Fashionably Lame

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

May 20, 2012:

I am not a metrosexual. I am the Clay Aiken of straight guys. It’s the way I’ve been my whole life, and for years I’ve never had much of a problem with that. For all I knew nobody else did, either.

One night in 2006 I walked into my Wednesday night meeting and my friend Colleen scanned my choice of clothing for the evening and said to me, “No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.” I looked at her, puzzled. I always attributed my singleness to bad timing and worse luck. Because I had no idea what she was talking about, I scanned myself, and then I took inventory of what I was wearing. Sandals: check. Jeans: check. T-shirt: check! I had no idea what she was talking about. I looked cool. I mean, I thought I did. What was she talking about?

“Your jeans are too skinny around the ankles,” she said.

“What difference does it make?” I asked.

“Girls like thick legs. Those make you look like you have chicken legs.”

“But they’re jeans. I’ve had pairs like these since the eighties.”

“You need the bootcut. That’s what’s in.”

Now I was truly confused.

“Bootcut? I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

She went on to explain to me the difference between the jeans I was wearing and this weird style bootcut she was talking about. I nodded, sort of understanding but not really. Then she told me that my flip-flops were bad. Again, I was confused. I had bought them three years ago at a trendy surf shop in the fanciest mall in town. How could they be out of style? Oh, because they had no band separating the toes. Silly me. I shrugged. To me, a flip-flop was a flip-flop. What did it matter that they had Velcro attachments? My Speedo brand T-shirt was the next to receive advice. Was it too baggy? Was the image on the back too busy?

“I think I need to take you shopping,” she said. “When are you available?”

We made a plan to meet at the mall the following day. There, she took me around to stores like American Eagle, Aeropostale, etc., and she helped me pick out a new wardrobe of jeans, shorts, T-shirts, polos, and sandals with bands attached. If not for my limited funds she would’ve also had me buy new glasses (which I only wear while watching movies) because my current pair that I’ve had since I was sixteen makes me look like my grandfather. But it was a successful day. I’d spent close to $200 updating my wardrobe and I had never looked better. I stopped wearing my old clothes that day and began interchanging with the new ones I’d just bought, and continued to wear the new ones for the next few years. I really liked them. She picked well. Most of those shirts I still have, and one of them I even wore today. I’m pretty sure it’s out of style now.

I used to never worry about shopping for clothing. It was never my forte. When I was a kid I’d wait for Christmas or my birthday to receive all of my cool clothes, and then wear them any time I had the chance. Because my mom used to accept other people’s hand-me-downs to give to me, I never really got the concept of wearing clothes that were in style. Not that an eight-year-old really needed to be fashionably hip, but it was hard to ignore the fact that the other kids weren’t coming to school wearing a Superman Peanut Butter T-shirt with a latch key around his neck. So, each year my aunt and cousin had to come to the rescue, buying for me the latest surfing T-shirts (because children of the eighties were all about the surf or skatewear), and doing their best to stop me from getting jumped at school. You could probably imagine then how cool I felt when at twelve years old I got those flashy blue Quicksilver shorts that had the big bright pink band circling the middle and the pant legs that went about six inches down my thighs. It was the fashionably lame kid’s dream to wear something so cool, bright, and short. Yeah, that’s right. Eat your heart out, ladies. And the coolness didn’t stop there. I was wearing a pair of jams (super cool) the day that a girl I had never met before (or seen since) had offered to kiss me. Not that I was keen on kissing a stranger back then, especially one that was potentially cute but not memorably so, but I appreciated the sentiment. Fashionably awesome, thank you very much, pair of super cool jams.

I’m pretty sure I had those Quicksilver shorts and those jams well into high school, and over time I had gotten out of the habit of wearing them. Eventually I moved into my natural style, jeans and a T-shirt, though it took me a while to get there. I had experimented with dress shirts, slacks, and at one point in my youth I even had shoes with Velcro straps. But the jeans and the T-shirts were the only things that felt natural to me. Everything else made me feel like I was standing out in a crowd, and I was never into that. For the longest time I didn’t think it was a big deal. But then I found out I wasn’t attracting girls because my clothes were lame.

Clearly it was time to change.

