Clothes make the man - and the son, too

On any given day, my favorite shirt is likely to make it out the door before I can grab it and put it on. While I do have more than one favorite shirt, and several pairs of favorite pants as well, it is axiomatic, with a 20-year-old son who wears the same size as I do, that his choice for the day from my closet will be the same as my choice. Sometimes I don't even discover the purloined garment until I meet up with Spencer later in the day.

"Nice pants," I'll say when I see him at the store where he works, or at one of his music gigs.

"Yup," is the reply.

Nice shirt, too - and belt, socks, and shoes. Jacket even!

It began when my black varsity-style jacket suddenly looked good to him. Never mind that it was from the University of Chicago Pipe Band. That probably just enhanced its cachet. Off it went to college, along with sundry other shirts and pants, despite my inspecting his luggage like a customs agent.

Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. I recall a certain suede jacket that my father had from his college days. Somehow it made its way into my closet and onto my back once I had reached the age of majority - which is the age when the majority of my dad's things started to fit me.

I loved that jacket so much that I even had a beautiful yellow sunrise silk-screened onto the back at a high school arts festival. Customized, I thought. My, wasn't he surprised at the "improvement."

Other garments started to find their way into my closet. I even wore Dad's black tuxedo to the prom. Very suave. Everyone else in the Class of '74 wore powder blue. Tweed jackets and storm coats joined my wardrobe at various points during high school. I was blessed that I could wear things "off the rack," as they say.

I'd like to have been able to wear my father's shoes, but they fitted for only a week or two in ninth grade. And he had nice shoes, too. I also outgrew his shirts, suits, and sport coats by college. It was nice while it lasted. Spencer, unfortunately, has the same size feet as I do.

Our daughters, Ariel and Hilary, have been wearing the same size clothes for a couple of years. Sometimes they are happy to share; sometimes they are rivals for the same shirt or pants. Sometimes internecine warfare breaks out when one of them gets to the laundry basket first, and out the door, with the shirt du jour. I do need a weather forecaster to explain which way the fashion wind is blowing on any given day with these two. Usually they are diplomatic enough to say, "I'm looking in your room for a shirt." They like to shop together, and Hilary can even drive them to the city for the shopping sisterhood. So this is a good thing, as long as my credit card stays in my pocket.

Girls, it seems to me, have a different ethic about swapping clothes. Hilary and her friend Molly, for instance, have had a pretty smooth lend- ing system during their high school years. There's something about clothes that are worn or already broken in or that belong to someone else that ups their value. "We get bored with our own clothes," says Hilary. "And we just like playing dress up."

Just today, our girls came up with a new twist on their clothing lend-lease program. Inspired by the book of the same name, the girls have decided to start a "sisterhood of the traveling pants" when Hilary goes off to college next month. This is, somehow, the next level of sisterhood as well as clothes gestalt. A designated pair of awesome pants will go back and forth between them through the mail. Each time the traveling pants swap hands, the sender will tuck a small surprise in one of the pockets. Back and forth go the pants, couriers of their tokens of appreciation. Tangible appreciation, that is, for I feel that clothing swaps are already the coin for a deeper appreciation and approval.

When it came time for Spencer to go to the prom, he wore my kilt, Prince Charles jacket, knitted hose, and gillie shoes. Sporran, too. I've got to say, he looked good. I've got to say, he's blessed he can wear things "off the rack." And how many young men can say they wore their old man's Scottish Highland dress to their senior prom, instead of the powder-blue tux?

I have not been able to interest either of my girls in wearing my outgrown kilts. However, Hilary did come home recently with some atrocious brown plaid pants from a thrift store. They looked familiar. She called them "old man pants," but I recognized them as something that could have come from my father's wardrobe at about the time I outgrew his sizes.

It reminded me that another phenomenon had deterred me from Dad's clothes: some tragically unhip fashion faux pas. It gave me an idea that may be my only hope in warding off Spencer. I must create my own faux pas to make my stuff less desirable. Shall I wear my brown plaid trousers rolled? Yup, turnabout is fair play.

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