EPISODE 35: The Rules of The Game
A few nights before the opening game of my nine-year-old's Little League season, I left work early and walked Nicholas over to his coach's apartment to collect his new baseball uniform. I've dubbed these excursions Uniform Nights to give them a sense of occasion. Instead of the envelopes for Best Actor and Best Picture, two equally vital pieces of information are revealed - the team's name and the team's colours.
Last season, Nicholas played in lime green for a squad known as The Moccasins.
"Driving or boating moccasins?" asked my wife Honor, when we returned home from last year's Uniform Night.
"No, Mum," Nicholas said as he rolled his eyes. "I'm a Green Water Moccasin. You know like the snake. The deadly poisonous snake. Not the shoe."
Sadly, this year Nicholas' team, The Blaze, got the short end of the Pantone stick. As he unpacked his jersey, he stared in disbelief at a colour the coach rather diplomatically called "khaki".
"I thought it would be red," said Nicholas diplomatically. "The Blaze should be red, right?"
With a mother who is the creative director at Tory Burch and a father who received his only varsity letter for rowing (a sport he was drawn to more for the haberdashery than the athleticism), Nicholas has been forced to develop a sense of athletic style at an age when most boys care more about the oil they apply to their mitts than the gel they use in their hair. But as a player on The Blaze, our son found himself facing a familiar challenge for any style-conscious jock - aesthetics are often forced to take a backseat to technical performance or tribal loyalty. So as we walked over to Central Park for his first game, it seemed like a good moment to review some of the hard-earned wisdom I've learnt about gym clothes.
Unless you played in the Premier League or were a founding member of Run-DMC, do you really need to go about your daily errands
in a warm-up suit?
Innovation in athletic wear often creates an essential piece of streetwear, but it takes time - be it René "le crocodile" Lacoste's piqué cotton tennis shirt or Brooks Brothers' button-down Oxfords. (The latter came about after John Brooks saw polo players in Britain using buttons to keep their collars stationary as they galloped down the field.)
Still, there is no need to be the first mover. Style usually takes its time catching up to technology. The second generation of smartwatches and Google glass will undoubtedly be chic-er than the first. To drive this point home I told Nicholas about the first time I saw someone emerge from the locker room in a pair of form-fitting black compression shorts. As this trendsetter began his work-out, he was greeted with helpful comments such as, "Did you lose your bike?", "Did you forget your trousers?" and "Will you be serving mash with those bangers?" My nine-year-old particularly enjoyed that last comment.
You might find my son hurrying down Madison Avenue in a tae kwon do outfit on Saturday morning. But before he's left the house, Nicholas knows to pack a gym bag with a pair of jeans, loafers and a dress shirt, so he isn't running errands looking as if he's ready to break some bricks back at the dojang. Honestly, unless you played in the Premier League or were a founding member of Run-DMC, do you really need to go about your Saturday errands in a warm-up suit?
There's something about athletic wear that unleashes our inner super heroes. I get this. For me, actually arriving at the gym is as heroic an act as Spider-Man vanquishing the Green Goblin. Yet that does not mean that I need to dress in clothing covered with webs or equipped with laser beams. Conversely, a good civilian look can elevate work-out gear. I remember the way my dad sometimes wore a short-sleeved white Oxford for a tennis shirt. It looked cool in a vintage sort of way.
"Think about the pinstripes on the New York Yankees uniform just like the pinstripes on one of my suits. Or when Roger Federer wore black-tie tennis shorts at the US Open," I said and then showed Nicholas a photo on my iPhone of the 2007 US Open final. In the image, Federer is wearing black shorts with tuxedo-style satin stripes.
"Was it a night match?" he asked.
"Sort of. It was late afternoon." I responded.
"Then it is OK to wear black tie, right?" said Nicholas as I thought to myself, No DNA test necessary, he's mine.
"Did Federer win?"
"Yup. Beat Djokovic."
"The shorts are cool... There aren't ads all over him... But I'm going to stick with whites," said Nicholas, who can be a moral absolutist.
A touch of UPS (unique personal style) can save the day when faced with bland athletic wear. One of my favourite teachers in grade school would wear a WWI aviator's helmet to enliven our drab sports uniform during the annual Boys vs Masters soccer match. And when Nicholas took the field for the first game of The Blaze's season, he intuitively understood this. As he headed over to third base, he slipped on a pair of wayfarers. A few innings into the game, his team-mates were no longer calling him Nicholas or Nick. He was now known as "Nicky Hollywood", the kid who could make even a crap-coloured jersey look good.
To read Mr Brodie's previous columns, click here. Follow Mr Brodie on Twitter: @jbrodieny