I have been a pariah on several occasions in my life and look back on them with a certain fondness. Of course that warm glow is tinged with a sense of shame as I brought it on myself each time – but any memory is a good one, when you consider that there are people who are losing theirs day by day.
First incident occurred when I visited our local water treatment plant with an excursion group from dental school. We were shown the fluoridation equipment and harangued about how it would make our jobs redundant. Some forty years later I thought about this when I sold the practice and retired. How prophetic…
Any rate, we had been told to bring our own lunches so I stopped at a supermarket on the way up and bought some bread rolls and fillings. Cheese, salami, and olives from memory. I was rounded on by the classmates and laughed to scorn for eating dago food. The professor who accompanied us on the tour was a Greek gentleman and he sampled the salami and the olives, but said nothing. It rather soured me on eating with my classmates ever after – even to the extent of avoiding their graduation dinner. In the event, I graduated 6 months after the rest so the dinner would have been a pain anyway.
The next time I was asked to dine with the erstwhile classmates was a couple of decades later – after I had established my own marriage, family, and surgery and had moved past the point of being a worried little wart. I’d joined the ranks of the muzzle loading rifle shooters, got into historical re-enacting, and collect a number of uniforms and costumes.
When we were dressing for the 20th year dinner of my university class I remarked to the wife that everything I had to wear was dull and old. She suggested that I wear the latest bright costume that I had – a New York Zouave outfit. Ever the fool, I agreed.
I have never been greeted with more disdain or a colder shoulder than at that restaurant meeting. Old classmates literally turned their backs on me. Their wives flocked to me and we had a great good time discussing the oriental-style costume. The dinner was eaten and I retreated, and from that day to this most of those old classmates – resident in this city – have never spoken to me. I hear news of their madnesses, decrepitude, or business failures through the grapevine, but aside from that have no contact.
And the result? I am free to live my own life as I please – no posing to please and no tiresome social gatherings based on forty years ago. I may have done myself – and other pariahs – some good.
Are you condemned to live your life in greys and blacks? Well, move out of Melbourne…
But seriously – your palette of colour when dressing for your real look can be everything from the grim Collins Street banker’s uniform all the way to the calypso bongo drummer tiki shirt and white slacks – and as long as the thing resonates with your psyche, all is well.
Modern fabrics and tailoring can provide the entire gamut and as long as you do not fall foul of the worst excesses of the fashion runway, you can be happy. As your real look is something you control, you are allowed to make it what you will.
I cannot wear the brightest of the fashion clothing comfortably – it has been bought for me occasionally but in many cases I have carefully routed those garments to the Goodwill without ever donning them, and with no regrets. Equally, I deplore the dead black of the Melbourne winter uniform as tending to make the wearers more miserable in bad weather than they need be.
I have hit upon a brown/green palette for myself and have pursued this for years. I do maintain a couple of grey pinstripes or checks of varying luminosity for formal occasions but these often give way to a deep brown stripe that my father bought in 1960 – it is a comfortable garment if you combine the obviously retro look with suitable shirt, shoes, and hat. I am of an age that can wear this.
Equally, I can wear plaid shirts and straight jeans in brown and green for daily wear and get the benefit of comfort and quiet appearance. I can add braces and not feel out of place. A cap or hat is entirely appropriate – even to a straw hat in summer.
And a man of my age can wear a sweater -sleeved or sleeveless as the occasion might be – with dignity. The only thing one must do is be ruthless and discard or repair sweaters so that they do not look holed or baggy. If you are Einstein you can get away with it but the rest of us have to look better, not smarter.
The big retail shop – Coleworths, Flyers, Getar, Big Letter, etc. exist in every major Australian city – indeed they have branches in multiple locations downtown and at shopping centres. In addition to white goods, manchester, and bargain bins full of toilet brushes, they sell clothing. A lot of it.
Many people stock their wardrobes exclusively from these stores, and can live comfortably by doing so. The goods they buy are generally reasonably well-made, reasonably well-fitting, and reasonably priced. But there is one disadvantage for the shopper: they will look like 250,000 other Australians each season. If they are frugal shoppers they will look like this more cheaply, but one season out of synch.
I can sympathise with this – I am equally well dressed, but in many cases the season is Winter, 1962.
The buyers for the big stores wield tremendous economic power in the clothing business, as they have very big purses indeed. And they are canny – they are always trying to achieve the perfect purchase…the garment that sells out completely on the last day of the season, leaving room on the shelves for the next attraction. But with this skill comes responsibility. They are going to make the country look the way they buy for at least the next year.
Sometimes they get it right, and we all look decent. Sometimes they get it wrong and we all look like prats. And sometimes they get it disastrously wrong and we look like grubby, smelly prats. If you doubt me, I mention two words: nylon shirts.
I do not mind the clothing from the big stores, inasmuch as I buy anything. Their underwear does not chafe and their sweatshirts are good for at least a year. But I always pray that the designers and buyers will have done their job whilst sober. We have had far too many years when every garment has a logo printed on it somewhere and cannot be worn decently outside of a football stadium or tractor pull.
