Wissot: Mad about clothes
As with many memorable events in my childhood, this one took place on a school playground.
It was the same playground where I played softball in the summer (playing with a hardball on cement is tantamount to a death wish) and basketball in the winter (made possible by my mother’s kitchen broom which I used to brush away snow from under the basket).
But this time it was girls and not sports which drew me to the playground. And not just any girls. Doris Santangelo and Liana Hochberger were blonde goddesses, the hottest seventh grade girls at Henry Hudson Junior High School 125 in the Bronx.
I was gobsmacked by the attentive affection they were showing me. Was it possible that they saw something in my frail body, dumbo ears, and acne-pocked face that the other girls in the class had missed? Of course not. No way, Jose. I was being punked, the victim of a betting scheme predicated on how long it would take for any girl at school to seduce me into letting her wear my prized red corduroy jacket.
For Doris and Liana, very little effort was required. In the spirit of Renee Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire,” they had me at hello. I caved instantly. Before they could even ask, I was pulling my arms out of the sleeves and giving them my precious jacket with the meek compliance of a bank teller handing over the money to Bonnie and Clyde.
In high school and college I would shop in Greenwich Village at a store called Paul Sargent’s on West 4th Street which carried hip double breasted sport coats and mandarin collared Nehru jackets. I dressed to be noticed. I needed attention grabbing clothing to compensate for the fact that I possessed no outstanding academic talent, athletic skills or creative capacities.
In so doing, I was thumbing my nose at the dictum, “clothes do not make the man.” Mark Twain concurred with me when he wrote, “clothes make the man. Naked people exercise little or no influence on society.”
At age 76 I feel perfectly comfortable sporting outfits that are only worn at Halloween parties. I’m long past the “when I’m old I will wear purple” stage of my life. I’ve moved on to chartreuse. I have no desire to be or act young because I no longer look or feel young.
I hate the way old folks are condescendingly referred to as “young at heart.” Hell, my heart is being serviced by cholesterol clogged arteries. If my heart is young, any hearts older than mine have stopped ticking.
Being old has granted me the freedom to dress as foolishly as I desire. I closed a business this year, one that I opened in the first year of the Reagan presidency. I don’t dress for success. I’m retired. I can dress for failure. I dress to amuse myself, to bring a smile to my face, to make me happy.
I think of this as the Mardi Gras period of my life. If I’ve accomplished nothing else in life, at least I hope that I’ve inspired little boys and girls to know that when they grow up they don’t have to join the circus to dress like a clown.
My closet is full of clothes that look like they came from the set of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” There are funky-looking shoes designed by John Fluevog, the Andy Warhol of footwear, in vibrant colors — baby blue, emerald green (Dorothy would have loved them), rose red, plum purple, and canary yellow.
I love shopping at Zara’s, a clothing chain out of Barcelona, Spain. Their coats, sweaters and shirts are stylish, slim fitted and made from faux fabrics that simulate more expensive garments. I recently bought a canary yellow winter coat there that goes well with the Fluevog shoes in addition to a gold satin summer jacket that resembled the one Michael Jackson wore when he shot the “Thriller“ video in 1983.
The prices were so obscenely cheap that the only way I could have gotten a better deal is if I shoplifted them.
I’m especially proud of my collection of spray painted sport jackets I purchased from a street vendor in an alley on Frenchmen Street, the legendary mecca for jazz in New Orleans.
My wife Alyn is the only one who can overrule my tasteless taste in fashion. If I have on a costume that makes her groan, she subtly lets me know by saying, “I hope that’s a practice outfit. Please put on something from your game day wardrobe when we go out.”
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.