Elegy to an old friend: Andrew Evans talks men’s fashion and turning from a duckling into a man-swan.

By: Andrew Evans

I said goodbye to a very close friend last weekend.

I’ve happily shared a room with this friend for nearly four years. It was an extremely intimate relationship. Sometimes we’d just chill quietly on the couch together, maybe hit the town once in a while,  and on occasion we’d both find ourselves strewn haphazardly about some stranger’s bedroom. It wasn’t a conversation-heavy friendship, but it nourished in all the ways a good one should. It helped me understand myself better, helped me find my earliest shreds of confidence, gave me an identity. In hindsight, I wish I could have done something more in return.

I mean, I could hardly be bothered to iron the fucker.

Sadly, my Number-One All-Time Favourite Shirt has reached the limits of its usefulness. Actually, that moment probably passed about a year ago, when it started to look like someone took a vegetable peeler to the top of the collar. However, I’m stubborn, sentimental and generally unfashionable so I refused to put it out to pasture. The breast pocket flaps now refuse to flap down over the breast pockets, as I believe they’re intended to, and there’s a giant rip on the right elbow which would be a much bigger problem if I didn’t insist on rolling the sleeves up on virtually every shirt I ever wear.

So as much as it pained me, my burgundy, brown and white lifetime button-up has been cast from my closet. I’ve probably cleaned out my wardrobe around 30 times in my life, filled garbage bag after garbage bag with hand-me-downs and cerebral palsy donations, and never once had it been anything less than a liberating experience. It’s much easier to see the good in a closet when you don’t have to sort through all the bad (and in my case, there’s usually a lot of bad). But giving up on the long-serving admiral of my seemingly endless fleet of plaid shirts gave me pause. There’s no question it had to go; it was nigh on un-wearable and had fallen out of my regular rotation for the first time in its illustrious career. Still, it felt like I was giving up more than just a ratty shirt. I was giving up an icon of the most transitive period of my life.

Quick backgrounder: For the vast majority of my 26 years, I have been woefully out-of-step with, or at least four steps behind, whatever was deemed stylish. The only “fashion statement” I ever made as a kid was when I insisted on wearing only Adidas sometime around grade five, because Nike was obviously way too mainstream. (And when I say only Adidas, I’m not kidding. From the cross-trainers to the matching tracksuit to a rip-off of the awful snapback beret things Roots made popular for six months in 1998. I was rocking the three stripes way before Ari and Uzi Tenenbaum made it cool). I bought my first pair of aviator shades a good three years after the second-last person on earth had aviator shades. I’d graduated from high school before it occurred to me that you could wear more than one shirt at a time.

When you’re six, style doesn’t matter. When you’re 10, the Disney character on your lunchbox matters more than the fit of your jeans. When you’re 12, it’s not like the objects of your incipient affections are going to notice you anyways. But once you dive headlong into the emotional, hormonal and physical mess of puberty, you better be ready to do a half-assed job of presenting yourself. Let’s just say I was woefully unprepared.

For this and myriad other reasons, I was an insecure mess throughout my teenage years, (I know, I know, who wasn’t?) I spent the last three of those years in a relationship, which allowed me to sequester myself in my parent’s basement watching CSI reruns in sweatpants while my friends engaged in all the self-discovery (read: partying) you’re supposed to be engaging in. When I emerged into the harsh light of twenty-something singledom, I was out of shape, utterly bewildered as to where I fit in the social wilderness, and still had no idea how to properly dress myself.

The easiest way to deal with something you know nothing about is generally to abstain from it entirely, and that mindset informed my approach to style (I use the term loosely). If it doesn’t look like you’re trying, it won’t matter when you fail. Enter ill-fitting band t-shirts, cheap polo shirts and dull jeans. Sadly, feigned indifference is a horrible mask for a crippling lack of self-confidence, so bewildered I remained.

Fortunately, I found myself starting to frequent the same bars and restaurants (Winnipeggers: one of them rhymes with The Shmoad in the Bowl) and recognizing enough people night after night that I convinced myself I just might identify with a “scene” one day. So I started looking around, recognizing what all these people who I was positive were objectively “cooler” than me were wearing and started taking mental notes (1000 points if you just angrily shouted “IT TOOK YOU UNTIL YOUR 20s TO NOTICE WHAT PEOPLE WEAR?!”)

Not long after, I found my perfect shirt. It was a button-up! (Maturity!) The colours weren’t too splashy! (Modesty!) It was plaid! (Modernity!) It was from Connect Four in Winnipeg’s hip Exchange District! (Boutique-y!) It cost $80! (Pricey!) It immediately became the staff ace in my rotation – forgive the baseball analogy – trotted out on virtually any evening it was clean and I wasn’t going to be seeing the exact same people as the day before.

Assuming an unoriginal look isn’t far removed from wearing your favourite team’s jersey. It’s a way of openly identifying as a member of a certain social sphere, whether that sphere is “Green Bay Packer fans” or “over-educated liberals who frequently consume espresso-based beverages.” I happily headed in the direction of the latter, growing a beard with which I never want to part, favouring denim of a  darker and tighter persuasion, and displaying a devotion to plaid that bordered on religious. For as cliché as everything I was wearing, listening to, and talking about was, I loved it.

These were the things I wanted to wear, listen to and talk about. It was an identity it felt natural to assume, a character that required no acting. Out of that comfort grew confidence, never greater than when I was wearing ‘My Shirt’ (really, I wore it so much I imagine most acquaintances could refer to Andrew’s Shirt in conversation and everyone would know what they were talking about). It was a decidedly above-average looking shirt, but as a symbol of the type of person I’d started to consider myself, I thought it a masterpiece.

A lot has happened in 40-odd months since I bought ‘My Shirt;’ a second career before the first even started, a move to Toronto, an occasionally prosperous dating life. I’m not about to reach for some ludicrous suggestion that I owe it all to an article of clothing, but that article of clothing was there throughout that transformation. I still remember the nervous wreck for whom an $80 shirt was like Superman’s cape and now that the cape is gone it’s strangely comforting that I don’t need it anymore.

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6 Comments on “Elegy to an old friend: Andrew Evans talks men’s fashion and turning from a duckling into a man-swan.”

  1. March 28, 2012 at 9:36 AM #

    Reblogged this on Andrew Evans Talks At You and commented:
    Because I love to write about very important, topical things, here’s some words about a plaid shirt I like.

  2. March 28, 2012 at 2:02 PM #

    Isn’t it sad when you lose a cherished piece of clothing! I hope you gave it a proper Viking funeral.

    • March 29, 2012 at 12:06 AM #

      Actually, I had planned to wear it and go up to the roof of my building on St. Patty’s Day, take it off, soak it in whiskey and set it on fire. Instead, I drank all the whiskey and forgot.

  3. beckman803
    March 28, 2012 at 6:06 PM #

    Good article.

  4. Racquel
    April 10, 2012 at 11:49 AM #

    Clever/Amusing article. I had a similar situation with my hairstyle.

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