulum had already begun to swing away, not just from soft suits but from the idea of the suit itself. I don’t really care, I’ll wear what I want, disgusted shirtmakers and all, hoping to remember to look outwards instead inwards on constantly cycling steez fantasies. Outwards and outside, to mauve skies at sunset, to a moment of reflection and gratitude for what surrounds me, not possessions, but family and environs, and the enormous luck and accidents of fate that I should never take for granted.

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