The Power of the Shirt

I am one of the least fashion conscious people on the planet. While I am unlikely to look someday like an “I don’t give a damn” senior citizen (you know, the type that plays shuffleboard, wears knee high socks, shorts and a badly mismatched Hawaiian shirt) I am not too far removed from this sad fashion state. One of the most terrifying things I have to do is try to match a tie with my shirt. Does it match? I cannot tell. That is one of the reasons that I got myself a wife. She earns her keep by keeping me out of hot fashion waters. To her it is obvious what goes with what. To me it is a big mystery. I feel the same way about wine. There are plenty of wine snobs in my neighborhood. However, I cannot tell the difference between a $5 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle of wine.

So clearly, I am missing a few critical genes. Fortunately, this seems to be a general problem with men, so I do not necessarily stand out in a crowd. No matter how far our beer bellies extend over our abdomen; no matter whether we think our hair is tousled when it is in fact dirty, cowlicky and flecked with dandruff; no matter even if you can fit a bowling ball down the crack in the back of our jeans, we still assume we are stud muffins. All those other men are the ones who look ugly. We look in the mirror, smile, see ourselves and are content. Here’s looking at you, kid.

I do not require fancy clothing, and I am fortunate to have a job where it is normally not required. Jeans, a t-shirt, and some sneakers or sandals suit me fine. I dress for comfort, not for professional impact. The other day I slipped on a pair of blue shorts and then put on a t-shirt that was virtually the same color. For hours, I did not notice anything. Then I caught my reflection in the mirror. Hmm. There was something wrong with the way I was dressed, but I could not put my finger on it.

Recently, in preparation for a vacation in France that starts in two weeks, I went clothes shopping. Clothes shopping is for me an activity that comes way behind cleaning out the cat’s litter box. It is something I generally do when I have no other choice. I wear underwear until it has holes through it and its elasticity is gone. I have shirts in my closet as old as my sixteen-year-old daughter. If it looked good in 1989, I figure, it still must be fashionable today. I have wide ties from the 1970s I stole from my father that I think are starting to become fashionable again. It is hard for me to say; I do not keep up on tie fashion. I just notice fewer narrower ties than I did in the 1990s. When that day comes, I will be ready and retro! I knew that whatever I wore in Paris, I would likely still stand out as the badly dressed American. Still, the peer pressure got to me. My wife and daughter had no problem spending $200 or so to pick up a few odd pieces of clothing just to wear in France. So off I went to the neighborhood Kohls. I gingerly approached the men’s department. Fortunately, it was summertime. There was a plethora of cheap and tacky clothes from which a fashion-impaired man like me could choose.

About six months ago, I made a clothing discovery. It may have taken 49 years, but I finally decided that a light olive green was my color. I looked good in olive green, or at least I preferred it to the other colors of shirts that I have. I do not think I came to this judgment by myself. I think I picked it up from stray coworkers, since I kept hearing the same complement about the same shirt. With enough repetition from disparate parties, it entered my stream of thought. Since that time, I have sought out more clothing in this color. Therefore, I started hunting the Kohl’s for my “favorite” color.

I came upon an olive green knit polyester shirt that cost maybe $16 or so. It is a pullover. That was about the extent of my analysis at the time. I picked up a couple more in that color, others in other colors, and a pair of new shorts, since holes were peaking through the pockets on the old one. The next day I put on the green shirt and looked in the mirror.

Whoa! Just who was that handsome man in the mirror? He looked vaguely familiar, but he had never looked quite so trim before. This knit shirt has subtle vertical lines going down it. I thought for a moment that I must have lost some weight, and then I realized I weighed pretty much the same as I did last week. What had happened? Most women would have no problem understanding what slowly dawned on me: vertical stripes make you look thinner. Horizontal stripes make you look fatter. Yet for me this was a revelation. It was a real “Ah ha!” moment. Moreover, because the stripes were subtle but close together, and the shirt hung so evenly across my body, I realized that a simple shirt could make me something of a minor babe magnet. My wife complemented me on it. At work, I got many complements, all of them from women. Yes!

It is unlikely that I will be taking up a subscription to G.Q. Still, I was impressed. Moreover, having watched The Learning Channel I think I know why this is. The shirt spoke to the power of symmetry. My nose is long, bony, and not terribly symmetric. If the truth were told, it looks more like a boxer’s nose. Symmetry is what women look for in a man. The better the symmetry, the more attractive they find you. Why do women swoon over Tom Cruise even though he is just an attractive dork? Because his face and his whole body are so symmetrical. You can say pretty much the same thing about all our current pop idols. Now, through the power of a shirt, I realized that it could show a symmetry that was probably unearned. Nevertheless, it did not matter. I was perceived as more symmetric, and thus more attractive and interesting in general. For a brief period anyhow, I was more than an ordinary man, I was a symmetrical man. I was a man of some substance.

Since I now have a power shirt, I am afraid I might lose it. Perhaps I should hand wash it only, treat it gingerly, and lay it flat to dry. I should eat carefully with it on; I do not want to get stains on this baby! Perhaps I should go back to Kohls and find more like it. Apparently, I am not so wrapped up in introversion that I cannot appreciate the sincere complements when I wear it. Thank goodness.

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