Kevin Frisch: Taking a hint on fashion faux pas

Kevin Frisch

I lately have had the strange feeling of empathizing with a fictional literary character. Let me explain.

I'm an avid reader of the comedic writer P.G. Wodehouse, who specialized in caricaturing the upper crust of his native England. He is best known as the creator of the unflappable manservant Jeeves and his addle-brained employer, Bertram Wooster. And many a Jeeves story includes, as a subplot, these two characters disagreeing as to matters of fashion.

Bertie will grow a mustache, or take a liking to a garishly colored jacket, or insist on heading out for the evening in a derby, and Jeeves will tsk-tsk, or lay out a more traditional jacket or recommend a fedora. It's a bit dry for today's readers, but it made for big laughs back in the day (Wodehouse having been born in 1881, “the day” was largely in the 1920s and '30s). Bertie stubbornly sticks to his fashion guns but, inevitably, Jeeves makes use of his considerable gray matter to deliver his boss from a tight spot, and the latter shows his gratitude by swearing off the offending adornment.

I don't have a manservant, but I do have a rather unfashionable item of apparel: A particular pair of striped pants. I've had them for going on 20 years, which, if you were to lay eyes on them, you would not need me to tell you. In fact, even if you were blind, you wouldn't need me to tell you; you could discern their unstylishness simply by listening to the responses they elicit:

“Rockin' pants, Kev.”

“Are those pants electric?”

“Hey — you joined 'Duran Duran'!”

"Did you 'pants' a clown?"

It hardly seems fair. You find a durable, comfortable article of clothing, you add it to your wardrobe, and a mere 15 years later people are pointing and gesturing as if you were dressed for a performance of the Cirque du Soleil. Or "Hee Haw."

Now, I have to admit, I am not the most stylish member of my community. Or my office. In fact, most days not even my cubicle. So I was not making a fashion statement (nor, as I have been accused, a fashion expletive). It was primarily the fact that these particular pants fit so well that accounted for their longevity. Had I just put on a few pounds over the years, the problem would have solved itself.

But no. Instead, my fashion sense, such as it is (and those who have seen me in those pants can tell you, it isn't) is repeatedly assaulted — even by members of my own family. The following conversation took place — verbatim — just last month:

Me: “We were watching 'What Not to Wear' last night and I wondered which of my clothes Stacy and Clinton would make me get rid of.”

My mom: “Those striped pants.”

That's right — I've got pants not even a mother could love. Or, had. The rockin' pants have officially been retired. I'm thinking of holding a brief ceremony and burying them in the backyard, near several beloved family pets — all of whom the pants outlived.

I'll be sorry to see them go, but when your loved ones, your professional colleagues, the general public and strangers on the street are unanimous in their assessments, well, I can take a hint.

Far be it from me and my retro-pants to offend the fashion sensibilities of the sighted public. As Jeeves would say, “I endeavor to give satisfaction.”

Contact Messenger Post managing editor Kevin Frisch at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257, or via e-mail