An unfashionable topic for father-son talks
By Ben Krull
While fathers and sons typically bond over sports, my dad and I bond over clothes. But our shopping outings highlight a difference in style.
My father has worked in the womens dress business all his adult life, and practically bleeds Seventh Avenue. He was wearing black before black was in. Even at age 69, he can match outfits with the hippest 20-somethings.
My mother tells the story about how my father was tearfully dressing for a funeral. Between sobs he asked, Does my belt match my socks?
My mother also works in the garment industry. Yet as a teenager I rejected my parents love of fashion. I would purposely annoy them by wearing dirty tee shirts and torn jeans (before they were in). Clothes should be worn to cover the body, not to impress people, Id tell them.
My youthful fashion rebellion reflected insecurity. As a sensitive, shy adolescent I feared being seen as unmanly.
To compensate for my mild temperament, I played competitive sports and lifted weights. Having a father in the dress business was incompatible with the macho image I wanted to project.
Aggravating my displeasure over my fathers career choice was his disinterest in sports. While I read every entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia, my dad couldnt name the local teams. Still, having been born into a fashion family, I was hardwired with a Garment Center sensibility.
My interest in clothes surfaced after law school graduation. Professional achievement became my new measure of masculinity, and I wanted to look successful. I favored striped neckties, European cut business suits and wingtip shoes. My favorite colors were gray and grayer.
My father was eager to share in my fashion conversion. Theres a sale at Brooks Brothers. Do you want to go? hed say. Or, I saw a sports jacket at Barneys that would look great on you. Lets go see it.
I usually resisted these overtures, but my father would increase the tension: I had the salesperson at Barneys hold the jacket. I told him youd come to see it.
He eventually wore me down. Wed go to Saks, Bendel and Bergdorf. These excursions revealed our conflicting approaches toward clothes shopping: my father is a spendthrift and Im a bargain hunter; I tend toward classic and he gravitates to the latest trend.
Youd look great in this, hed say, holding up a $900 Armani suit.
Its too expensive.
Just try it on.
Id try it on and it would look great. But I couldnt justify spending the money.
Tie shopping was similarly tense. Look at this, my father would say, pointing to a tie that had more going on than Times Square on New Years Eve. Id flash a look of disdain and move on.
Id buy clothes in my price range, while coveting the more expensive styles. Both of us would leave the store unsatisfied.
My fathers role as my personal shopper began in earnest when I discovered discount- priced stores. Three seasons ago we shopped at Syms, then it was H & M. Last season we spent an afternoon at Century 21.
Shopping on my turf has made my father more sensitive to my refined taste, while Ive become more respectful of his expert eye. Still, my father tries to trick me into shopping at the pricier stores.
Before going to H & M lets stop at Barneys to see whats in style, hed suggest. But I know hed talk me into trying on clothes, so I just say no.
A few Sundays ago we went to Zara, on Broadway. Going there was risky, as its just a few blocks up from Bloomingdales, and its $1,095 Zanga business suits.
Lets see if Bloomingdales has a sale, my father suggested. Maybe later, I said, which in my family loosely translates to not on your life.
At Zara I quickly found a khaki, two-button blazer for $89 that required minimal alterations. Sold!
Then my father pointed to a black blazer with satin lapels.
This would go great with jeans, he said. I shot him an icy stare that would freeze even the hottest style.
One leather belt and a summery tie later, my father showed me a light-blue stripped dress shirt. My treat, he said.
Next, my father held up a brown tie against the shirt and blazer. Sold! Continuing our rounds we spotted a $189 beige suit. It fit and looked great, but I didnt need a new suit.
We continued browsing, but I kept returning to the suit. Then I noticed it was $189 for the jacket. The pants sold separately for $89.
You dont have to buy it, my father said solemnly, relieving me of my angst.
We didnt bother looking at the stores sportswear. Our taste in casual clothes is too far apart. While business suits have an inherently reserved look that restrains my fathers cutting-edge sense of style, casualwear offers no such check. Shopping together for sportswear just wouldnt work.
While we waited on the register line my father called my mother. I cant wait for you to see him in his new clothes. He looks so handsome!
Over lunch in Tribeca we talked about what color pants would go with my blazer, and how my dress shirt could be worn with jeans. I couldnt have been happier had our conversation been about batting averages and playoff games.
Ben Krull is a law assistant to a Family Court judge in Lower Manhattan.