For most of my career I had to “dress up” for work. Coat, tie, dress shirt, dress slacks and a well shined pair of shoes were the norm Monday through Friday and again on Sunday mornings.
One of the joys of retirement is a much more relaxed dress code. Did I say dress code? I no longer adhere to a dress code though 40-plus years on the job keeps me sensitive to what looks decent.
Actually, things began to relax before I retired. The business casual trend of the early 2000s was appreciated.
My fashion awareness developed in the 1960s when everything was worn snugly. I confess to having had to lie on my bed and use a pair of pliers to zip up my blue jeans on more than one occasion. Once out of school I gave up the painful look but still leaned toward the more youthful look of fitted clothing.
Somewhere in the early ’90s I discovered the joy of double-pleated slacks and suspenders. The pleats provided more “living” room and the suspenders eliminated the discomfort of a tight belt.
After decades of “dressing for success” I was gradually embracing my father’s and grandfather’s fashion philosophy: dress for comfort.
My paternal grandfather set the pace for this philosophy. Opa Huisman wore bib overalls whenever and wherever he could. He wore a suit and tie to church but as soon as he returned home he was back in his “bibs.”
Opa detested regular trousers. “Half pants” he called them complaining that they cut into his stomach. He was right, you know!
After a big noon meal, Opa laid down on the living room floor and unsnapped his overalls at the bib and at the sides. “Need a little ventilation,” he explained with a wink. Then he put his glasses (with built-in hearing aids) and his dentures on his chest and quickly drifted into dreamland. You can say what you want about his habit, but the man looked comfortable.
My father was a dress-for-comfort adherent as well. Dad wore a suit and tie to church. Period. When I was very young Dad wore bib overalls on the farm. In his years working at grain elevators, however, he wore gray work uniforms. Comfortable gray work uniforms. He never had to worry about which shirt went with which pair of slacks; they all matched.
Dad’s dress-for-comfort philosophy carried over to his leisure attire as well. I recall a pair of seersucker summer slacks which were cut quite fully. As a teenager I was embarrassed because you could see the print from Dad’s boxer shorts through the thin seersucker fabric. I realize now it wasn’t a big deal. Teenagers are embarrassed by their fathers regardless of, or in spite of, what they wear.
Even Dad’s Sunday-go-to-meeting attire was worn for comfort. In the late ’50s Dad decided he needed a new suit and on a Saturday night he took me along when he went shopping at Queensland’s Men’s Store on Main Street in Jewell.
“Pep” (the nickname came from his days as a young athlete) Queensland was a delightful older man, always dressed professionally. Apparently he believed in dressing for comfort, too, for he put Dad into a blue wool number that had enough fabric to make two suits.
My father had an athletic build in those days and on a windy day his suit pants sounded like the school yard flag. Doggone it, though, he was comfortable.
As a snug-fashion teenager I sometimes teased Dad about his baggy blue suit. Dad scowled and said he wouldn’t wear anything he couldn’t slip on over his shoes.
Mom never cared much for Dad’s baggy suit but she said little. Thankfully, in later years she took a more active role in selecting Dad’s wardrobe.
When my parents visited us on weekends in Sioux City they often stayed until Monday morning. At the Monday breakfast table Dad wondered aloud how I could wear a tie to work every day. I told him it was just my work uniform.
All of this leads to a bad joke: What’s the difference between a well-dressed man and a tired dog? One wears a suit; the other just pants.
Arvid Huisman can be contacted at email@example.com.