Circumstances brought my wardrobe to my attention this week – a little bit of social media and enough overcast in the morning to make the flannel shirt viable – and I began thinking about the semiotics of my wardrobe over the last decade or so. I had a pretty distinct look in DC by the end of my time there: black shirt, black shirt, Hawaiian shirt, black Hawaiian shirt. Khakis in hot weather, jeans in cold, Docs all the time and the leather jacket from September to March inclusive. In California, I was dressed for dock-walloping at Apple half the time (even if I did try to look a little nicer on keynote and beer bash days) and once I landed where I am now, there really wasn’t anything distinctive – it was the same wardrobe as grad school, albeit with adult shoes instead of the Nikes.
It started to change as I hit 40. I could sense it changing for sure, but where things really took a turn was when I went to Uniqlo in NYC (at a time when there were only three Uniqlo stores in the United States) and left with a couple of $30 cotton blazers, one off-white and one darkish-blue. They were transformative. I realized that the mere act of putting on the sport coat made me feel different, made me act different. The same holds up with the seersucker blazers (yes plural), or the new linen one I picked up this summer, or the Harris Tweed: as soon as it slides on I feel differently about myself and I project differently. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but I can be slouched in a black T-shirt and jeans and as soon as I put that linen blazer over it I’m ready for the first-class lounge at Heathrow.
Which I don’t name-check accidentally. I’ve never worn my Alden boots out of the country, but my wife’s dead-perfect birthday gift from over five years ago is the sort of thing that suggests things to me – that these same boots would be as well perched on a rock in the Scottish Highlands as on the rail of the bar in a pub in Galway or on the cobblestone streets of the West End theater district in London. These boots make me think I should be wearing them abroad, down European back alleys and alongside Japanese canals and propped on the footrest in international business class on a Dreamliner.
In the various notebooks (virtual and physical alike) I kept lists of things that were visions, inspirations, mood boards if you will, and looking back through them one of the common threads is wardrobe: most looking for workwear, things made in America, things of the sort I could wear and use for decades if I wanted to. In the last seven years, I’ve mostly accumulated them. Shirts from American Giant, especially the work shirt that I’ll wear every day from November to March if allowed. Jeans by LC King. The Filson x Levi’s trucker jacket, which I desperately need to re-wax. The peacoat. The Aldens. My Vanderbilt hat from Ebbets Field Flannels and the Kangol my dad used to wear. When I talk about having hit the finish line on stuff, I think that’s a huge part of it. I have the tools to be dressed the way I want to dress, and achieve the mood and feeling that comes from that. I can’t explain how different I feel in that work shirt (or now the flannel) – it just feels right.
The problem is, I rarely have more than four months to wear the things that just feel right. Even the summer blazers are a big ask when commuting in an area that gets hotter than it ever used to, more frequently and for longer. It’s entirely possible that the last piece of the puzzle is to lace up the boots and head for someplace gray, urban and below 60 degrees. Which is the trick. I can watch minor league baseball, I can watch MLS and the Premier League, I can drink 3.5% ABV pub bitter, I can walk through the Sunset and ride down the PCH at dusk, and I can do all of this in my most comfortable wardrobe – but it’s not going to be a substitute for Galway, or York, or Bath, or London. Not yet anyway.
Might be time to do something about that.