If it weren’t for Colleen’s help in 2006, I would’ve bombed pretty hard; I realize that now. Everything she picked out for me that day, I simply nodded and said, “Okay, I’ll get that.” Truth was that I really had no idea what would work for me, but I trusted her sense of fashion. As a professional hairstylist who had the occasional opportunity to work on magazine shoots, I thought she was pretty in the know. And I think she did well with me. I liked most of the things she selected (save one shirt that looked too much like something my indie rocker friends would’ve worn), and I’d probably trust her advice again today. In fact, I’d have to trust her advice again, because the last time I went to Aeropostale on my own (about three years ago), I had picked out three awesome shirts that I really liked, bought them, and came home to discover that they were too small. When I squeezed one over my head and down to my waist, I realized I looked like a gay German bodybuilder. I ended up giving all three of those shirts away to someone whom I no longer remember.

Lately I’ve been feeling the need to invest in a new wardrobe update, so I’ve started thinking about what I wanted to find. But because I have no idea what I’d even look good in anymore, I stalled. For months I’ve put off my return trip to any department store, partly out of limited budgets, but mostly out of fear. I didn’t want to go in and remind myself of my shopping incompetence.

However, this weekend I got a little cocky. I thought, “Hey, I can find something cool. I’ve been trained in the art of selection once before. This will be quick and easy.” So, I went to the one place I knew I could find something I’d want. Target.

After checking the prices for the Harry Potter Blu-ray / DVD combo packs ($14.99 each), I headed over to the men’s clothing section to see what kind of shirts I could find. There I discovered the usual groups of polos, dress shirts, novelty T-shirts, and so on, that would appeal to anyone who knew something about fashion. But I didn’t necessarily feel compelled toward any particular style. I thought I could use more dress shirts since I have only two that were bought in the last decade, but I wasn’t there to spend a lot of money. So I kept looking. I did find one shirt that I kind of liked along the back wall that was beige, looked a little faded, and had a defined buttoned V-neck down the front. But I wasn’t yet settled, so I kept looking around for something else that might’ve caught my attention. Nothing else did, however – there might’ve been some great shirts that I’ve seen, but none that registered with my sense of fashion, so I ignored them. I returned to the back row where all of the Converse One Star shirts were located and gave that one shirt that had caught my eye a second look. It was fairly inexpensive at $14.99 (the same price as a Harry Potter Blu-ray / DVD combo pack), and I thought it would probably look good on me. But I decided I’d look around elsewhere before I’d commit to it. For all I knew there was an even better shirt out there waiting for me. Besides, I was a little worried that this shirt might be ghetto.

Two years ago I had taken a chance on discount pricing. Someone – I forget who – had told me about stores like Ross and T.J. Maxx, so I decided to check one out and see what I could find. I went to Ross and picked out a fairly nice T-shirt (not sure what the correct term for it is, but it’s a class higher than your typical printed T’s or plain T’s), something else, and a pair of gym pants. I thought I did a pretty good job with my shirt choice, as no woman has yet to tell me that I picked badly, although I am constantly reminded that my belly shows whenever I stretch in that shirt. I was confident that I’d leave Ross this time with the same level of success.

But I didn’t. I went home defeated instead. That’s right, kids. Letter “Lame” is for loser.

When I first walked in I realized that about 95% of the store was geared toward women. I had literally spent the first ten minutes of my time there believing that all of the non-athletic shirts in that entire department (and store) were limited to one rack, and I became frustrated with how the partitions for mediums and larges were shorter than the length of my arms. I couldn’t find a single shirt on that rack that I knew was right for me. Yes, there were maybe two or three that I strongly considered, but couldn’t take seriously because they were V-necks, and guys with hair on their chest don’t need to be spending money on V-necks that they can’t button. I’ve got enough fashion sense to know that nobody wants to see that. I was also uncertain how much I wanted the dressy (insert brand name here that I can no longer remember nor find in any Google search for men’s fashions) button-up shirt that had the zippers drawn horizontally over the pockets. I sort of liked the style, but at the same time I kept thinking, “Will this make me look stupid? Will this cause me to lose respect among the informed class?” It didn’t help that all of the shirts I liked were only available in small or extra large. Fortunately, I entered explorer mode and searched the store a little more. To my surprise I found another rack under the label “Wovens” – to a man who can’t read anything past twenty feet without glasses, you could imagine why I avoided this section initially – adjacent to the one I was perusing, and found identical versions of the same shirts I was previously looking at, but in sizes I could actually wear. I felt better then. But then I realized that I still didn’t know what was good and what would make me look like an idiot. So, I left discouraged at my inadequacy. That’s when I came home and updated my Facebook status:

