The Birthday Boy: A Retrospective of Gifted Clothing
As a kid, I can remember each birthday being a cause of great excitement. A refusal to sleep much before midnight the previous evening led to a day of exhaustion as well. I’d rip open all my presents in less than five minutes, discarding t-shirts in favor of toys, and tossing pants to the side to get to the latest video game.
These days, now in my early 40s, things are very different. My birthday last week was nearly all about clothes and there were very few toys and puzzles to play with. I’ve torn myself away from my desktop swingball set (genuinely) because it reminded me how each birthday has seen my look change without me realizing it.
The first time I ever got excited about receiving clothes for my birthday was when I became a teenager. On my 13th birthday, I had my heart set on a black suede jacket. Of course, had I known that years after I first fell in love with the bomber jacket, a black reversible bomber jacket would come along to knock my socks off, I might have held off, but, no, I had decided that would be the birthday gift to end them all.
It very nearly ended me.
Getting a thick suede coat for my main birthday present in mid-March had a usefulness of precisely a week. Not only would I outgrow it in a matter of months, but the cold spell we were stuck in until my birthday came along would abruptly come to an end. It was as if my birthday heralded the beginning of spring, and, true enough, this year has been exactly the same, only reinforcing that childhood-born belief.
Seven days after feeling cool in my thick suede coat, I was cooking myself like an oven-ready chicken in my own portable roasting jacket. I refused to budge for the longest time until a race home against my friend ended in disaster. At the moment I won the race by cutting a corner across someone’s lawn, an errant branch from a tree in their front garden tore through my suede with ease. I was heartbroken.
I thought, if clothes that were too warm didn’t go well, maybe I’d have more success with some summer shorts. Right? Wrong. The following year, I asked for a pair of shorts that were between orange and pink, yet also still very stylish. (I expected a color that looked and sounded as cool as the clay seen in this clay crew neck t-shirt.)
I don’t know what possessed my parents to kit me out in what they did, but somehow I ended up wearing a pair of shorts that were a garish peach color on one leg and a marigold yellow on the other. I looked like a piece of candy that whole summer.
The year after my shorts phase, I went for tees in a big way. I asked for a famous Fat Willy’s Surf Shack number, but they had all sold out, so I got the next best thing in my parents’ eyes — a Global Technacolour T-Shirt, which changed colors with heat.
If you can think of a less cool look when approaching a girl you find attractive as a mid-pubescent teenager than an ill-fitting purple t-shirt with pink armpits, then I’d like to hear it. What I would’ve given to have instead worn a tall crew neck tee in a cool solid color, which wouldn’t hit my world for many years later.
It’s not like there weren’t cool things to wear when I was a teenager or young man; I just never seemed to find them come my birthday. From sports shirts to branded outfits, I felt like it took me until I was 25 to realize there were timeless looks for men that simply never aged.
Looking back, I should have gone for some classic polo shirts rather than the kind of baggy apparel I favored when the Spice Girls were talking about girl power — and I was then under the hopeful impression that each of them was holding out to one day secure me as their perfect boyfriend. Surely, I would’ve been ridiculed as much as Ginger’s Union Jack dress, Posh’s leather look, or Scary’s leopard-print vibe. (Actually, looking back, maybe I had more of a chance than I thought…? Damn.)
These days, of course, dressing up is as much fun as dressing down. Now in my early 40s, I’m most likely to follow style guides that make a man look smart and stylish. [ Read: A Style Guide For Valentine's Day]
Part of how I want to look is mature, and shades rather than outright primary colors are my preference. Pastels look better on me than neon tones now that I’ve had the chance to forget more birthdays than I remember. I used to think looking stylish was difficult, but that simply isn’t true. [ Read: 5 Style Myths To Disprove Once And For All]
As I left my teenage years behind, I learned that oversized t-shirts weren’t exactly my most flattering look. As I progressed through my 20s, I graduated to wearing shirts and suits with more confidence. I mixed styles and found my own look by the time I approached 30. I was in my mid-30s when I suddenly found myself back on the dating scene and had to rely on the knowledge I had accumulated about what looked good on me and what didn’t. It wasn’t easy.
From button-ups with jeans and jackets to plain white v-neck tees that go with anything, I got better at it. With each birthday, we have a tendency to reflect upon previous birthdays and perhaps how quickly time has flown by.
Thanks largely to my past collection of fashion faux pas, I’m happy to say that I look at each new birthday as a chance to improve my wardrobe. Oh, and it helps for me to look back and laugh at my style in years gone by!
— Paul Seaton
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