Friday, December 11, 2009

Renaissance Festival Business Attire

Last night I had to go to a somewhat formal meeting that was not Church related. I can't remember the last time I did that. My basic life's wardrobe consists of three things. A cassock or a gold dress. Work jeans and t-shirt. OK, four things... I have my flannel Grinch pajamas that I wear around the house. Five things... For special occassions I have a Hawaiian shirt.
This was a "special occassion" so I was about to put on my CLEAN jeans and my Hawaiian shirt. My wife said, "I think this is beyond the Hawaiian shirt stage." Dang. NOTHING is beyond a Hawaiian shirt. But I knew what she meant.

I trudged down to the basement and opened the door of the storage closet. I inhaled the smell of dry cleaner's plastic, dust and the musty cloth. I flipped the switch and the single dim bulb lit the racks of clothes that haven't been moved for literally years. Way, way back in the 80's, in my protestant days, before an expensive divorce and the downward spiral of my construction company I bought "really nice" clothes. 180 bucks for wool pants? Sure. 80 bucks for a cool tie? Why not? I wasn't into "labels", just "really nice".

Now, the reader has to understand THIS was the guy buying these clothes.
Hippie art major, anti-establishment, you name the 60's cliche... I was it. The problem I discovered with being a former art major is that I had developed an eye for "nice". I could walk into the men's department of a store and see something that caught my eye. It was always ungodly expensive. But I had the money and more often than not, I bought it. What happened to me (besides having more money) in the intervening 15 years between thrift store embroidered over-alls and silk blend sport coats from Goldwaters? Well, dear reader, really...

Nothing.

I was the same person. I was a poser, a chameleon. In the 60's the accoutrements of hippiedom were cheap. I could afford to be one. Because I was an art major I could even make cooler clothes than some people could buy at "Clothes for Beautiful People". The subculture was the particular Renaissance Festival of humanity I chose to join. I wore the costume, assumed the posture, spoke the language, I did it well enough to impress people with the act, and I belonged.

I gave up just barely enough of that to get through Bible college. I cut my hair when Crosby, Stills and Nash were singing about almost cutting theirs. But it was cool to be one of the few "hippie guys" at a Texas Christian College. I gave up even more to get hired by a Boy's Home, and laid aside my overalls and T-shirts for J.C. Penny slacks and shirts. It was a pragmatic move, I knew I had to dress the part of a social worker and administrator to be taken seriously. I took it as maturity.

In the 80's when I got fired from my ministry job, one of the elders at my Church told me, the senior pastor and youth minister in a meeting that we would not get raises because we should be glad that we even have jobs. He said ministers are a necessary evil in order to have a church and the only reason a man becomes a minister is that he can't do anything else, and if we could be something else we certainly wouldn't be preachers. The gauntlet was thrown.

For a lot of reasons, I stayed at the Church after I was fired. I believe most of the reasons were good even to this day, mainly I didn't want to cause another schism by leaving in a self-righteous huff. But the elder's words rang in my ears. I taught Sunday morning adult Bible class and eventually was drawing 80% of the adults of the congregation. I was a successful preacher. But I was also now a "successful businessman". I changed my costume, spoke a new language, had a new attitude. My literal posture, even how I walked changed. I had joined a different Festival. By '85 the hippie thing was old anyway, and I didn't run in that circle anymore, there was no one in my life from that Festival left to impress. And, I was sticking it up that elder's ... Anyway, I still have a few pieces of clothing left from those days in my closet, but more on that in a minute.

Fast forward to Orthodoxy. It was a whole new Festival. And it talked about "the goodness of the material" and the role of the material changing the "person". It was counter-cultural, but within its culture there were levels and layer upon layer of new costumes and personas and attitudes. There was even a new language that, if you mastered it and spoke it with the proper inflections you'd look smart, spiritual AND humble. It all validated the life of a chameleon... and no one could accuse me of being a poser because, well, I was "being Orthodox" and for them to suggest that was being judgmental, which the Fathers condemn. Only your nous knows for sure.

The materiality of Orthodoxy and the evidence of personal transformation (or assistance toward it) for the individual is often judged and viewed by their attire and personal grooming. (I am getting to the dark, dusty closet here... trust me.) They say "clothes makes the man". I'd say yes and no. Yes, it influences how we act, and no, that's not always good because what we wear is usually more about what we are than what we think we're becoming. I don't know of any male convert who, when they first encountered Orthodoxy, didn't experience a twinge of "cassock lust" or envy. There's no two ways about it, there's just something cool about looking like Neo.
So almost back to the point, as I was nearing graduating from Bible college, I remember visiting my friend Harry. He was an old hippie heroin addict who had "sold out" to the establishment, but was (and still is) the most Christian person I think I've ever known. I was at his house (in my jeans and t-shirt) and out of the blue he went to his closet and pulled out a long cape. I think it was his wife's actually. He said, here, put this on and look in the (full length) mirror. I thought he was nuts, but I did. I remember looking in the mirror and my posture changed, I stood up as if I was regal and grinned. Harry, said, "See? See what happened?" I knew what happened. Clothes made the man. The change of costume changed me. I knew what he was saying. I was a poser. My hippie costume was dictated by my weakness of person, not conviction, not a true sense of my self. Whatever I was dressed in became who I am, "I" filled the clothes, the clothes did not adorn who I "am". That was 1975.

It was 30 years after Harry's object lesson and 7 years after I first experienced "cassock lust" that I was tonsured to wear one. I freely admit there is still a bit of "cool to be Neo" aspect to it. I honestly wear the gold dress because I "have to", I was conscripted into service and it is a spiritual discipline for me to serve altar in it. I accepted it because I didn't want it, and no one else would take it on.

So, finally, back to my basement storage closet... that was the point.

