When I was perhaps twelve I complained to my Father that I didn’t have any nice dress clothes. Hoping for a suit, I went eagerly with him to the department store. Trips to the mall were sometimes painful since even in stores we seemed to window shop. But that is how my Father is.
He took me to a very specific rack, as if he’d found it in advance, and pulled out a blue blazer. I was not interested in this, though flattered he thought it appropriate I wear a dinner jacket like him, and equally discouraged I wasn’t likely to leave with a new suit.
Like my tennis shoes, he bought it a few sizes too large, telling me I’d grow into it.
At the age you’re at, if I buy you one that fits you now, you’ll be out of it in less than a year.
No one else had a blue blazer. Part of the trouble was that I was a West Coast, NorCal kid. While I was in private school, my classmates were almost entirely Asian American, and the aesthetic sensibilities of that very specific culture in San Francisco is not parallel to my blue blood parents’, with their English-Connecticut ideas on dress. The subsequent questioning at any school event where I was not obliged to appear in my school uniform was confirmation that again I didn’t fit in because of my background. White skin, blue eyes, blue blood, blue blazer. In a city where the most famous bridge was the world’s largest Stroop effect, I was true blue.
In high school this continued, first in California, where all my classmates were dispassionate surfers and indie-rockers, and then in Virginia, where all my classmates were wannabe surfers or indie rockers. The blazer by then was a new one, but the idea had worn thin and couldn’t be patched anymore for me. Tom Thrasher came up to me at a school event one night and demanded, then begged, that I let him try my gold button blazer on just once; you’d have thought I was wearing the original Darth Vader suit from how people responded to me.
I was indeed fairly preppy back then, but not self-righteously so, wearing my clothes as a uniform, flag, or self-segregating tool the way other preps I later met did. My wardrobe had collars, though I tried to compensate with t-shirts I liked and other apparel which I thought would dilute my by-then alienating look. I wore skateboarding shoes; I couldn’t even stand on one.
That wasn’t my imagination, either. People really were alienated by how I looked. I remember talking to a girl in high school who I’d recently started to know. One day she suddenly said to me, ‘You know, I used to think you were the most arrogant person in the world, like, before I met you I mean.’ I asked her specifically what I’d done to cause her to think that. Her response made me die inside.
It was nothing you did, it was just how you looked.
A number of other people would say that to me before I finished high school.
I used college to start new, as I imagine many people do. I expunged the unforgivable clothes and gave away garbage bags of collars to charity. I scrapped what I’d built and bought new clothes, more to my liking, with my own money. My brother said it best when he characterized my new look as ‘preppy scenester’.
Just as I’d had it wrong when I wore that blue blazer to my private school in San Francisco, and again all during high school, I was very wrong in college. I attended the school my parents had been grooming me to go to since birth. The name wasn’t what they’d had in mind anymore than another; it was the aesthetic. Everyone was blue: eyes, blood, blazer. This very Gift of the Magi peripeteia seemed unnecessarily cruel since I’d looked to university to amend my prior errors and my dashed expectations previously of fitting in.
I suppose I could have reversed the process even then, but part of the issue was I also felt liberated inside; this was the first time my identity was a manifestation of myself and not a reflection of my home (and how does one disentangle home from self-identity?) I liked the way I looked, and felt others should too. What I found instead was that everyone owned a blue blazer, or at least all the other males. And they’d all apparently had the same upbringing as me, only with the benefit of each other as company. I’d been left with the barbarians outside of Rome’s gate, and my new dress was misread as me being an outsider, someone who didn’t know the rules.
Whether some people thought I was a poetry major, in a band, or a homosexual, it was clear they didn’t identify with me. So that left me confounded in a brutally ironic, biting way. College turned out to be a re-direction of my social aspirations, with some frustrations being included, and a number of triumphs coming out of all of it. But that blue blazer I’d left in my high school closet seemed to smirk as I worked through my dorm room drawers for something suitable to wear to semi-formal events, like it knew it was right all along—the way parents often are.