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I was recently asked if I kept a diary or a personal journal. I answered that I did not. My lunch companion then wondered aloud how I kept track of the important milestones in my life.
Men don’t generally keep diaries. But we do wear clothes and the clothes a man wears throughout life are a better personal record than any diary could hope to be.
We start life by having no say in the matter. From infancy to adolescence, our choices are made by our mothers. For a man, this lack of input will be an excellent preparation for marriage.
My mother would buy me two new outfits just before school started. One year stands out because both outfits screamed of the early 1970s and flower power.
The wide-collared shirts with matching flared pants anticipated a time when disco would reign. I even wore one of those shirts for a school photo. As I sat there in my eight-year-old glory, I can tell by my expression that I thought I looked just groovy.
Names on clothing and even assorted linens dredge up childhood memories of confusion. Growing up, I thought my hometown was ‘Royal Alexandra Hospital’ because it was stencilled on all my pyjamas, pillowcases and sheets. It never occurred to me that my mother had raided the supply closet at work.
Most men don’t have the same restrictions or hang-ups about wearing clothes that women do. Women are constantly burdened by fashion demands that whisper in their ear: ‘Do I look good in this? Does it fit?’ Men are much more direct and streamlined: ‘Does this shirt smell like manure?’
If the answer is no, then that’s the end of the inquiry for men.
What such an approach lacks in poetry it makes up for in efficiency. A man may be given his first suit for prom by mom and dad. He will wear that suit for every funeral, graduation or wedding until he can no longer be squeezed into it. Not only do men have no trouble wearing the same suit until the day they die, they would also have no trouble wearing a suit that another man actually died in.
When I was young, boxer shorts were considered ‘old man underwear.’ Today, it’s the opposite and wearing white briefs is a sign of being out of style. I’m just waiting for the fashion cycle to come full circle. When it does, I’ll be ready. Like most men, I have never thrown away any of my underwear.
That’s another difference between the sexes. Women get attached to silly things like grandparents, siblings and their own children. Men get misty over a Ford Mustang, the movie Rudy … and underwear.
The clothing we wear is a cultural signifier as well. Anyone who has ventured across the Atlantic has undoubtedly been confronted by the loud, flowered shirt draping the full figure of the stereotypical tourist who wanders around the ancient cathedral, oblivious to the grandeur, instead shouting at the top of his lungs: “Anybody know where I can get a cheeseburger?”
Yes, we all know where we’re headed. The day will come for men when we will all be wearing the hitch-up pants that start high above the ankles and don’t end until they reach both armpits. We will morph into the beach-goer who wears shorts with black dress shoes and matching socks.
On the most important days of our lives, society chooses conformity over individuality. Thus, we are all identically capped and gowned at graduation and forced into ritualistic attire at weddings. To add insult to the ultimate injury, we’re not even free to choose our own clothes at our funeral.
I think we should all be buried naked. I would like to lie face down in my casket so that the world’s last view of me – because I would insist on an open coffin – would be a smile.
Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer.