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Sartorial Eloquence

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader


By far, the most disconcerting part of HBO's award-winning mini-series Big Little Lies (2016) to me was the portrayal of its male characters. While the focus of the show was on the soap-opera lives of the "supermoms" in an affluent California town, I couldn't help but note what a sorry lot of d-bags, weaklings, and sadists were the partners of the primary characters. Obviously the author is making a point here about the type of men that are attracted to this particular group of strong women, and while I never felt that it was unfair or that there was any "man-bashing" going on the portrayals are too believable for that it was still mildly shaming for me to see such starkly-drawn and terrible guys.

It's one of the benefits of a show that features multiple female main characters, I guess you get a viewpoint that's often missing from a lot of contemporary entertainment. (At the Emmy's, the shows co-stars, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, talked about why they decided to produce the mini-series themselves: they wanted roles. As aging actresses they are finding it harder to find decent projects to get involved with.)

Because I'm shallow, though, I have to say that what really really bothered me about the male characters in Big Little Lies is that I kinda look like them. And dress like them. In one scene in particular, Laura Dern's husband is wearing an outfit that is identical to something I wear all the time stylish jeans, hipster shoes, a button-down shirt. And he looks like a tool. In spite of how drawn in I was to the show, I couldn't shake that one narcissistic, niggling question: Jeez, Do I look like a middle-aged tool, too?

I guess it's a pretty sad indictment on me that the main thing I took from a show that tackles domestic violence, class warfare, and pernicious social hypocrisy is how I look, but, well, I did mention that I'm shallow, remember? And I'm well aware that 0.0000000000001 % of humanity has absolutely no opinion or awareness of how I look on a day-to-day basis. (I think my wife is the only one, really, and that's only because she has no choice.) But it is becoming a real problem for me, as I continue to age, and I imagine it's a question that a lot of baby-boomers and Gen Xers are going to have to face: Just how are you supposed to look as you get older, anyhow?!

For most of my adult life I've worn variations on the same outfit virtually everyday: black jeans, black T-shirt, black boots/shoes. Sometimes a solid-color button down. In Winter and Fall I'll make the daring choice of adding a black sweater or coat into the mix. It's my "look": I saw my younger sister recently, after a few years absence, and she looked me up and down and said, "You look exactly like you did 20 years ago." I took it as a compliment at the time, but later, upon reflecting, I wasn't so sure. Does the brooding guy/tortured artist look really hold up in middle-age?

The answer is no. Despite my attempts to fight off the ravages of time, I've got a fairly typical middle-aged body: thickening in the middle, barrel-chested. My beloved black T-shirts don't flatter the realities of my changing physique. Something happened a few years ago, I'm not sure when, but at some point my all-black outfits started looking less like "me" and more like a caricature of "me." I've known that I've needed to make some sartorial changes for years, but I'm always resistant to that sort of thing. But now I don't think I have any choice.

For guidance I checked the internet for "Best Looks For Men Over 50" and of course that was a bad idea all of the examples featured male models or handsome movie stars, guys whose very existence is dependent upon them looking impossibly good at all times. ("Just dress like George Clooney!") But the guide was helpful in that it directed me toward what "type" I am: I wasn't the "CEO" type or the "sporty, casual" type or the "Classic Male" type (whatever that could mean.) I discovered I was the "I'm With the Band" type, which was simultaneously flattering and somewhat horrifying. The article recommended a bunch of $800 leather jackets and tailored T-shirts and expensive Japanese sneakers and if I was willing to drop a cool three grand, I could completely update my fading style. It's the kind of advice that made me want to shave my head and wear nothing but ceremonial robes. (The "Airport Monk" type.)

Ultimately I decided to not go too crazy with a total transformation; I decided to make some tiny, philosophical changes that wouldn't demand a massive revamping of the wardrobe. As an actor I remembered the thing about wearing costumes in plays, how it wasn't so much about the clothes themselves as the attitude they gave you. I decided the attitude I wanted now was formal; not formal clothes, per se, but more a formal attitude, or bearing. Fortunately I had a few formal pieces already, like good dress shoes and some sturdy black pants, that I could build around. I bought some conservative button-down shirts, and some deliberate "old guy" choices: cardigan sweaters, a couple of stylish scarves, blue blazer, Bay Rum. Most importantly I concentrated on pretending to be elegant and refined; I moved deliberately, and actually paid attention to my posture now. I made a show of crossing my legs when I sat down and putting my hands in my lap. It's weird, even these small adjustments in the way you move can have an affect on the way you look.

The most painful decision I had to live with was the banishing of my black T-shirts. I kept two for home use only and got rid of the rest. it was surprisingly difficult, for I've had some of those bad boys for decades. Faded, ripped, not even black anymore, still, that was the look I wanted to present to the world for years. But not anymore. I'm afraid that era has passed for me. I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to act my age, but with a little work I might be able to look it.

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