Old clothes: Women see trash where men see dear old friends

March 02, 2003|By Susan Reimer

LEBRON JAMES, considered the best high school basketball player in the country, got in trouble recently for doing what my husband and his friends do all the time -- wearing clothing from another era.

The Ohio superstar, who is headed straight to the National Basketball Association without making one of those tiresome unpaid stops in college basketball, was briefly sanctioned for accepting a couple of jerseys made exactly like those worn by long-retired players.

My husband and his pals can go him one better: they wear clothing actually worn long ago.

Men are famous for hanging onto clothing that not only is past its prime, but past time for the Goodwill box.

But men don't often hang onto clothing for the same reason that women hold onto clothing -- hoping to lose weight.

Men, I think, hang onto clothing because it doesn't occur to them to upgrade or because they are unwilling to admit defeat.

There is a scene in the movie Lonesome Dove -- a seminal movie for men of a certain age the way An Affair to Remember is for women of the same age -- in which a character named Jake Spoon rides into Lonesome Dove after an absence of 10 years and comments on a cap worn by a scout named Dietz.

"Hey, didn't Dietz have that same cap before I left?" asks Spoon.

A character named Gus McCrea responds, "Well, you know Dietz. He ain't one to quit on a garment just because it got a little age."

I have not personally watched Lonesome Dove, nor have I read the book. But I have had this scene recounted to me several times, coincident with my recommendation that my husband make the effort to spruce up his wardrobe.

The dear man still has his blue and gold West Mifflin South letter jacket from 1965 and, like so many men his age, claims it must certainly still fit because it was a little big on him his senior year. (He recently tested this theory in front of me and explained the result by saying that he never buttoned it in high school, either.)

He has never thrown away a pair of socks, no matter how threadbare. Thank heaven they continue to disappear in the wash. And he wears sweaters and jackets that belonged to his father -- God rest his soul, because his clothes are still in service.

It is hard to fault a man for such sentimental clothing collections.

My husband says his friend Mike favors a tie worn by his father, who died in the '70s, and my brother-in-law Bill wears a raw silk scarf that might be 50 years old.

"My dad wore it for as long as I can recall, and he has been dead for 33 years," Bill says.

About five years ago, on a whim, he had it dry-cleaned for perhaps the first time ever, and it practically changed colors. So it is clear that men still have a learning curve when it comes to clothing, sentimental or otherwise.

But I think men wear other articles of clothing simply because they haven't been lost or stolen.

Mike, my husband's friend, cautioned his wife to take care not to lose the pair of winter gloves she borrowed from him recently.

"I have had them since the 9th grade," he told her.

My husband's friend Reid owns a peculiar collection of aged garments. He avidly shops estate sales where he purchases the ties from the wardrobes of the dearly departed. All except the one he is wearing to meet his maker, my husband is fond of saying.

As a result, Reid is known for his enormous selection of vaguely out-of-date ties, and I think it is fair to say that if the recently deceased had been more circumspect with their wardrobes, Reid might have to find another sartorial idiosyncrasy with which to distinguish himself.

While women might share a man's fading hope to return to a previous weight and size, we can be coldly efficient when it comes to discarding other people's old clothing.

My sister forcibly confiscated more than 150 pounds of running T-shirts earned by her husband during his 10K period and gave them to our brother-in-law, Paul.

Paul, a welder by trade, is always grateful for such donations because it saves him a trip to Goodwill where he purchases clothing he doesn't mind burning holes in.

Such shopping excursions have proved embarrassing in the past for both Paul and my sister Elizabeth because he often returns home having purchased clothing she has just donated.

No, you can't talk a man out of his clothes, as it were. And when I try, my husband quotes again from Lonesome Dove and compares himself to Dietz, who was willing to hang onto a cap, even with a little age on it.

"And," he says to me each time, "doesn't that bode well for you."

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