As a child in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I was about as far from the Ivy League schools of the Northeast as one could get. The San Fernando Valley, where I spent my childhood in the 1970s, was very blue collar at its core. Most of my friends’ parents and neighbors worked in the aerospace industry. It was a mix of surf culture and the hip styles of the ’60s and ’70s with parents of Southern and Midwestern roots. But definitely not Ivy Style. But then came the ’80s.
The 1980s saw the rise of Preppy, with its Ivy League roots, and that squarely hit me in the face in junior high school. Here I took notice of a fellow student wearing the coolest jacket. It was tan, had a straight collar, it fit snugly around the waist, and it had elastic cuffs. But most of all: it was super cool. My young adolescent mind knew it was cool but couldn’t quite coalesce around why it was cool. But of course, it was cool because it evoked a coolness I had seen in films. The Harrington Coat was my gateway garment.
The polo shirt was seemingly on everyone in the early ’80s. I fell in love with this shirt then and that love has never faded. In the ’80s my preferred brand was Polo, although that changed long ago. I eschewed flipped up collars, often done with multiple polos, personified in the preppy culture of the time. These shirts were not cheap. On occasion my aunt would indulge me in this extravagance and take me to the defunct Bullock’s department store in the more affluent section of the San Fernando Valley to purchase one. What colors to choose? Even then without knowing why, I was drawn to pink and green.
Soon afterwards I noticed oxford-cloth buttondown shirts and knit ties. Which led to the discovery of the blue blazer. This was perfect, because for high school I attended a business high school and also participated in a political/debate organization that often required more business-appropriate wear than is usual in most public high school. All the students wearing their knit ties, blue blazers, and khaki pants were a haven for me.
And Sperry Top-Siders. Even though it might be a faux pas to wear these to more professional occasions, I did and so did many of my fellow travelers. In my Southern California teenage mind these were fancy, so I wore them with a blue oxford-cloth buttondown, a knit tie (red or black), my blue blazer, and chinos. In fact, one of my saddest days was when I was dressed thusly while waiting for the bus to take me and my fellow travelers to a debate/political convention, I decided to play football. I blew out the top of these shoes. Not easily replaced with the money of a 15-year-old from a blue-collar family.
It wasn’t all work and no play. When the time came to go on my first date, along came the dilemma of what to wear. Solution: the perfect pair of primarily red madras shorts and an oxford-cloth buttondown. The shorts are not to dissimilar to ones I am wearing right now.
For college I attended the nearby state university which was a commuter school. So I drifted from the style for a time. But home is home. And as I aged, I realized I felt most comfortable returning to those roots. The wonderful thing being that I felt and looked just as at home in the same clothes in 2019 as I did in the 1980s. My wife is a teacher, and recently her school hosted a fundraising dinner. The theme was the ’80s. Her colleagues asked her what I was going to wear to the event. Her reply was “The same thing he wears every day.” — DAVID KNATCAL