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GEORGE'S POND: Sartorial Insouciance

author: George Smith / illustrator: Lee Rapp

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NO ONE WOULD EVER ACCUSE ME of being a clotheshorse. Of course, I’m not oblivious to my appearance, but it’s just not a big deal. In the privacy of my own home, my style could best be described as extreme casual. Right now, sitting at this keyboard, I’m bedecked in a vintage (Joy calls it ratty) green sweatshirt, black fleece vest, grey sweatpants (Oh, is that a toothpaste stain?) and athletic socks – one of which, sporting a perforated heel, is ready for consignment to the rag box while its partner wanders off in search of a new mate among my collection of previously widowed hosiery.

I make no apologies. I’m comfortable. No need to get all gussied up unless the Queen drops by for a cuppa Earl Grey or a Dubonnet cocktail. For sure, the moment that Gold State Coach pulls into the driveway, I’ll skedaddle off to my closet and change into the spiffy new sweat suit I’ve been saving for just such an occasion.

I know I’m not painting a pretty picture here, but the only person impacted by my vestiary indifference is Joy and she’s become inured to it. I don’t know when the transformation took place, but I wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t a quantum leap either – more a slow, barely noticeable evolution.

As a young man, just out of university, my concern about appearances was so out of whack with my paycheque that I had several suits tailored to measure. Given the current volatility of my physical dimensions, that would be a very risky investment these days.

Once, I even came perilously close to falling under the spell of the legendary Harry Rosen. I’d accompanied a more affluent university buddy to Rosen’s Richmond Street digs, but was forewarned that if Harry, himself, were there, he’d have me trying stuff on in the blink of an eye. Amen to that. I loved everything I modelled, but the cost of making me look so good went far beyond the reach even of my well-entrenched penchant for spendthriftiness.

Back to the present. Actually, I do have an abundance of clothes – almost all of which are of the very-to-extremely-casual variety. Tees, polo shirts, shorts, jeans and casual pants predominate. And Joy is right when she points out that I wear 5 per cent of my clothes 95 per cent of the time. But every so often, I’ll pull out something that’s been hibernating for a couple of years, judge it to be a nice change, promote it to the active roster and relegate something else to the dark recesses of my closet.

What about those rare, unavoidable occasions when I really do have to dress up? Well, there’s always the charcoal-grey suit I bought for my eldest son’s university graduation back in 1994. Not sure how it rates stylistically today, but that’s a moot point because the trousers and my waistline are currently in conflict. There’s also a sports jacket that’s been around for a few years, but is low mileage and still fits… if I don’t do up any buttons. I’m all right for dress pants too. God bless whoever invented the invisible expandable waistband.

As we age, one of the most difficult things about dressing for public consumption is knowing how to dress appropriately for our years. On one hand, we don’t want to dress too old. No nipple-high belts, flood pants exposing white socks, or double- knit polyester leisure suits. Nor do we want to dress too young. Few things are more pathetic than a 60-something guy dressing like he’s 16. The Justin Bieber look just doesn’t work past a certain age. Upon reflection, it doesn’t work at any age.

There’s a certain sweet spot that a lot of older guys I know achieve – sort of a “70 going on 40” look. And when the occasion demands, I believe I can achieve that look – but only with Joy’s help. I trust her judgment just as she trusts mine when the tables are turned. When it comes to critiquing outfits in our house, honesty trumps kindness. It has to be that way. How else would either of us know if we’ve really hit that sweet spot?

Interesting, too, is how one dresses for certain occasions. If I go shopping for a big ticket item, say a car or a new living room set, I want to dress well enough to be taken seriously, but not so well that the person I’m dealing with thinks money is no object.

When I go to the doctor, especially a specialist who I’m seeing for the first time, I dress to impress. It may be ridiculous, but if I eschew the sweats and my old 1950s hockey jacket, I reckon my concerns will be given more credence.

As for that 1994 suit, I often wonder if that darn thing will fit when I’m put on public display for the final time and legions of grieving mourners file past. No problem with the jacket. But those pants. Maybe a strategically placed spray of roses and ferns will hide the fact that they couldn’t get the zipper all the way up.

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