Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Fashionisto - Part 1: A Chump's Economy

My mother was made to realize early on that the only thing her father liked about her was her looks, and took pains to frame them with stylish attire. She was described in her high school yearbook as looking at all times like a page out of Vogue. When she was in her mid-70s and beginning to lose her battle with dementia, the sight of a conspicuous stain on her blouse was no less horrifying to me, in view of how much pride she’d taken all her life in her appearance, than her having told a doctor two weeks before in my presence that she was 35, and that it was 1961.

Many years before, she'd delighted in choosing tasteful, stylish attire for her handsome little boy, and he'd paid a high price for it. My brown shoes and beige jeans complemented each other far better than my classmates’ regulation blues jeans and black shoes, of course, but also marked me as an oddball. An alpha boy would have had the other boys begging their parents for earth tones, though I suspect no one called them that then. I was an omega boy.

I finally began breaking free at around 14, when I was able to lobby successfully for Jack Purcell tennis shoes — those with the blue smile on the toe — moss-green corduroy trousers, and short-sleeved button-down sports shirts of the sort the alpha boys of southern California all wore. But instead of the Pendleton flap-pocketed wool shirt that I needed so desperately (they were to teen surfers what Guess? Jeans would be to a future generation’s Valley girls, as witness the Beach Boys having originally called themselves The Pendletones), I got a cheaper version, with a button — a button! — where the flap should have been. It had only unwearable itchiness in common with the genuine article.

You’ve heard already how I inspired my classmates at Santa Monica High School to impeach my sexuality because of the velour turtleneck and Cuban-heeled winklepicker boots The Beatles had inspired me to buy. In a spirit of rebelliousness, I once wore those same boots with my Air Force ROTC uniform my freshman year at college, when my two options seemed to be going into the service as an officer or as cannon fodder. I didn’t dare imagine that I’d make enough money right out of college to be able to hire a lawyer to get me certified unfit for military service, as God knows I was!

The summer after my freshmen year, during which I discovered marijuana and decided to let the US Air Force do its best without me, I bought the obligatory wide-wale corduroy trousers and paisley and polka dot shirts that were showing up in the “mod” sections of department stores. I left the Hollywood boutiques to those with deeper pockets or more productive testes, like my young bandmate Tot, who pretty nearly shoplifted Sy Amber out of business.

By the following year, Hollywood Blvd. had ceased to intimidate me. While the ultra-hip (the Monkees, Strawberry Alarm Clock, George Harrison) were buying their Indian-inspired clothing at expensive boutiques like Sat Purush down in Westwood, I, with much shallower pockets, was buying a full-length authentic imported-from-India kaftan on Hollywood Blvd., saving bucks galore. But it was a chump’s economy, as I never mustered the nerve to actually wear it in public.

To my considerable discredit — show a little imagination, Johnny! — I was not one of those who failed to buy a buckskin jacket in 1968.

[Tomrrow: The saga continues, and concludes. Hear my new music here. Facebookers: Read more essays and subscribe here.

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