Sunday, April 08, 2007

Old Clothes

“Don’t go outside until you put on your old clothes,” my mother would say to me each day after school. I would take off my school uniform of navy-blue pants, white shirt and blue tie with the letters “SWS” for Saint William’s School arranged diagonally on it, then put on my “old clothes.” New clothes were for school and for church. Old clothes were for playing and there was a special transformation to be felt putting them on. I would cease being a student who had to say, “Yes, sister,” and “No, sister,” and became just a kid who could say or do anything that came to mind. The old clothes fit better because they had worn into my body over time. If I got them dirty, that was okay. If I got a little tear in a shirt or some pants, no one would get excited. They could be easily patched or sewn up.

It’s much the same today. If I get home from school early enough and still have time to do something, I love to get into my old clothes. On weekends and on days off, I don’t have to dress up at all. Except for an awkward period of time as a teenager, fashion hasn’t been important to me. I never cared much what I looked like so long as I was warm and dry, and it’s the same today. Occasionally it has annoyed my wife, since she has to be seen in public with me. She tries sometimes to buy me new clothes hoping I would give up the old, comfortable ones, but that doesn’t work. I don’t want to embarrass her when we go out, so I’ll usually change if she asks me to. I’ve had to learn that the hard way though because, if I wore an old shirt too much or an old pair of boots, she might try to throw them out when I wasn’t looking. More than once I found them in the trash just in time to salvage them. It’s a good thing it’s my job to go to the dump.

Starting out with a young family, I had to do my own mechanical work and the vehicles I drove often needed it. I always had a tool box with me and if I had on teacher clothes or socializing clothes when something broke, it added to the stress when I had to open the hood to pull on some linkage or slide underneath and wire up an exhaust pipe. I had to not only fix whatever it was, but I had to avoid getting grease on my clothes while doing it. I also had projects to work on nearly every day after getting home from my regular job, and it took extra time to change first before going outside and climbing a ladder or working on the woodpile, or whatever else needed doing.

You won’t see them too often around Lovell in the wintertime, but I’ve known some “metrosexual” types. That’s a relatively new word for males who are heterosexual, but like homosexuals, they are inordinately concerned about their appearance. You can spot them once in a while on the weekends or during the summer. They try to blend in, but can be easy to pick out by their haircuts or their new LL Bean outfits. They’re what novelist Robert Parker would call “rural chick.” They’re scarce in Oxford County, Maine but quite numerous in the Portland area or in North Conway.

Here in Oxford County, the native men are mostly what you might call the “hickosexual” type. That’s a brand-new word because I just made it up. They’re difficult to describe exactly, but you know them when you see them. Hickosexuals might pay attention to the appearance of their pickup trucks or their motorcycles or snowmobiles, but not to their clothing or their haircuts. They’re especially solicitous of their tools, their hunting rifles, fishing equipment, bass boats, or their televisions sets, but not their clothing or their personal appearance. In that sense, they’re the antithesis of the metrosexuals who visit the region periodically.

Hickosexuals are interested in how things work. They know how to make things and fix things and they’re seldom very far away from the tools needed to do so. Their clothes - especially the pants - bear evidence of past jobs, like traces of paint or stubborn stains which remain after repeated washings. They’re clean in the mind of the hickosexual, though they may not appear so to an objective observer. If they’ve been washed and they smell clean, they are clean, even if they’re stained. No article of clothing is discarded until it’s badly ripped and the fabric is so thin that repair is not longer possible, and neither the Salvation Army nor the Goodwill will accept it.

Surprisingly, the hickosexual look has become fashionable. Stores patronized by metrosexuals are marketing hickosexual styles like partially worn pants and hats, and lately even pre-stained jeans. They’re new clothes, but they’re made to look like they’re old clothes. They’re carefully designed to make the metrosexual wearer appear as though, like the hickosexual, he doesn’t care about his appearance.

First published January, 2005

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