When did 'cool' slip into 'classic'?

One day in my early teens, my mother announced that I would forevermore wear gray socks. Not gray argyles. Not a paisley pattern with a hint of gray. Plain, monotone, gray socks.

Mom gave custody of the color brown to my younger brother. My older brother got basic black. There was no vote and we were not asked if we had a color preference. One day, my sock drawer simply went blah.

My mother wasn't without her reasons for becoming a strict footwear disciplinarian. My brothers and I wore the same size shoes, and it drove Mom crazy trying to tell our socks apart. Color-coding her sons was a necessity if the laundry was to get done.

Like other teenage boys, I dreamed of playing Major-League Baseball.

But unlike other boys, I didn't want to make the big leagues because I loved the game. I simply envied certain parts of the Boston Red Sox uniform. For those who do not think it sounds bad to have a wardrobe limited to a single color sock, I ask one thing: Don't judge another until you've walked a mile in his gray socks.

There was a family precedent for placing each of us in our single-color sock prison. For a two-year stint, my grandfather decided it would save time if he wore the same outfit each day. Not the exact same suit of clothes, but the same color shirt, tie, pants, and jacket.

While he may have shaved minutes off his morning routine by limiting his apparel choices, he busted loose from his self-imposed clothing sentence three years earlier than I was furloughed from my Alcatraz-gray foot coverings.

I still get giddy when I see racks of multicolored socks in a department store, but I'm over the traumatic memories of gray socks.

Now I'm fixated on sneakers. I bought my first pair of Reebok sneakers more than 20 years ago. I've worn the same brand ever since. When Reeboks first hit the stores in the late 1970s with their understated white-leather uppers and trendy embroidered British flag, they were coolness itself. Wearing them made me cool by association.

But when I made my last sneaker purchase, I was shocked by a name change that brought my "coolitude" into question. What had been ultra hip 20 years ago were now labeled "classic."


Obviously, the new "classic" strategy was the brainstorm of some 22-year-old Reebok product manager who had never even seen an eight-track tape, except for the time he went on a high school field trip to the Smithsonian's Museum of Classic Old Stuff That's No Longer Cool.

He's probably the same guy who's responsible for my kids' sneakers, which emit a laser light show with every step, as though someone strapped tiny neon Christmas trees to their feet.

Somehow, I'll find the bright side and come to grips with owning classic sneakers and not being cool.

After all, Mom always told me that every gray sock has a silver lining.

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