What to wear

When we were preparing to move, one of the jobs was sorting through my clothing. I’ve never been much of a person to keep up with the latest fashion trends. For many years my casual clothing consisted of a couple of pairs of blue jeans and a drawer full of t-shirts from various youth events, fund-raisers, and such. At one time I was the proud owner of t-shirts from every one of the national youth events the United Church of Christ had held. I wore t-shirts given in response to blood donation. I wore t-shirts from memory walks of the Alzheimer’s Association. I had t-shirts from each annual suicide awareness walk held in Rapid City, South Dakota. There was no shortage of t-shirts and the time finally came to get rid of a lot of them.

The first sort through the t-shirts was easy. A brush with skin cancer that I’ve called “trucker’s elbow” ended up in my not wearing short sleeve shirts much at all. The cancer, which was surgically removed from my left elbow was a warning sign that I need to be more careful about sun exposure. I have plenty of long-sleeved shirts and it made sense to keep my arms covered when out in the sun.

What I had not thought through was how much retirement affected my clothing choices. I know that fashion is fickle and that what people wear changes. For my working career, however, I wore dress shirts and ties to work most of the time. Even after work dress became more casual and ministers stopped wearing suits and ties during the week, I continued to wear dress shirts and slacks. I also had serval suits and a few extra blazers. On Sundays, I always dressed up with a tie. And then I retired.

The suits in my closet hang there. The ties in my drawer sit there. Perhaps the change was accelerated by Covid. I don’t think anybody dresses up for Facebook church. We are on a month-long trip and I didn’t bring a single pair of dress slacks with me. I don’t have a tie along for the trip. I have known all along that part of the trip will be in-person worship on one of the Sundays, but I decided that I do not need to dress up for that occasion. I will wear a nice shirt and a clean pair of slacks, but I know that no one is going to judge me for what I wear.

It is possible that I am just catching up with the rest of the world. Yesterday I was talking with another retiree who told me that he no longer owns a suit. “Those days are past for me,” he said. I have a friend and colleague who told me a few years ago that he and another man were the last two holdouts in their congregation. They dressed up with jackets and ties for worship each week until his friend passed away. My friend wore a jacket and tie for the funeral. Now he is the only one left who regular dresses up for worship on Sundays. He says he does it in part in memory of his friend.

Our world has become more casual. Bankers wear jeans to work on Fridays and wear golf shirts during the rest of the week. Lawyers still dress up for court, but don’t do so for the days when they aren’t appearing before a judge. Doctors wear scrubs for office visits. I wonder if our son will have an occasion to teach his son how to tie a tie.

The good news about the change in fashion is that it allows for us to declutter our closets. I’m pretty sure that it makes sense to get rid of half of the suits and ties in my possession. I don’t know if I’m ready to do so yet. There were plenty of years when I didn’t own as many jackets as I thought I needed and when I had to plan trips to the dry cleaners so that I would have the right things to wear if an unplanned funeral occurred. The luxury of having extra suits came very late in my career. Now that luxury seems a bit silly. A pair of dress slacks, one or two dress shirts, a couple of ties and a blue blazer would cover virtually any occasion that I can imagine. I don’t need a black wool suit for funerals or a light weight summer suit for formal occasions.

When we return from this trip I will be back at work for eighteen to twenty-four months, serving in an interim position. I’ve noticed that many clergy colleagues don’t dress up even for Sunday worship - at least ties and jackets are not required. I’ve even noticed colleagues wearing t-shirts for Sunday worship. I suppose that I should give some thought to appropriate work wear. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to have several long-sleeved white shirts with button down collars. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be wearing sports coats or suits for daily trips to the office.

The camper that we call home has tiny closets compared with the houses where we have lived. We have to plan our laundry days because we do not travel with a washer and dryer. It is easy for us to adjust to this minimalist lifestyle. It makes me wonder if my closet and chest of drawers back at home are filled with things that I simply do not need to keep.

Then agin, thinking through my clothing will require conscious effort on my part. The one thing about being a male professional for my working life was that I didn’t have to give much thought to what to wear. A couple of colored shirts and a few white shirts were all I needed to have. These days I need to give some attention to my dressing.

As the challenges of this life go, this one is pretty minor. I’m sure I’ll muddle through.

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