Storytelling

The Devil Wears Hand-Me-Down Prada

I didn’t always look this good. Learning what to wear is almost as important as learning what not to wear.

My mother dressed me like a girl for the first three years of my life. The next three were my choice. I found blouse and skirt ensembles slimming.

I wasn’t always so good with clothing. On the other hand, I didn’t care. My family was deeply committed to hand-me-downs. I was the youngest of three boys, so I don’t think I had any new clothes of my own until the seventh grade.

Interesting fact: my mother had a tradition of taking pictures the first day of school, and my brother was flipping through those pictures after I had the albums scanned. He finds his picture from third grade and he’s wearing a blue shirt with red stripes. He finds my brother steve’s picture taken two years later, also third grade, also wearing a blue shirt with red stripes.  My picture taken three years after that…I’m wearing a black shirt with gray stripes. Turns out my mother went through an artsy-fartsy period with her photos, and it’s black and white. We’ll never know if it was the same shirt (it was).

I didn’t mind. There was only one kid in town who had nice clothes and everybody made fun of him. For years we thought his name was Dean, but then found out he was Serbian and his first name was actually Milo. Not that we needed help, but when there is a kid named Milo at school, the pressure is basically off of the Mickeys and the Jans and the Mortimers. The only Serbian kids that get off easy are those named Elvis. You know who I mean—Elvis Grbac, the famous quarterback from Michigan?

When everybody wears roughly the same clothes, you don’t worry about the style or quality. If we were all wearing dresses, say blue, sleeveless and above the knee, zipper in back, would it matter if it was from JC Penney’s or from Nordstrom? Granted you get better service from Nordstrom, and their return policy is quite generous, but we all would look the same. It’s the same dress, so which person is happiest? The one who got the same dress at T.J. Maxx, that’s who! I don’t know how they get their prices so low.

You know where people do wear almost exactly the same thing every day, and everybody else is wearing almost the same too? Hospitals, and everybody is wearing scrubs. You know why the nurses and doctors don’t mind wearing scrubs, which look horrible and really don’t do anything for my shoulders? Because the patients have to wear those embarrassing gowns and little footie slippers. I’m surprised they don’t install subway ventilation in the hallways so that the patients have their gowns blown over their head as they walk around with their I.V.

Do you remember the Vietnamese War? People will sometimes say that we won the military battle but lost the political battle. What we really won was the fashion battle. The Vietnamese all wore those black pajamas and the big straw hats – great for concealing grenades and AK-47s, but terrible for showing off your figure. Whereas the American military dress became very popular, and olive drab was the new black, at least until the shooting at Kent State.

The point is, we can’t take fashion out of the equation. We’d notice things.  Even if you think you wouldn’t notice things, even if you don’t say anything about the differences, you still notice them. But you choose not to say anything about them.

You may not be tempted to say anything if I was wearing stained trousers, a wrinkled polo shirt, and Berkenstocks. But if I was standing here in a blue velvet dress, wearing high heels, and with ruby red lipstick you bet you’d say something.  You’d say, “a velvet dress in summer? What is he thinking? And he has no idea how to accessorize.”

Think about what it’d be like if we didn’t wear clothes. We would have to establish our social status through fighting and grooming, like the apes. You might be tempted to say the “great apes,” but I’ve seen what they do on documentaries, and it’s not really that great. It’s not even majestic. And I swear to you I would not like fighting in order to have dibs on the banana tree, or picking lice out of someone’s hair just to be cool. It’s much easier to wear a Cleveland Browns “Dog Pound” sweat shirt. And if we did not wear clothes, we wouldn’t fry bacon as often. Think about it.

As an adolescent, I still didn’t care about clothes. My father shopped at value city which, back then, featured bargain bins of seconds and failed promotional material. So I was fine wearing a shirt to school for “STP pineapples”. I wasn’t even being ironic. I just didn’t care that my shirt put me at the bottom of the social order.

I have no idea if the other kids were laughing at me because of what I wore, or even if you here now are laughing at me because of what I’m wearing. I know you’re not laughing at my jokes.  My current problem is who is picking out my clothes.  And no, it’s not my mother. She stopped picking out my clothes for me around the time my second marriage ended.


This outfit was picked out by my dog. The problem is that dogs are color blind. I have filled my wardrobe with a lot of black, white, and gray clothing. Every day is my first day of third grade, captured in the artsy-fartsy photo by my mother.

Seriously—what sort of clothing would a dog pick out if a dog could pick out clothing?  GRRR-animals, of course.

In winter, he’d wear a BARKA.

His tuxedo would always, always, have tails.

And he hates collars.

I still wear hand-me-down clothes. This outfit, for instance, was my father’s. He was buried in it.

There are two things I won’t wear as hand me downs. One is women’s clothing, unless it still has the tags. The other is underwear. You can’t wear second-hand underwear, unless you’re really drunk.