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Clothes make the man

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I’ve decided not to think about getting old, just accept it and start wearing all the clothes in my closet again; dress pants, shirts and ties, sportscoat — the outfits I used to wear before I retired. Also, all the hats in my collection. 

This came after realizing I’d fallen into the sloppy — and sometimes slovenly — habit of dressing day after day in sweatpants and hoodies … or worn, faded jeans and old t-shirts (some days looking like I was following the John Fetterman fashion code) owing to a combination of the last two years of sheltering in place with Covid and my retirement.  

The decision to clean up my attire could be a way of denying my mortality, I guess. Or maybe I just don’t want to find myself lying on my deathbed regretting wasted opportunities to become someone else.  

Which is to say, with creased slacks, a dress shirt, and the right necktie — or the right jacket or coat — it’s not so much that I become another person but a different facet of myself. One that has a certain presence, a bit of savoir faire. To quote Mark Twain, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” 

But hats are different. I’ve found that when I “wear a different hat” I find myself actually becoming a different person.  

A few weeks back I dug out my old, beat-up Resistol cowboy hat and wore it to our weekly Talking Heads group at the public library. So, it came as no surprise when I heard myself observing in a Will Rogers drawl, “A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.” 

The next week I pulled my wide-brimmed Stetson off the shelf. In the car on the way over I started channeling LBJ, talking about plans to stop bombing North Vietnam in 1968. At the library I announced to the group, “I shall not seek … and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” 

For the next week’s meeting I put on my Greek fisherman’s hat and became “Zorba the Greek” remembering a line from the book by Nikos Kazantzakis: “God changes his appearance every second. Blessed is the man who can recognize him in all his disguises.”  

I also wore my old White Buffalo Café letter jacket that day. “I didn’t know they issued White Buffalo letter jackets,” Wayne observed when I arrived. 

“Actually, I bought it when Howard had a sale on them at Bowlus 40 years ago,” I responded. “I had a chenille ‘Poet’ insignia made but thought it a little pretentious to put it on.” 

Wayne responded with a story about Ralph Russell, his Lakeside Junior High shop teacher who thought his woodshop students who devoted themselves to a year of being crossing guards should get letter sweaters with their own insignia — so he arranged it.  

He said it was quite a wonderful surprise to see them get honored at the spring ceremony in the auditorium, but that it didn’t sit too well with some of the other students because the shop kids (who couldn’t afford athletic equipment and band instruments) were lowest on the pecking order.  

Getting back to my closet, this week’s dive in temperature made it the perfect time to combine my knee-length, wool overcoat and the Borsalino Italian fedora my parents gifted me 30 years ago. Donning them, I became Clemenza from “The Godfather” and said to the man after he murdered a traitor, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” 

I also have a bunch of caps, which I rotate on my noggin depending upon my mood. My favorite is a tweed newsboy cap with the snap on the front brim. With it, I have several options. 

I can wear it frontways and either become Seamus Heaney reciting poetry with an Irish brogue or Monty Python’s Michael Palin singing “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay,” with the accent of a Brit.  

I can also reverse it to become a beret, take on a French accent and transform into Pepe Le Pew caressing a befuddled black cat, “Come here my little pigeon, my little ooh la, la. Everyone should have a hobby … don’t you think, eh? Mine … is making love.” 

Getting back to my Stetson, I ran into my old friend, Dennis, in the Aldi’s parking lot still wearing it and imitating LBJ. He laughed, reminded me how Lyndon used to call his wife “Bird,” and, in his best Texas drawl, shared a story about Lady Bird bragging to LBJ about the compliments she’d received about her dress and figure at a party she’d attended that afternoon. 

Lyndon — who was notorious for his crass, barnyard speech in private — said, “That’s real nice Bird … but what did they say about that big ole butt of yours?” 

“Why nothing, Lyndon,” she replied. “In fact, they didn’t mention you at all.” 

  

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-704-1309 or jtknoll@swbell.net. 

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