Saturday, January 16, 2010

Clothes and the Man

Awwwww! Papa's got a brand new bag!

I am not a believer in the adage that "clothes make the man." I think the opposite is true and that a person of quality and style makes anything he wears look good.

That having been said, I have also realized, at the most difficult times in one's life, putting on even one new piece of the best quality clothing can have a big impact in the spirit lifting department.

So this week, I bought my ninety-year-old father some new clothes.

When Dad was in the Army, he did the engineer thing: he read the directions and put everything in its place and looked devastating in his uniform, though he had no idea he looked like anything other than a regulation soldier. In all his life he has never noticed his clothing.

Captain Ashley Chapman, on his honeymoon with Mom in Victoria B.C. They both look pretty spiffy, though I'm not so sure about her shoes ...

For the next sixty-five years, my mother dressed him. And while he was working, she made him look very natty in tweed sport coats and argyle socks and perfect shirts with rep ties.

Dad, the sporty engineer, looking slightly nervous holding his first child, my sister, Kimberly in post World War II, Palo Alto, California,.

In more recent years, as my mother grew increasingly eccentric, she became adamant that Dad needed no new clothing and what new clothing she allowed he did need, she purchased for him at the Goodwill. He never complained: he is from a family of Scotsmen, himself. By the time he went into his first rehabilitation/nursing home, after his fall two years ago, he had just one pair of functioning khaki pants and the staff at the home found, much to their hilarity, that the zipper on these pants could only be pulled up with a twist tie.

Before Mom's death, with her distracted by her own failing health, I had to buy Dad a half-dozen pairs of sweat pants and golf shirts, so that he would have enough easy-to-wash clothing to rotate through the week. I was doing the laundry she had volunteered to do. One day, just before she died, she noticed Dad had on one of these new shirts, which I had purchased at a discount at TJ Maxx.

"What's that," she asked me with a scowl. "Is that a new shirt your Dad has on? Don't buy me any new clothes!" And it was a good thing I didn't because about two days later she coughed, and the day after that she died of pneumonia. I had just been rummaging through her closet, to see if she had any more sweat pants I could bring up to the nursing home for her.

With Mom gone and the New Year properly celebrated, I decided it was time to dip into Dad's savings for something a little dapper for him to wear during the time he has left. I saw these cool Italian suede track shoes by Scarpa in the Harrington Catalogue and ordered a pair for him in mocha.
Big success. They look great on him, though the laces are almost too short for the size twelve shoe. Italians must have small feet.

Scarpa shoe detail. You can find them in the Harrington Catalogue.

Earlier this week, I went to the post-Christmas sales and found him two new Italian cashmere sweaters by Loro Piana. One of them has raglan sleeves and is made to look like a sweatshirt. The second is like a boating sweater with buttons on the neck and suede at the elbows. And I bought some striped and polka-dotted socks to match.

Details of the sweatshirt-like Loro Piana sweater, including elbow patches.

Today, he modeled the first new sweater for me. He looks terrific in it with his new shoes and socks. I know he is a fine man, even when he wears the raggedy, worn clothing my mother favored. But I enjoyed spoiling him a little--the sweaters were purchased, after all, with his own money--and enjoyed as well having him look so good amidst all the decrepitude that surrounds him in the home where death and dying is a daily scene.

As I fed him his breakfast this morning he was very cheerful, though he said he hated the fact I had to help feed him. "I hope the Lord is giving you extra credit," he said, "for the way you are making me feel." I don't think that's how the Lord totes up our scores. But my Dad's words were all the reward I needed.

And I'm not sure about the purity of my heart: I covet that sweater he had on today. And he better watch out, or I'm going to steal his Loro Piana cashmere. It is rich-looking and gorgeous. And just my color.

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