You could easily say I’ve always had a fascination with pants. Whether its jokes about not wearing them, or constantly making sure I haven’t blown out the crotch on them, it’s always a concern. The design, the styles, the fit, the buttons, the pleating, are always in my head. That’s why when I discovered the painter jean when I was sixteen, it became my Old Standby.
|Me in my 'Dress' Kik Wear pants|
Now, I used to wear some serious pants in my high school years. We’re talking Kik Wear brand – HUGE jeans. I could have either used them as a circus tent, or hidden a midget inside of them (which I did, once. Best trip to the cinema I’ve ever had). I would find fun ways to keep them dry while walking to school in the rain – like hiking them up to my knees in manner akin to Sora from Kingdom Hearts. I had one pair with glittery stripes in them (how I remained a heterosexual male throughout my life is a testament to sexuality being genetic). I would love to wear these big, baggy pants, with slim fit oxfords and bright, tacky ties. This was my way of creating a self-identifying fashion. Know what, though? - I’d always get home, and change into a worn pair of painters. For set design, I’d wear those baggy pants shoeless (I still can’t do set design proper with shoes on), despite having loads of painter jeans at home better suited for it.
They were my comfort zone; they were my personal zen bubble. They were something that I found for me.
See, I grew up on second hand clothes. Well, third-hand, really. I was the final child of three. While I have expressed all of the amazing opportunities this provided me in life on how to learn critically defining lessons before making the wrong mistakes – allowing me to have the spirited attitude I do today – I wore their clothes. Hell, I still have an old red long sleeve shirt my brother used to wear. I mean, that must be fourteen years old.
Fun fact: I also have an older sister.
My mother wouldn’t force me to wear her bras or underwear – that’d be too creepy (despite how good I can look in a dress). But, her shirts and pants were certainly handed down. I was wearing low riders before Old Navy made it popular for guys three years ago. That’s how far ahead of the curve we’re talking here. I would wear these collared shirts to school when I was ten that had the buttons going the wrong way, along with jeans that had heart-shaped ‘V’ pockets. I knew they were girl clothes, but I tried my damnedest to proclaim them cool for guys whenever the other girls called it out. Frequently, my teachers would go down to the lost and found and get other shirts – once, even a pair of sweatpants – and let me change into them, or wear them around my waist to hide lacey curlicues threaded along the belt loops. I would change right before getting home, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for taking the donations, often shoving a flannel shirt in the bushes right next to the house (in case I’d need it the next day).
The good news is grunge was en vogue. The bad news is that I was ten: what the hell did I have angst about? - aside from the fashion? Fortunately, this was around the time I learned my first name was Cletus, despite being called Chris or Christopher my whole life. So, things were actually not as awkward as they could have been, because most of the other kids made fun of my name and not my fashion-by-Lisa-Frank.
The clothes were tight, too. I may have mentioned I was a chubby kid? I was still called ass-and-thigh man until I broke the six foot barrier. Girl’s jeans aren’t cut to accommodate boy parts. So, thanks to the presence of said parts, the zippers would never stay up. Fortunately, this was before the boxers era, but that’s little consolation when all of your underwear has inevitably been run through a load of hot, red laundry. Girl pants + pink underwear + the belief that girls still have cooties = early branding in life.
|The Red Shirt (that's me on the left)|
Two years later, I put up a stink about it. My mother, relenting, took me to Salvation Army to buy the pants I’d like (and let me just say, I still find some of the best vintage at Salvo!) This would lead into my baggy pants fascination that has followed me for the rest of my life. Worst of all, though, was it the introduction to sweatpants of the nineties. They were no normal pants: They were orange and purple zigzags, black cotton with pleather pieces everywhere, green and blue prints better left for a hippie’s unicorn paint job on a Volkswagen minibus. And I would wear them with bright orange, green, and purple shirts. Sometimes, even adding a blue and grey striped cardigan (I have photos of this folks: school pictures in a green tee with the cardigan proudly worn, three teeth missing from my skull). This had a similar yet different result: instead of being picked on, the bullies just wanted to punch me. This did happen on occasion – walking into the school with Bo the varsity baseball bruiser clocking me so hard on the back of the head I was in the nurse’s office until two in the afternoon with ice on my head.
That kid was a serious bag of dicks.
This is where I learned about second chance, though, and I thank the clothes for this. If things in life can be used again, but repurposed for better means, why can’t people? So, the next day, I talked to Bo about this. He laughed, and made to hit me again. This school had those old metal double doors with the aluminum beam down the middle – remember those? There were two of these doors, and I was smack in the middle. As he pulled his hand back, I ducked, and he cracked it against the aluminum shaft so hard that I heard firecrackers inside his fist popping left and right. He fell to the ground, screaming, as I eked my way off to the side and into the school the second the doors opened. Five minutes later, an ambulance was heard, and two days later he returned to school with his entire arm and hand in a cast. He had shattered his hand, and finished the year without his varsity letter.
|I'm the short one, and those are the pants|
I still thought he was a dick- until the beginning of the next school year. Now, before we go on: yes, as a kid I knew ‘dick’ could be a noun and an adjective. I was taught all the nuances of the English language at a young age, and taught to use it properly – usually with Dial or Irish Spring acting in a supporting role. The next year, three days in, we bump into each other. I cringed – I’d spent the remainder of the last year avoiding him. His cronies still thought it was funny to chase me down, until I hit them with a very heavy stick – a trick I’d learn while nearly losing my right eye two years earlier. We made eye contact, and he walked on by. A few days later, we both leave school at the same time. He starts to follow me, I freak out and run. He screams for me to wait up, so, hesitantly, I do. All the while I’m loosening the strap on my backpack and leveraging it slightly against my shoulder – again, an offensive technique that had been used on me when I nearly lost an eye.
I didn’t need to do any of this. He wanted to apologize. He went into this long tirade about how this was frustrating him, and that was a problem, and it was just easy to pick on me because I was the ‘funny’ kid. It was a heartfelt speech, that I don’t remember the finer points of now. I do know that he inspired me to try my hand at the baseball team (worst idea of my life), and later, the tennis team (not as bad, but still up there).
I had tried my hands at giving this kid – a stranger; a bully – a second chance. This was before school bullies were hot-button issues. I’d seen enough angry violence that I was just done with it, and when I confronted him about it, he retaliated with what he knew. I gave him that chance, and he threw it against an aluminum divider five inches thick. But, six months later, he gave me a second chance.
I had learned from hand-me-down pants that a situation is only ever what you make of it. If you want to be unhappy and miserable, fine. That’s the easy way out, but, you learn nothing while stewing in your misery. Strive for something better – something else – and better things will come to you. I would make the best of the situation, and often be offered ways to improve it. I would wear girl pants and pink shirts like they were the latest fashion trend (Prince was popular then, so this isn’t too far from the truth), and those around me would see the strength, and take on the cause (or they just felt ashamed for me, either way,) offering me a chance to make the situation better. The bully became a friend (alright, we talked twice after that, but it was always good blood between us in passing), because I refused to let the situation make me.
Ultimately, I am the only person that has the ability to make my situation better – any situation does not have the ability to change me. Including wearing recycled girl pants.