I was a child when there was Army and Navy Surplus that meant something. My father bought a bomber engine at an RCAF surplus auction in Airdrie, Alberta and ran it in our basement. He also bought lightweight drafting equipment from the RCAF that used to be on the navigator’s flight table. I aways wanted him to bring home the Fraser-Nash gun turret that was on sale as well, but my mother was a spoil-sport…
I mention this as a preface to gently prime you for a fact of life; there is no army and navy surplus any more. The bomber engine was left over from WW2. The army and navy now need all the stuff they have and are frequently engaged in horse trading amongst themselves to gather enough of it together in one place to operate on. They don’t have any spares to sell.
What is sold in the surplus stores is cheap imports from Pakistan, India, and worse places. If it can be made of bad cotton or brass – if it can be made crudely but with a certain brutal flair – if it can be sold as an aid to camping, or fishing, or genocide – the stores will get a sea container of it in and sell it. Whichever category it fits into and whatever it is, you can find one common thread – it will be overpriced.
Don’t avoid the surplus stores because of this. Go into them, by all means. Education is always expensive and shopping there is no exception. Set yourself a price limit that is painful but not horrifying, and go spend to that number. Who knows – you may need the fake ammunition box or the Pakistani exploding alcohol stove – or the Confederate flag or the 70 cm folding knife – for some legitimate purpose.
Just don’t ask for Fraser-Nash turrets…
Some Sunday afternoons are dull times…particularly when the weather has closed in and there’s nothing new to see. You sort of languish. So you can understand why I was delighted with an invitation from one of Perth’s belly dance sorority to call at her studio and take some pictures of her class teachers – she said they were to be casual ones for studio records. No need for me to bring the entire lighting suite…
Well, you can’t be too casual. I worked out a good travelling two-light setup with the new camera and packed it into the car. I noted that there were a few cars out on the parking area at her place but whose they were didn’t register. I walked to the front door and rang the bell that didn’t seem to ring. Just as well someone was going by the hall at time and saw me waiting patiently on the doormat.
Well, I was ushered in gracefully by Belyssa and directed to go set my camera and lights down. She’s got a big, purpose-built, studio space in her home that has an exotic theme – it looked like there were plenty of spaces for a decent posed group once the others arrived. I asked, in a professional manner, how many were to be expected.
And that was the signal – Belyssa gave the high sign and they all flooded out of the kitchen. And I was gleefully informed that it wasn’t a professional call-out, but a party given in my honour. And that it was I that was to be photographed…
I take these things well – rarely falling to the floor unconscious. I also take well to a glass of red wine and a plate of snacks and the cheerful conversation of people who I had photographed in the dance business for many years. And there were a number of war stories about theatrical performances and costume embarrassments.
Then they dressed up, and dressed me up, and packed into the spare bedroom set and sat me up at the top of the bed and that’s the last thing I remember. I’m told I had a good time, and I’m prepared to believe it.
I shall never look at Sunday the same ever again.
I’ve written of Bunnings before – the local Australian version of the DIY shop or Home Depot. It is undoubtedly like other shops in other countries in that it sells nails and plumbing fittings, but in other respects it is wholly our own.
The first time I cottoned on to this was on World Talk Like A Pirate Day. All the staff dressed up as pirates – and we’re talking about senior citizen employees as well as junior staff – and talked like pirates. It was a bit disconcerting, when all I went in for was a can of spray paint, to see hardware clerks rolling their Rrrrrr’ses early in the morning…
Today they supplemented the standard sausage sizzle stand that parks out front of the place with Christmas cupcakes. I have no idea whether these are a commercial product or fundraiser’s specials, but I do salute the imagination that used a pretzel for the reindeer horns…
One cake is missing. Not my fault.
Hush, child. He is a re-enactor. It takes some of them that way. Try not to stare.
Yes, I know it looks funny, but that is how it is meant to look. Yes, I know it looks uncomfortable. I’m sure it is. But at the price he has had to pay for it, he is bound to wear it anyway.
No, I’ve no idea what it has to do with us. It is from the olden days and from far, far away. From the land of Osprey. No. 138, I think. The lady standing next to him is from No. 94. That is a completely authentic outfit of the olden days. No, I don’t know how she goes wee wee in it. I don’t think she does – perhaps they didn’t go wee wee in the olden days – perhaps they just died young with desperate looks on their faces. She’s practising hers now.
Yes, it is a funny hat. But I’m sure it’s a very nice one. That’s why he has it tied on under his chin. He doesn’t want to lose it, and if it blew off I doubt he could bend over to pick it up. Not in those trousers. Not in mixed company.
Well, go and ask him. I’m sure he’ll let you feel it if you ask nicely. Offer him some of your fairy floss. Just push it right in there in the eye-slits.
That’s just how they talked in the olden days. And down on the docks. Perhaps he is a sailor or a pirate. Go ask him to show you his RRRRR’s. In those trousers it will be a memorable event.