“Okay, ladies, tonight I decided I’d pick up a couple new shirts, since it’s been about two years since I last did this, and I left the store defeated. I have no idea what I’m looking for. So, I’m taking volunteers if anyone wants to help me figure this thing out. Resumes welcome.”

I got eleven responses, with most of them telling me where to shop, but not how to shop. Two volunteers offered to help me, several others dropped names of stores they thought I’d like, and one told me to shave a message in my chest to impress the ladies. Colleen, who had taken me on the successful clothing tour of 2006, reminded me to pick out T-shirts. If only she knew about the disastrous turn I had taken a few years ago when I shopped solo and bought all of those tight skinny shirts that I ended up giving away, she’d realize that telling me what to buy isn’t the same as showing me what to buy.

I felt like a shell of a man when I left the store that evening. I knew I was better than this, but I didn’t know how to prove it. I had gone in to pick out clothes that defined me, and I left the stores empty-headed and empty-handed. Yesterday I went to the park to drown my sorrows of all the things I couldn’t fix. I went there wearing my boardshorts and white Quicksilver T-shirt, trying to walk off the defeat, when suddenly, as I was nearing the halfway point in the walk (about two miles from my car) a fierce thunderstorm came rolling through and drenched the heck out of me. Immediately I thought, “Oh great, I had to wear the white T-shirt. Now everyone at the park can see my nipples.” Even when I’m casual, I pick the wrong clothes for the occasion. I needed help more than ever.

When a man who has no fashion sense tries to make do for himself, problems tend to rise. Yesterday when I came home and changed, I decided I didn’t care about fashion anymore. I didn’t want the stress of trying to please the eyes of the fashion-conscious. So I put on my blue beach shorts that I usually wear nowadays only to sleep in and my Speedo T-shirt that I had received criticism about six years earlier, and I spent the rest of the evening watching recorded episodes of the Celebrity Apprentice, attempting to forget the weekend. In one episode, Clay Aiken is criticized for having no fashion sense, and immediately I think, “I can identify, man.” And I did.

This morning at church, Joseph, one of the young adults I kid around with sometimes, was walking up the stage lugging some equipment around, and I noticed that he was wearing a shirt similar to the one I had almost picked up at Target two nights ago. I asked him where he got that, and he told me, “Target, man. The best place to get shirts.” Another guy confirmed that when I had posted on Facebook my cry for female help, he was thinking that I could probably do well with a shirt of that style, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll go get that shirt today.”

I didn’t go right away, of course. I stopped at Chipotle for lunch, then I drove around for a bit, tried to go to the beach even though the parking lot was full, and traveled down to Deerfield (in the next county south of here) for the heck of it, then swung back up toward the beaches and headed north to Boynton where I returned to the same Target where I had found that one shirt I kinda liked. Then, as I got out of my car and approached the store, I realized just how hot the weather had gotten, and how problematic my lack of air-conditioning really was. Add to the fact that I had driven home yesterday soaking wet, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how wet my back had gotten during my hour long drive today. As I walked into the store, I kept thinking, “I can’t go shirt shopping like this. No one wants to see a guy with a drenched shirt.” So I turned around and walked back to my car. I still haven’t bought that shirt.

I don’t know why buying clothes is such a difficult thing for me. I’m the same guy who ten years ago went to a car dealership just to look at some models and prices to see what was out there and ended up buying a green 1996 Honda Civic within about thirty minutes of my showing up. I still have that car, by the way. It’s been good to me. It’s proven that I can commit to big things and be happy with my choices. But for some reason I can’t pick out a dang shirt. Am I helpless? Or typical? And is it surprising that I’m writing this journal with no shirt on? Here, I’ll go put on a plain white T if it makes you happy.