My first attempt to dress in style came in 1954 or '55, when I made the boldest fashion statement of my life. It was the time of Walt Disney's five-part television series about the adventures of frontiersman Davy Crockett, and I was the first kid on my block to get a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. I was stylin'. Never ever since then have I worn anything so fantastic.
However, I came close about a year later, in 1956 or '57. I was an Elvis Presley fan, and I wanted to dress just like my idol Elvis. My mom helped me pick out a skinny, black, knit tie; a thin, pink belt; and a pair of white bucks – oxford shoes made out of white buckskin, just like the ones Elvis wore on stage. I was really stylin'.
Those years as a little kid were probably the only years of my life that I had some style. By the time I was a teen, I traded style for cool. That is, what I thought was cool. My favorite items of clothing were madras shirts and straight, narrow-legged, white Levis. That was in the early to mid-'60s. I lived in the middle of America, but I wanted to look like the Beach Boys.
Before I aged beyond my teenage years, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Corps issued me all the clothes that the Corps saw fit for me to wear. Most of the things – they were called uniforms – came in Marine green. Some of the items were khaki tan. Yep, I was stylin', gyrene style.
In about six months, the Corps sent me to someplace in Southeast Asia called South Vietnam. I didn't have to spend much time deciding what I was going to wear each day. It was basically the same thing, suited perfectly for combat in a tropical or subtropical climate, and I had two color choices – solid green or camouflage green.
After little more than a year in Vietnam and about six months in the States, I headed back to Vietnam, but this time I was to live and work in South Vietnam's capital city of Saigon, assigned to the U.S. Embassy there. Before leaving Washington, D.C., for Saigon, I bought some civilian clothes, including some plaid and checkered casual trousers. It was the latter part of The Sixties, and those loud pants were stylish. I thought they were, anyway.
I wore civilian clothes at all times during my year in Saigon, but if I wanted to blend in, my loud slacks didn't help. Not to worry. The Corps had issued me civilian shirts, trousers and suits from Bonds in Washington before I headed off on embassy duty. Oh, yes, I felt like a young diplomat in my Bonds clothing – not a stylish diplomat, but rather a young boring one, with short hair. What am I talking about? After all, I wasn't in Saigon to impress anybody; I was there to carry out an important assignment. I just wasn't going to look like James Garner or Sean Connery doing it. As if clothes could have helped me look like them.
In the early 1970s, I was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. Out came my plaids and checks, for I was in the City of Light, the capital of Europe! That was incorrect thinking on my part, because I soon learned that I was in the capital of many shades of gray. The French dressed drably, at least most of the men did in 1970 and '71. I could wear my loud pants, however, if I wanted to hire out as a clown.
Later in the '70s I got to throw away all my old pants and shirts. The style became bell-bottom jeans and pants and paisley shirts. Egads! Enough said!
I finally retired from the Corps in the late 1980s, and I settled into life as a full-time student at Cal State San Bernardino. For the next few years, I blended right in with my younger fellow students, wearing jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts and carrying the obligatory college-student pack, except mine was an olive-drab, canvas, musette bag. That's like a small military pack. I just couldn't get all of the Marine Corps out of me. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
For a time after college, I was a mountain guide, and my style consisted of khaki hiking pants or khaki hiking shorts or cargo shorts or maybe jeans, along with low-top hiking boots and something breathable and quick-drying on top. After a few years of guiding folks through the San Bernardino Mountains, I began my 15 years in journalism, often forced to wear shirt and tie with casual slacks.
Now I'm free, baby. I'm retired and can dress as poorly as I wish. My retired-bum look normally features a well-worn t-shirt designed by the classy clothier Hanes and endorsed by legendary hoopster Michael Jordan; my khaki-tan, comfortable-fitting, hiking-jogging shorts sold exclusively at K-Mart; and a pair of old, beat-up, Nike Air jogging shoes. Man, that's style. More importantly, it's comfortable.
Who's up for a hike? Remember, don't wear anything fancy.