MOVING ON FROM BLUE JEANS

Over the past few years, there’s been an unanticipated shift in the way I dress, one that’s not entirely related to retirement. One of the lessons I carry from the hippie experience is an awareness that clothing should be comfortable, rather than conforming to the marketplace – and, if possible, it should express some degree of style.

As someone who never fit into the half of the bell curve the clothing manufacturers targeted, I’d always had difficulty dressing to general expectations. Back-to-school shopping was always a terror, one abetted by our family’s financial tight outlook, and one result was my pants were always way too short on my tall, skinny frame. You can imagine my delight discovering during my college years that Levis were actually available in my size. It was heavenly, even if radical at the time. I remember breaking unvoiced rules in attending classical concerts in my denim, even while wearing a necktie. Fortunately, the shift prevailed and later, when I discovered Quaker meeting for worship, came an expectation of dressing humbly rather than for pretentious show. Viva denim!

Moving to New Hampshire, I was delighted to learn that the San Francisco-based Levi Strauss relied on denim produced in the water-powered Amoskeag mills in Manchester, where I lived. So the product linked the continent, New England to California Bay Area, with cotton from the Deep South, and back.

As prices rose, my brand-name loyalty evaporated, even at the outlet store in nearby Maine, but some alternative sources still satisfied. And then they all started tinkering with the fit and gone was that feeling of comfort. Well, all except my Amish jeans – no zipper or belt but a pair of braces (suspenders, if you will) – which seem indestructible. Mine are going on 20 years, I reckon, and just starting to show real wear. The braces, though, can be a pain, as can going to the john when I’m also wearing a sweater.

For everyday usage, I’ve now drifted into variations of khaki or olive cargo pants. I really like all the pockets, along with the fit.

This has been accompanied by a shift from the oxford shirts I always wore to the office. From my first copydesk job, I’d learned to wear my wallet in my shirt pocket rather than sitting on it and throwing my back out of alignment – and so my shirts always had to have that pocket, which never, ever had a plastic liner like nerdy engineers include. Well, with the new pants, I could place my wallet in the other front pocket comfortably and that, in turn, allowed me to move on into turtlenecks for daily wear.

Turtlenecks are simply more flexible – no need for undershirts, I don’t even have to take them off at bedtime, for that matter, and they’re warm, even in our cold house. Yes, they also go with the sweaters I used to wear with those shirts.

I am surprised by my reaction looking at men my age or older who are still going about in blue jeans. They’re appearing somehow, uh, inappropriate.

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