EPISODE EIGHT: THE BLAZER
The excitement on the first day of first grade was palpable. Moving up from kindergarten has its privileges. It was not the prospect of having his own desk or working with sharp objects in carpentry class that had my six-old-year son amped up. "Dad, Dad," said Nicholas. "I get to wear a blazer."
As a conscientious objector to casual Friday, I was pleased that he welcomed this formative step towards becoming a man of style. But I also remembered how boys can behave like Philistines when confronted with a dandy in their midst. I didn't know if I should pour cold water on his self-expression and make sure he understood that sticking out is an invitation to being teased.
"Not everyone is going to like wearing a blazer as much as you," I said as a gentle way into the topic.
"Why not?" Nicholas cut me off. "Everyone looks so much better in a blue blazer. And on Fridays we get to wear a tie for big assembly!"
Some boys, myself included, saw the donning of a blazer the way a wild stallion views putting on a bridle. When I was Nicholas' age, my mother's efforts to get me into my school blazer resembled the scene in a cowboy movie where the old ranch hand throws a lasso over a fiery mustang in an attempt to domesticate it. Whoa, whoa. Easy, boy! Not Nicholas. He will be standing at the foot of our bed at dawn's first light, turning up the lapels of his two-button blue blazer, and staring at himself in my wife's dressing mirror.
Nicholas is attending the same all-boys school that I did, and, at a certain point the blazer becomes like a second skin. Even now, once the weather turns autumnal, I feel naked without one. I always wear a suit or a jacket to the office. And on Saturdays, there is something comforting about putting on a tweed or corduroy blazer to run errands in. The right utility jacket can take me from a 7am trip to the playground to a 1am nightcap without having to change. Indeed, seeing the phrase "coat and tie" on a handwritten party invitation makes me a lot happier than "festive", "smart casual", or "come as your favourite literary character".
It wasn't until seventh grade that I really started liking the blazer, and that seemed to be the year when my peers stopped teasing (and began tacitly admiring) guys who dressed well. It was also the year that we were first exposed to girls from our sister school at dancing class. My fondness for using a chunky double Windsor knot stems from those painful afternoons and my early attempts to draw attention away from my well-marbled, prepubescent face.
So Nicholas may have to endure a good six years of teasing if he wants to remain a toff. The thought often crosses my mind on Friday mornings as that's when we usually chat about walking the fine line between looking good and sticking out (or "looking too good" as I phrase the issue to Nicholas). Certain aspects of his wardrobe are prescribed - the khaki pants and the navy blue blazer. In his closet, he can reach these elements, but I am on-call to fetch the flair - his ties and his dress shirts.
Last Friday, I reached for a pink and white gingham check and looked at him for a nod of affirmation or a shake of the head. "Not pink, Dad," he said. The response surprised me. Someone had gotten to him. Or as Nicholas explained the situation, "If you wear pink, Freddy will tease you." It was sad to think that the sartorial parameters for my son were being set by the progeny of an off-the-rack financier and a stay-at-home mom who had no right stuffing her copious hindquarters into Lululemon yoga pants.
"You can wear the pink if you want to. And if Freddy gives you a hard time, just tell him that it is 'the navy blue of India'." I said. Nicholas digested the Diana Vreeland-ism and mouthed it to himself a few times.
"What about the blue and white check?" he asked, and I took it down for him. Freddy was already No.2 on Nicholas' axis of evil schoolmates, so why force my son into a situation fraught with teasing potential? Actions speak louder than words, anyway. So I went off to shower, shave and dress before walking Nicholas to school.
When we met up in the apartment's foyer, I was in a variation of the outfit he had let Freddy intimidate him out of - a pink and white gingham check shirt, khakis, blue blazer. The only bit of evolution since my schoolboy days was a blue Charvet pin-dot tie instead of one with the school mascot Nicholas was wearing. My son scanned my outfit, smiled and said, "Dad, you look good. Good enough for first grade. Good enough for big assembly." We clasped hands and headed out for the day.
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