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Humor May 2018

Sam's Side

Comfortable or Stylish? No Contest!

By Sam Beeson

For the time of my parents, it was customary to dress up when going out into the world. For my generation, we bucked the traditions of our parents and wore jeans with holes in them and flannel shirts over rock band t-shirts.

When I was in my early 20s, I helped pay for my college expenses by working as a security guard at a shopping mall in a major metro area. It was quite the learning experience. The job afforded me ample time to do homework for school and provided me a paycheck which helped me keep my – on the verge of complete mechanical breakdown – car on the road while going to school. But the job also had its thrills.

Being a guard at a shopping mall is kind of like being Sheriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry. Mostly, you visit with the store employees and owners, as you meander up and down the mall directing customers to smoking areas and telling kids not to run.

Once in a while though, just like Andy and Barney, we would have to “uphold the law” with frequently the same hilarious consequences that usually beset Mayberry’s finest. I could write a book about that.

But this article isn’t about those experiences. It’s about fashion.

I bet you weren’t expecting that.

The neighborhood that this particular mall was located had a deservedly bad reputation. At that time, if you were destined to be victimized in that city, statistically you were likely going to be in that area. But in spite of the ruffians and the hooligans who inhabited the mall, we also had a pretty good number of retired folk. Many of them, I learned, were on Social Security or had small pensions from their former employers. As such, especially in the summertime, they would come down to the mall to escape their houses and let the mall pay for their cooling expenses. But most used the mall as their social club. They would hang around their favorite seating areas like a gold miner staking a claim. And they would visit with each other, reminisce, brag and argue about politics until it was time to close the mall down.

I got to know some of these gentlemen. At the time, I was barely starting out in life. Most of them had already lived it. I found their stories entertaining, if a little dated, as they talked about a world so different from my own. Some of them were from this city. Most had made their livings in New York City, or Chicago. Almost all had been in the military serving either in World War II or Korea. Their backgrounds and experiences were both similar and completely different from each other’s –  and totally alien to me. But one thing they all had in common, was how they dressed.

Even in the summer, when the outside temperature went north of 100 degrees, they would wear dress shirts and ties. Some wore hats, but not baseball caps, or golf hats, but men’s formal dress hats. I once asked one of these gentlemen why they dressed up like that just to come down to the mall and especially on a day that was blistering hot outside.

“How else would I dress?” was his perplexed reply.

I was reminded of the classic TV sitcoms from my childhood like “Leave It to Beaver.” Ward would come home from a day at the office and lounge around in a shirt and tie. When outside, even just when going to the store or to the movies, he would wear a suit. All of the classics had their male leads in such clothing. As a kid, I thought that was horribly fake. I was a child of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. My idea of formal attire was tucking in my concert T’s into my 501s. To this day I don’t really own a suit. Even for work it’s casual dress. I go through life mostly in loose fitting T-shirts and shorts with elastic bands.

The gentlemen at the mall nearly 40 years ago would put me to shame.

It seems to skip a generation, that is, the way folks dress casually. For the time of my parents, it was customary to dress up when going out into the world. For my generation, we bucked the traditions of our parents and wore jeans with holes in them and flannel shirts over rock band t-shirts.

But nowadays I see younger people starting to dress up again. I’m even seeing the rebirth of the fedora. Though I don’t think the hipsters of the day capture the same dignified look of the previous generation, at least they’re trying.

I have a fedora as well. And when I’m dressed up nice…darned if I don’t look smashing. But of course, I have grey hair and am starting to look like those same gentlemen who used to hang around the mall. 

Problem is, there’s just not that many malls anymore.

But it’s just as well. I’m too old and set in my ways to change a whole lot from who I am and who I have always been. So it’s shorts and t-shirts for me.

Someday, probably not many years from now, maybe I’ll be approached by one of these well-dressed youngsters (wearing a fedora, no doubt) who will ask me, “Hey gramps. Why do you always wear shorts and t-shirts?”

And I’m sure I will look at him in a puzzled way and ask, “How else would I dress?”


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