Pants, store, friend, self: yes, all men experience self-discovery. But few are lucky enough to do so in pants, and fewer still are lucky enough to do so in exactly the right pair of pants—a pair that fits, a pair that arose from history.
Last week, in the second installment of the Club Monaco Man interview series, Roger Sollenberger drilled Tom Dibblee on his possibly inconsistent at-home-only attire. This week, Tom comes roaring back with a testy account of back to school fashion as he knows it, literally.
Tom, you said—or at least implied—in our first Club Monaco Man installment that Club Monaco saw into your inner self, saw the best possible version of you, and translated it into a clothing line. How can those of us following along at home better see or understand this revelation?
I probably ought to go to Club Monaco with some audio and video equipment to prove this, like on Ghost Finders or whatever that show is where they take beeping meters into abandoned houses and wear night vision and go all nuts when tattered curtains billow. That’s what I need to do. Go to Club Monaco, record the audio of their inner-workings, the soundings of other Club Monaco Men and Women, and prove that the music there, the chatter, originated somewhere behind my breastplate.
But before I do that, because the nearest Club Monaco outlet is a half-hour drive across town and I’ve yet to bathe myself in my array of tea-tree-oil-scented products, aside from my shaving cream, which is sandalwood, and Club Monaco Men don’t leave the house unless they’re looking their best, I’m going to go back in time first, from the comfort of my own couch. Yes, before I drive to the Beverly Center, before I prove that my inner self has transmogrified into a clothing line, let me give myself credit for finding my own inner Club Monaco, the Monaco inside me, at the onset of my own pubescence.
Back at boarding school in Massachusettes, armed with a wardrobe bought back in NorCal, where I had guidelines to the school’s dress code but no intrinsic understanding of preppy New England mores, I bought black wide wale corduroys because at my school, to class, we couldn’t wear jeans. And, I bought surfer button-down shirts, because those, in Marin County, California, were the coolest shirts possible, whereas polo shirts were the uniform of teenagers who were still dressed by their mothers.
So I had my black cords and my short-sleeved, surfer button-downs (Quiksilver and Rusty, but not Stussy… Stussy was in a lull… Its skater t-shirt phase was expired, its hipster t-shirt phase yet to begin…)
I remember the Stussy gap well. It happened like this: in middle school, everyone was wearing Stussy, No Fear, and Mossimo. But Mossimo was always the odd one out, the last one to the grunge fashion party, the least of the rebels and widely considered a knock-off. For instance, my mom never bought me Stussy or No Fear, but she bought me Mossimo. Then one day, I looked around my high school and all I saw was Mossimo. Stussy was gone! What the hell. I’d always thought Stussy was the coolest. And it turned out of course that Mossimo had just scored this huge exclusive contract with Target, and had managed to elbow Stussy out of the game for a while. (What happened with No Fear was people just eventually realized it was stupid.)
Exactly, Roger. That’s exactly how it went. It was terrible. On the one hand, Mossimo was widely available, on the other hand it was spent. Without Stussy, I was a lost man, and had I stayed in California, things would’ve been worse. But I think at boarding school no one had even heard of Stussy. It was irrelevant, and my surfer button-downs were widely scorned. I was a marked man. But luckily I had a friend. A friend with fashion sense.
Christopher Kuehnle and I became friends because we both knew what a bong was. CB, who I think has a kid now and probably a weekend place on Fishers Island, invited the two of us on a walk to town, a mile away, where we could get either pizza or Dunkin Donuts, and on the way, I said something like, “Those bushes would be a good place to smoke weed.” And Kuehnle said something like, “If I were to smoke weed in those bushes, I’d definitely use a bong.” At which time CB, the guy who’d invited us, admitted that he didn’t know what a bong was, and this was the moment when I realized that I didn’t have the right attire, but I did have something: sophistication. So Kuehnle I took turns explaining the marijuana lifestyle.
“Oh and the munchies? Oh yeah I definitely get those. I like those little donut things like donuts but small they come in a box.”
“Oh yeah those little donut things are the best like either chocolate or powdered but still round and donut.”
“Like Entenmann’s or something I think most likely!”
