Monday, November 10, 2008

Cary Grant, Look Away!

I've made a couple of references to how we dressed in the fifties; I'd like to elaborate. It was common in the early fifties for young boys to wear knee-length corduroy knickers with long socks underneath. We all looked like those "Mister, can you spare a dime" newsboys who hung out on every street corner after the depression. After I got my first pair of long pants, I always wondered where the "whish-whish" sound was when I walked. Corduroy pants make that sound from the friction of the legs rubbing together. It could have been a great source of clean energy if they ever figured out how to harness it.

I wore long pants to school, probably starting around third grade. Having attended a parochial school, our fashion choices were limited; dark slacks, white shirt and blue tie made up our uniform. Eight variation. Public schools today would be wise to consider adopting the wearing of uniforms. Nobody feels deprived if they are not sporting the latest overpriced crap, although I must confess to some confusion on this point. You would think that being "poor" might keep your kids from wearing what the kids who are better off wear. Not so; the poor kids have the same hundred dollar sneakers as the rich kids....the ones that I can't afford. Nice to know my tax dollars are being well spent.

Like other periods in history, we had our fashion fads in the fifties. In the early fifties we caught the end of the "zoot suit" craze. Extra long jackets, pegged pants (narrow at the bottom) with white stitching down the sides of the legs, and wide-brimmed fedora hats marked you as a cool cat. As if this outfit wasn't outlandish enough, the suits came in some toxic colors, and the effect was accessorized with a long key chain and pointy toed shoes. I think jazz musicians may have originated the look, and it had a fair run. I get the feeling that one day somebody looked at himself in a mirror and said: "What the f**k!"

Fashion seems to change not by degrees, but drastically. The next fad I remember are bell-bottomed pants, the polar opposite of pegged pants. Bell bottoms were worn by sailors, and I guess some designer who had a thing for sailors, convinced the rest of us to wear them too. They started out modestly enough, with only a slight flare at the cuff to distinguish them from regular trousers, but became more extreme as time passed. Soon, the "bell" at the bottom was so wide that people could barely walk without tripping. Fortunately, the bell soon tolled for these babies.

Sticking with the pants theme, we can't leave out clam diggers. I loved these pants; there, I said it. They were originally meant as beach wear, but soon were being worn everywhere in the summer months. Clam diggers were white, knee-length cotton pants, like the Capri pants that women wear today. With clam diggers, one usually wore a long-sleeve polo shirt in pastel colors or stripes. It's hard to imagine street guys walking around in these outfits. If you saw us hanging out on the corner, you might have thought you'd stumbled in to auditions for "La Cage aux Folle".

One final fashion memory; for whatever reason, one year (guessing late fifties) the colors pink and black (or charcoal grey) became insanely popular with guys. Again, I can't square in my mind how guys who would beat you to within an inch of your life if you ever cast aspersions on their manhood, could fall in love with the color pink. I can see the picture so clearly: Easter Sunday, in the days when people dressed for church, almost every guy in church was wearing a charcoal grey or black suit, bright pink shirt, and a pink and black tie. It looked like some bizarre gathering of gay Klan members!

Men's dress has come down a peg since the fifties. Sweatsuits, t-shirts and flip-flops are the uniform of the day. The biggest hit has been in business dress. For most of my 40-year working career, I wore suits and ties. By the eighties, short-sleeve shirts became OK in the summer, and by the nineties, "business casual" had made its debut. It started out well enough, with neat slacks and golf-type shirts, but quickly degenerated. We had to send a guy home to change out of his "S**t Happens" t-shirt. Cary Grant, if you're up there, look away.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

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