My teen has a new place to shop: my closet

I guess I should look upon it as a sweet vindication of my tastes. My 17-year-old son, who had for so long disparaged my choice of clothing, now enthusiastically rummages through my wardrobe as if it were a power sale at Filene's Basement.

Wasn't it only yesterday that he had turned up his nose at my Converse All Stars? Did he not once call out to me as I left the house in a blue-and-green striped polo shirt, "You're going out in that?" Does it not dwell in memory yet green the time he denigrated my tattered J. Peterman denim jacket as an embarrassment?

Oh, the irony. When Alyosha was in middle school (and just beginning to look at his father as an extraterrestrial), I had once attempted to recommend a pair of - gulp - chinos to him while we were out shopping. His response was a huff of incredulity. Then I watched as he selected a pair of jeans from the rack and retreated to the dressing room to try them on. He reappeared with the jeans riding halfway down his posterior, the legs heaped up around his ankles, and the hems slung under his heels.

"Too big," I pronounced.

"Just right," was his rejoinder as he beheld himself in the mirror, completely satisfied with the image.

I think that day set the tone for the next four years or so. When it came to clothing, the sartorial divide seemed unbridgeable. I was chinos, he was outsized jeans; I was neatly pressed polo shirts, he was T's as big as tarps; I was rugged hikers, he was flip-flops. We could have co-starred in our own sitcom.

Things began to change about a year ago. I remember the exact day. I had gone to my closet in search of a favorite T-shirt, one that had been custom-ordered by a musician friend of mine. It was a maroon thing with yellow letters on the front that read, "I'd rather be playing Haydn." I couldn't find the shirt, but it appeared later in the day when Alyosha returned home from school. "That's my shirt," I said with pointed finger. "Yeah, I know," said Alyosha as he headed for the fridge. But before he went up to his room he turned, swallowed his mouthful of bagel, and said, "I have only one question."

"What's that?"

"Who's Haydn?"

Since that time Alyosha has routinely - and without warning - rummaged through my duds in search of, I can only presume, the new and different. I admit that I am, at some level, flattered that the clothes my son ridiculed for so long suddenly have great appeal for him.

Still, the question remains: Why? When I was his age I would never have even considered borrowing from my father's closet. In fact, I recall one morning conducting a mad search for socks. When, in an effort to be helpful, my dad held out a pair of his own to me, I could only stare in disbelief. I would rather have gone to school barefoot. I mean, they were his socks.

I think that one very concrete reason the twain of my clothing and that of my father never met was our difference in size. I grew up at a time when the "fit" of clothing was the first consideration, and I would have been swimming in my dad's shirts and slacks. But for kids today, finding the right size is about as relevant as Latin grammar. Those who doubt this need only peek inside an American high school. The clothing is slung off the shoulders, off the hips, and under the heels, as loose as bedsheets. When it comes to kids' clothes, this is, without doubt, an age of "anything goes."

Which brought me, just the other day, to ask Alyosha, point blank, why he scours my closet. "I like some of your stuff, Dad," he smiled.

Duly warmed by his compliment, I held my tongue as he slipped into a pair of my dress pants. "Just take care of them," I admonished as he hurried out to waiting friends. I watched as he opened the car door, and then, at the last moment, drew the pants down about his hips. I never learned if he saw me in the side-view mirror as I ran after the car shouting, "The hems! The hems! Be careful of the hems!"

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