Once when I was walking on a main drag in Toronto, I turned to the woman I was with and said, “The guys here dress differently than I do.” Without missing a beat, she said, “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. You’re equally out of fashion anywhere.”
I pass along that anecdote as a preface to a story about something that happened to me this past October when I was visiting my daughter, Amy, who lives in San Anselmo, California, 20 miles north of San Francisco.
Whenever I go to New York City, I follow a simple rule to dress myself. I dress as if I’m to be a pallbearer at a “smart casual attire” funeral — black, maybe a little dark gray or dark brown sprinkled in, but DARK DARK DARK. It could very well be that this guideline is outdated fashionwise, but it comforts me to follow it. I have no such formula I’ve been able to figure out for California, so I’m left to console myself with the thought I’m no more out of fashion there than I am anywhere else.
My visit to my daughter included the weekend before Halloween. She told me she and her husband, John, ever the enthusiasts, planned to go around and about that weekend in costumes, and she urged me to bring a costume of my own.
I looked around my closet and found an Irish tweed cap I usually only wear to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holyoke, a gray wool herringbone vest I usually wear only to holiday meals or wakes, a loud tie, and a black shirt. I decided I could put the combo together and call myself an “old time, cigar-chomping reporter,” right out of the 1930s movie “The Front Page.”
Amy and John had planned a day trip for the Saturday before Halloween to Point Reyes Station, a small, good-looking town with good-looking people. Amy, despite being rather petite, put on a cow costume which she had put some effort into assembling, and John decided to complement her by being a cowboy.
I put on the hodgepodge I had culled from my closet and told them about my thus becoming a newspaper reporter, circa the 1930s. They accepted my rationalizing closet leftovers into a Halloween persona with characteristic graciousness.
We strolled around Point Reyes for a few hours, including lunch. Hardly anyone else was in costume, but people seemed to enjoy our being so.
On the way back to San Anselmo from Point Reyes, we stopped at a small-town artisan bakery that was enough of a hot spot to have a waiting line visible from the street. It reminded me of a countrified version of Kramer’s soup shop in “Seinfeld.”
I was the first one out of our car, and a young woman passed me on her way back to her car. As she was walking by, she said, and I quote exactly, “I like that look. That’s a great look.”
It hit me she was dead serious, that she had no idea I was wearing what I’d put together as a Halloween outfit, because my accompanying cow and cowboy were still in the car. For my part, I wasn’t about to blow up my moment of glory by telling her I was wearing what I thought of as a costume. I was enjoying being a fashionista too much.
But right then, my daughter, the cow, exited the car, and my son-in-law, the cowboy, followed.
My cover was blown. I can imagine the young woman put together rather quickly that the three of us were wearing costumes. She said nothing as she completed the short walk to her car, perhaps embarrassed by her fashion assessment. For my part, I was disheartened that perhaps the only person out of California’s over 39 million population who thought I was styling now knew that my appearing so was a random accident for which I could take no credit.
I always like to feel that when I tell a story gleaned out of my days and ways, it can be of some value to the reader beyond their being engaged by it for a few minutes. I like to think what the reader carries away from a column of mine has some weight to it, even if it is as light as a feather.
I’ll offer that what the reader might take away from the above story is the knowledge that if they ever want to achieve a hallowed “great look” in California, New York City, Florence, Italy or Florence, Massachusetts, they might try going into their closet and putting together a mix and match from largely passed over clothes.
I am living proof such a simple plan of action has at least a 1 in 39 million chance of causing one to be perceived as, in the words of an old ’60s Kinks song, “a dedicated follower of fashion.”
Just don’t bring a cow and cowboy along to steal your show.
Amherst resident Richard McCarthy, a longtime columnist at the Springfield Republican, writes a monthly column for the Gazette.