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[whitespace] My Sweatpants, Myself

Some clothing transcends mere fashion trends

By Dan Zevin

"DO YOU THINK it's time to lose the sweatpants, maybe?" The words, they stung. Here I was at breakfast, enjoying my Cocoa Puffs, absorbed in "Zippy," sporting my Sunday best. Out of nowhere came my wife Megan's inflammatory remark.

"What, you don't like the sweatpants?" I asked.

"Dan, go look at yourself," she said.

So I did. And as I stood there staring at my reflection, here is what I saw: an individual in his 30s wearing sweatpants he got at the campus store during freshman orientation. Granted, they were a little tighter around the . . . everywhere than they used to be. And yeah, the peeling decal on the left leg now said NvU instead of NYU. But these nuances represented 16 years of loyal experience. When I looked those sweatpants straight in the v, I saw sweatpants with character, sweatpants with history, sweatpants that once found their way into the red plastic laundry basket of Hattie also-known-as-Hottie Ahearn, if you know what I am saying here.

Hell if I was going to abandon them now.

But that, perhaps, is because I exhibit a sick attachment to my old clothes. When we moved out of our last apartment, Megan filled eight (8) Hefty garbage bags with her old clothes for the Goodwill truckers to haul away. I filled a Dunkin' Donuts bag with a pair of tube socks. (The only reason I tossed the socks, between you and me, is because they had holes in the big toe.)

An impromptu excavation of my wardrobe reveals many fascinating artifacts. In one drawer lies my first-ever concert jersey (ELO, Asbury Park, '79). Wear me! it beckons each morning. I will make you feel hep again! On the shelf in my bureau resides the unwieldy wool sweater I got in Copenhagen my junior year abroad. Skol! it drunkenly shouts. I will add a touch of international intrigue to your image!

And who is that hanging in the downstairs closet? Why, it's my old pal the Guatemalan hooded pullover thing that I got at the Hemp 'n More Store that summer I drove to Boulder with my former friend Tim! Dude, it whispers. Slip me on over that 12-year-old tie-dye in your dresser and you'll be feelin' no pain in no time.

Part of my peculiar style of dress stems from my peculiar style of career. As a professional shut-in, or "self-employed person," I am exempt from all dress codes. But I believe the other part has less to do with my job than with my gender. Like many of the male ilk, I am simply unable to construct a reasonable "outfit." Well, maybe not so much unable as unwilling. Left to my own devices, I get dressed with one goal in mind: Maximum Comfort. If someone were to tell me that it is extraordinarily comfortable to wear underpants on your head, you'd best believe I'd be sitting here bedecked in a Jockey-shorts bonnet.

NATURE OR NURTURE? Who among us can say, really? But according to my research (a randomly selected control group of four friends I e-mailed an hour ago, one of whom still hasn't responded), it appears that the ability to dress oneself in a contemporary manner is consistent with what experts call "blatant gender stereotyping." Women are better at evaluating the way garments relate to each other. Women are more comfortable using verbs like "accessorize." Women are able to evolve; adapt; wake up one morning in the late 1970s, look in their closets, and scream, "Gauchos? What was I thinking?!"

The male fashion sense, particularly among the hopelessly hetero, appears to start and end at age 15. At least it did for me.

The scene is 1978: Bobbie's Boys, a clothing store in the Millburn Mall. A glum-looking teenage boy is scouring the "Groovy Getups" aisle for apparel that is considered haute couture at Millburn Junior High: Levi's prewashed corduroys (straight-legged, not flared) and Timberland boots (beige, unlaced). His mother is at the opposite end of the store in a department called "Dressy Duds." Mother: (holding up Andy Gibb-style velour Jordache dress slacks) "Hey, Daniel! How about these?" Son (under his breath): "Yeah, I'll wear those and get my ass kicked from algebra class to the emergency room." Mother (holding up a pair of Frye boots similar to those worn by Bo in The Dukes of Hazzard): "Hey, Daniel! These boots would look sharp on you!" Son: "I'd rather wear underpants on my head."

But that was then.

Now I just avoid clothes shopping altogether. And on those rare occasions when I do find myself in an establishment where attire is purveyed, I am accompanied not by my mother, but by my wife. Megan, you see, feels it is enjoyable to shop. When she sees a garment hanging on a rack, she notices the fabric, the lines, the cut. I notice the little white tag that says it costs $89.99.

Then I put it back on the rack and wander over to the clearance section.

It's not that I'm cheap, it's that I don't understand the concept of spending that kind of money on clothes. I'd rather spend it on travel, entertainment, an experience. An experience to which I will wear a flannel shirt from 1978.

Shortly after the sweatpants incident, I received (and, more significant, did not recycle) my weekly delivery of three J. Crew catalogs. What came over me I don't know, but I wound up buying more new clothes in five minutes than I had in five years. It wasn't until they arrived that I realized my new purchases were just updated remakes of all the old standards. Flannel shirts with goofy zippers instead of buttons. Black (not beige) Timberland rip-offs. A bad-ass gray down jacket that bears a remarkable resemblance to the bright-green one I used to wear to Millburn Junior High.

Ask me to part with any of these upstarts, and I'll have the Goodwill truck over here pronto. But ask me to lose my ill-fitting, stained NvU sweatpants from freshman orientation and you're asking me to lose a part of myself. Make no mistake. When it comes to clothes, despite appearances, I care. I care enough to wear.

This article originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix.

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From the April 20-26, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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