On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Once in a while we hear a remark that is intended as an insult about how another person is dressed. Wild polka-dot pants or flaming Hawaiian shirts are worn as fashion statements by males who want to be noticed; just as the short-shorts worn by female adolescents of the 1970s era were trendy fads that were designed to attract the opposite sex, despite being risqué. They were designed to be appealing; and short-shorts were enormously appealing to male eyeballs, especially when they were framing young, comely female bodies. We of the male gender perhaps don’t want to acknowledge that we harbor visceral and titillating tendencies, but we do. Maybe sexual arousal does not occur in infants or very young boys; but hormonal arousal in adolescent and mature men persists for the rest of their lives. There is no use in denying it. Females want to be looked at and the clothes they wear are like beacons sending out messages. Many, but far fewer adult males think the same way, in my humble opinion; but that does not mean that the world of men’s fashions is not just as vibrant as it is for women.
This chronicle is not really intended to focus on fashions, trends or fads; but about the cultural significance of the clothing itself. When an article of clothing is handed down from one sibling to another, for example; there is some bit of emotional baggage that goes along with the transfer. The article of clothing is either accepted with a sense of pride; or it is rebuffed with a sense of imposed humiliation. There seems to be no middle ground.
Personally speaking, this observer in the person of the Footloose Forester always approved of the idea of hand-me-downs. The act of transfer from one person imparts an aura of kinship; a shared identity; and perhaps an acceptance of a history that is a label no less recognizable than if it were the written title of a book. For example, Civil War re-enactors are uniformly proud to wear the hand-me-down apparel of those who lived long ago. The military uniforms and other associated wearing apparel of bygone eras have history written into their threads. Most of us are delighted to display those trappings of what may be a history to which we have direct or indirect family links. Thus it is, that garage sales and flea markets carry furniture, jewelry, antiques, period costumes and countless other items from the past that attract buyers from every economic strata. Flea markets and garage sales are not just about used items at bargain prices.
For the Footloose Forester, his bias about hand-me-downs was always a sense of pride and identity with the hand-me-downs that were part of his life. What son would not be proud to have a jacket that belonged to his father, or grand-father? What woman would not be proud to be married in the very same wedding dress that her own mother wore? And his opinion about hand-me-downs, in general, extends to others both inside and outside of his own family. He thinks that there ought to be a sense of identity and mutual respect between the giver and the receiver; that the article of clothing is but one aspect of that sense of bonding and sharing; furthermore, that the wearing of a visible article of clothing like a dress or a sports jacket is displaying something that is prized, like a valuable book with a gilded cover, but one that has been read time and again. To the Footloose Forester, a hand-me-down is not something to be accepted with shame because it is not new; a hand-me-down should be accepted with pride because it comes with its own history and an implicit kinship that is often being extended, literally, from one human hand to another.
Perhaps rich people cannot understand the propensity with which the Footloose Forester views the issue of hand-me-downs. Certainly, he has overheard wealthy people discussing their trips to buy clothing; and he has come to accept the fact that some people would not dream of going into a thrift shop to buy clothes. Their luxury automobile in the parking lot, their Rolex watch, and their $300 suit may give them away as being well-to-do; but the point is not about what they possess; it is about what they may think about their possessions, including their clothing. In his considered opinion, the Footloose Forester thinks that people who are born into wealthy families have an entirely different viewpoint about hand-me-downs. Although he has no data to back up his opinion on this score, the Footloose Forester believes that old or worn clothing in wealthy families goes to good-will outlets, or goes into the trash before it serves out its useful life. The point here is not to make comparisons between rich people and poor people; but merely to identify a few factors that may influence why we, as individuals, put putative value on some things and not on others.
Among a few of the prized hand-me-downs of the Footloose Forester are items of clothing once worn by his Grandfather Pellek. Perhaps even before he emigrated from Hungary in about 1910, Grandfather Pellek wore the kind of heavy wool pants that would become part of the hand-me-down wardrobe of the Footloose Forester. One must presume that European men’s clothing had distinctively regional styling, cut and fit; as well as being seasonably fashionable at the turn of the 19th century. The favorite hand-me-down of the Footloose Forester from Grandfather Pellek had one-inch cuffs that were not very common in the styles of the times of the early 1960s; and had wide belt loops that made them stand out from the norm in men's slacks. Many people noticed them as being different; but mostly they did not speak out about them, in order to be polite. A few brash people his own age, however; made wise cracks about how odd they looked. And that was the point…. they were different. The heavy wool pants from an earlier era of fashions were an inheritance from his Grandfather; were part of his legacy; and were hand-me-downs that were worn proudly.