So Christopher Kuehnle and I were on the same page with the bongs. But he was ahead of me in terms of attire: he came from Cambridge, Massachusettes, a place that prepares young men for fashionable lives far better than Marin. He knew how to wear long-sleeved button down shirts that were neither dress shirts nor flannel shirts. That was the kind of shirt he had, and that was the kind of shirt I lacked. When I went home for Thanksgiving that year, I asked for Christmas from my stepmother, a woman known in our suburban neighborhood as a reliable arbiter of taste, for long-sleeve button down shirts that were neither dress shirts nor flannel shirts. She didn’t know what I meant, but she tried her hardest, buying me four shirts in total: one flannel shirt that she said she hoped might not exactly be all the way flannel, one dress shirt that didn’t look too dressy, and two shirts that were neither but the closest thing she could find to what I was talking about, these being Henley shirts. She bought me one in gray and one in maroon and they weren’t what I’d had in mind but I liked them quite a bit and got back to school that winter and wore them around proudly.
Of course, the button down shirt that’s neither a dress shirt nor a flannel shirt is, these days, especially here in Los Angeles, the main kind of shirt there is. But that doesn’t mean that my fourteen-year-old version of fashion, developed alongside my friend Christopher Kuehnle, was wholly satisfied; there are six thousand idiots wearing shirts that fit this description here in Los Angeles alone. To illustrate, I searched google with the terms: “Los Angeles man shirt.”
I’m guessing Club Monaco stocks precisely the shirt you’ve always wanted. So what does that say about fashion sense? Is it really just a function of your sense of self, a fulfillment of desires that went unmet long ago? That is to say, at age thirty, are you finally, fully, fourteen? Can you now finally get over adolescence, and on with growing up?
I don’t know. What I do know is that Club Monaco is what I hoped the world would be when I befriended Kuehnle and formed the fashion expectations that would sustain me for the rest of my life.
Yes, just as Club Monaco read the writing on the inside of my spirit, I read the writing on the outside of Christopher Kuehnle and imagined Club Monaco. But you know what? When good things happen, that’s all it is: collisions of prescience. I imagined the world would be a certain way and Club Monaco made it so. I hoped that someday my outer person would match my inner self, and Club Monaco made it possible. I hoped when I got to boarding school that I’d have a friend, and Christopher Kuehnle showed me how to look good and casual at the same time. It’s yin and yang, Roger. It’s looking good but with the languid physical grace of a man who spends the better part of his weekday mornings on the couch in his boxers, hoping that not much time will pass before he receives a text from a girl. And you know what? I’ve always felt uncomfortable in pants that were too dressy. I mean, not in professional settings or funerals or wherever people wear suits, but I guess, in dress-up situations that are slightly above my comfort zone but ill-defined—times when khakis would look adolescent, jeans would look lazy, and slacks would look like too much. What for what type of pant does a man wear in a situation like this? Nobody knows. I had a few pants that I’d try. A pair of lemon yellow things from Brooks Brothers my brother asked me to wear in his wedding. (Feedback on these pants in post-wedding wearings include: “You look like a Mississippi riverboat gambler!” I had a huge mustache when I fielded that one, and, actually, you, Roger, were the person who said it—at one of the final Two Man Galaxy shows at Metropolis Café, the Trop, back in Milledgeville, where we both came of age not as fashionable men, but as churners of literature, though that, of course is a whole separate story. But other feedback on those pants would be: “Are those the pants you wore at Spencer’s wedding?” No, Seamus, they weren’t—I wore straight up khakis at Spencer’s wedding, because I knew that some people who were at my brother’s wedding would be at Spencer’s too, and I feared they’d recognize these yellow pants as recycled.) But in situations like this, in those yellow pants, I’d spend most of the night looking down at my feet, just to make sure that I looked good, that my pants measured up to the other pants I saw around me. And you know what it is with Club Monaco? My Club Monaco chinos are the best I’ve ever owned. I used to be buttless. Not anymore. My cuffs used to break awkwardly, either crumpling too long or stopping too short, too square. No longer, and in my Monacos, I never look at my feet anymore. I look up, I look out. The world, now, for me, is a parade between myself and the horizon. I’ve turned thirty, I’ve turned fourteen, I’ve found the pants, the shirts, that make me myself.
The last installment of the Club Monaco Man interview series is coming next week in The Weather.
Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.
Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.