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Posted: March 9, 2011 5:04 a.m.

Giddens: Uniform response not always same

I’m in uniform today: Boat shoes, khaki slacks, a light blue Oxford shirt and tie.

It’s the standard for generations of Southern office workers, just right for any season. Take off the tie and it’s knock-around clothing for the weekend, or work clothes for sales folk and service industry workers. Add a navy blue blazer and you’re ready for church.

A lot of folks, in a mild form of fashion rebellion, pull the look together without benefit of socks, even for work. My feet are too sweaty and my ankles too knobby to go without the navy blue or brown wool socks.

I’ll express my individuality in the occasional loud tie instead.

It’s like Garanimals for grownups, and I’m grateful.

The shirts, shoes, and pants are of the same group; there’s just no "Monkey" label sewn inside.

I can put them together with confidence without having to ask Donna if this tie goes with that shirt.

That’s sartorial salvation. I’m hopeless when it comes to mixing and matching clothing, suffering from a double fashion whammy of being color blind and a guy.

Striped shirt and patterned tie? Oh my.

Is that yellow or green? Don’t ask me: All bananas except the greenest of green look the same to me.

I’ll bring the shirt out to Donna with five ties in hand, grabbed at random and relying on her eye to find one that may possibly go with the shirt.

She gets a good chortle at some of the combinations I concoct.

If she’s left for work, it’s back to basics, the Oxford, the khakis and the boat shoes. And a tie.

I suspect other guys fear similar fashion faux pas. There are too many of us out there dressed in a similar manner.

It’s especially common in my profession.

I once went on a job interview in a military town in North Carolina. Four of us went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant, all of us wearing "the uniform," replete with blue blazers. The hostess asked us whether we were stationed there, apparently thinking it was new Army issue for the summer.

It’s a convenient combination, but it’s also a tradition to be honored.

When he was out of his sheriff’s duds, you can bet Andy Taylor was in khakis and an Oxford when he was calling on Helen Crump.

And you can picture Papa Hemingway in the uniform with a scotch in hand and his back against a wall at some subtropical bar.

It was a look favored by my dad, too.

He had his fill of overalls and denim growing up barefoot on a farm in Nashville, Ga., so there were no jeans in his wardrobe, but lots of khakis, both for work and dress, and for casual wear about the house, too.

The blue Oxford cloth shirt was part of his look too.

You’d look in his room and there’d be a plastic bag from the cleaners filled with five pairs of khaki pants and five blue shirts.

I’ve got two of his shirts now, Hathaways with little red "H’s" embroidered at the base of the button line. I’ve been wearing them three years, now.

They may be a bit faded, it’s hard to say with that shade of blue (at least I think it’s blue). But there’s no fray to the collar, and plenty of wear is left in them.

Better yet, each time I wear one of them, I think of my dad.

It reminds me of going out on service calls with him on a sweltering summer day, gnats crawling on the inside of the windshield of his 1972 Ford truck. He’s behind the wheel, methodically working the column shift and driving at the snail’s pace that earned him the ironic nickname of "Speedy."

We’re heading out to pick up someone’s washer or dryer, or heaven forbid, a hernia-inducing refrigerator-freezer.

And there’s Dad, dressed as if he’s heading out to dinner. The shirt sleeves are rolled up a quarter turn, the clothes are clean and the lines are crisp.

Dad knew clothes sent a message. His was an aura of crisp coolness, one of professionalism and of someone who valued getting the job done right and well over haste.

It was a lesson imparted subtly that stayed with me.

There’s a reason why classics never go out of style.

 

Tharon Giddens is editor of The Covington News. Reach him at (678) 750-5011 or at tgiddens@covnews.com.

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