I pushed aside some of the old coats and suits and found a sport coat I haven't worn in probably 20 years. Yes, it still fit. I put it on and...

Nothing happened.

That is the point. It wasn't a badge. It wasn't a statement. It wasn't a podvig or a selling out. It wasn't to impress anyone or to get accepted. It was what was fitting for the occasion at hand. I didn't change. I didn't react. I was still, Me. I had realized a milestone standing in my closet that only took 57 years to reach.

When I went to the folk's house I was riding with (from Church), their daughter looked at me and said, "WHOA! I've never seen you like this before!" I said, "You better take a picture because you might not ever see it again in your lifetime." So she did.

Is it " GQ-SP"? "Bearded-Orthodox s-p in a worldly clown suit"?

Nah, just s-p.

19 comments:

Dianne said...

What's so great about the first picture is how that shirt is partly framed by the two tablecloths, which couldn't possibly clash more with each other and with the shirt. It's some kind of maximal outer boundary of clash that has been reached there. Impressive.

thegeekywife said...

lots of truths contained in this post...

elizabeth said...

yes. that's great. for my former job, that at times scared me just a tinny bit (corporate world, yikes) I dressed up to fit in and yeah, your right. I was still me; I will be pondering this, as beauty, art and trying to figure out what life is about (does this end ever?) ... meanwhile I just moved, just put up my spice racks circa 70's and really enjoyed your post. thanks.

Fr. James Early said...

All you need is a hat, some sunglasses, and a guitar, and you'll be one of the guys in ZZ Top. After all, every girl's crazy about a sharp dressed man!

Fr. James Early said...

Oh, and by the way, you look great in your dressy outfit.

Benedict Seraphim said...

While most of the time I wear the sort of clothes that are needed for the circumstance (suit and tie for work, slacks and nice shirt for Liturty, jeans for work around the house)--and given my 'druthers, I really would wear jeans and flannel year 'round--there are still moments when I wonder what it would be like to wear the monk's cassock all the time. I guess I got a little Neo in me, too. Lord have mercy.

Philippa said...

Yea, you're right...just s-p. Same heart. Same soul.

Duuuuuuude.

Moo! said...

Oops...I'm using Moo's account.

Dianne, Plaid and Hawaiian prints don't go together?? I'll make a note of that in my fashion file. :)

Fr. James, I do have a Les Paul, though the beard is still a little too short yet for a Billy Gibbons imitation. My days of being flattered by "every girl" are over, I'm old enough to know better. LOL! The only girl I need to be concerned about is my wife who likes me better in the bizness outfit than a cassock. I really need to take her out to someplace nicer than Taco Bell and other than Church some day so we can dress up in the clothes we never wear anymore. :)

Benedict, I think Neo is archetypical in some way. The Shaolin monk thing, the black robe and the Jedi Knight powers all tap into some deep sense of spiritual discipline, counter culture and power from a divine place within. Either that or men are just freaky in some weird way about wearing black dresses and kicking bad guys' asses.

margaret said...

Wow from hippie art major to my art professor... he had a long beard and always wore well made, understated, nice clothes. The resemblance is uncanny.

Anonymous said...

What a ride: from "maximal out boundary of clash" to ZZ Deacon with an Inner Neo in only two clicks!

Not bad ..... how did the spice racks ever get outa
The Plaid Room?

Dianne said...

s-p, I didn't say the clash was a bad thing. It's not just a case of "not going together"; it's a mighty, dare I say historic train wreck of three-way clash! It's pattern and anti-pattern! That you were not dissolved into a mist on the spot by your proximity to the meeting of these three elements must be proof that you alone are worthy to wear them. Therefore, you should make a hat and pair of pants out of those tablecloths and always wear them with the shirt.

But I like the ZZ Deacon vibe, too. :-)

s-p said...

Dianne, LOL! I may not be subject to being vaporized by the laws of designer nature, I am however subject to my wife's fashion sensibilities when I go out in public with her. But then she has been in public with me when I was wearing my pink flamingo and tropical fish pants. :)

Mary333 said...

I snickered as I read this, couldn't help it;) Even the comments cracked me up!

Ali said...

I think you look nice, but you know what I really was thinking when I looked at the picture--and even after I read the whole post? I like your books, and then it reminded me of all the books I have and how it would be nice for you to come to my house and build special bookcases for me because I know you have those kind of skills! Way to bring it back to me? Right :)?

s-p said...

Ali, Depending on what kind of bookcases you need, it is hard to beat IKEA. Just the price of unfinished materials (with no labor yet!)is about what you can get a nice finished IKEA bookshelf unit for. Its tough to compete with a factory.

The Traveler said...

Does this mean my Hawaiian cassock is out?

Ali said...

You know, Steve, IKEA, ain't got nothing on you! (Yes I know my grammar was poor!) But seriously, there is no way that IKEA's products could EVER compare with your handiwork, and that is why your work is worth so much more, and costs so much more, and looks a whole heck of a lot better! I have seen what you have built here on this site, and I have seen the bed you made for you and your wife. So I guess a girl can dream about Steve Robinson building her some book shelves! (Notice I did not say that I dreaming about buying nice shoes or something like that, but that is because I have bad knees. But when they get better, I will be dreaming about nice shoes and book shelves built by you!)

s-p said...

Fr. Traveler, Actually the person who made my cassock now lives in my town. She said she'd make me a Hawaiian cassock. But I think they're call "mu-mu's" in Hawaii. :)

Ali, I have to confess, I only bought and assembled the bed for my wife. It was an unbelievable deal at an estate sale.

Andrea Elizabeth said...

I think this post goes nicely with what the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie Joe vs. the Volcano says about clothes. Now to pull up my Netflix queue.