Next to Philip Potter — the man at the center of the holiday series — Harold Clarkson is the character from my novels readers comment on the most. Harold plays a supporting role in After Christmas Eve and Happy Independence Day. His fans are especially impressed with his fashion sensibility.
Because of Harold, readers often ask where I learned so much about hair, makeup, and clothing styles. Like every gay man of a certain age from the south, female relatives taught me everything I know. My mother and her sisters had strong opinions about how “well-bred” individuals should and shouldn’t look, and no compunction about voicing them.
Until I was old enough to buy my own clothes, Mom was responsible for my wardrobe, often in a coordinated effort with my aunts. Most years, I got two or three new outfits when school started and again at Christmas. Aside from the occasional ugly sweater, I was generally pleased with their selections and happy to wear them.
Sometimes, I was even thrilled. I remember loving several standout shirts, a couple of sweaters, and a few pairs of shoes. For some reason, the pants stand out in my memory more than anything else. Here’s a rundown of my all time faves.
In fifth grade, Mom gave me a navy blue pair of bell-bottom dress slacks. Flares. I wore them all the time. The seat got so shiny you could see your reflection on my ass.
Pleated baggie pants in bold plaids with one-inch cuffs were the rage the following year. I had two pairs, but the one I remember was a navy, green, and white plaid pattern I loved, with long-sleeved dress shirts in both navy and green to match. The shoes had one-inch platform soles, and blocky two-inch heels. Hot.
The Christmas of my seventh or eighth grade year, Mom gave me my favorite outfit of all time. The navy brushed denim pants rode low on the hips, were skintight to the knees, and exploded into forty inch bells. The intricate red and white paisley shirt looked pink from anywhere but up close. Long, puffy sleeves had six buttons on a wide cuff and the collar had long, pointed tabs. Platform shoes with three inch heels and a wide white vinyl belt rounded out the ensemble.
Okay. Let’s stop for a minute. I had NO idea I was gay. None. Moreover, my mother bought the outfit. I’d wear the pants today if I could find them in my size — maybe with one of those big Afro wigs.
The summer after eighth grade, I got a job. Mom still bought the bulk of my wardrobe, but now I had the freedom to buy clothes she wouldn’t. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have either. The worst was a cheap, ill-fitting version of the expensive, skin-tight denim jumpsuit I’d seen a hot coworker wearing. Pretty sure I charged it on my Sears card.
When I first came out, I sort of thought being gay meant following a set of rules. I ran out and bought a skin-tight pair of painter pants. Yeah, I had the white ones too, but these were electric blue. Miss Thing, them bitches glowed in the dark.
During my poverty-stricken “living life my way” phase, a pleated pair of black, pin-striped jeans passed for dressy. At least, that’s what I told myself. Alcohol and drugs may have clouded my judgement.
My second-most favorite outfit was a Liz Claiborne ensemble. Yeah, she had a man’s line for about three months in the eighties. The deeply-pleated white linen pants with narrow cuffs were comfortable and, despite being linen, easy to care for. The short-sleeved, over-sized shirt was a muted plaid. Classy.
The last of my all-time favorites was a pair of jeans I had in the late 90s. The straight-leg Lee jeans fit like a glove. They’d been washed so many times, I could roll them up like an ace bandage. Softest pair of jeans I ever had in my life.
I guess I’m still somewhat of a natty dresser. When something important comes up and I need something new, there’s a wonderful saleslady at Macy’s who helps me. I’m sure she’s somebody’s mother. Thanks for letting me borrow her once or twice a year.