Jan 15

The Past is a Barnacle

pic nicked from here

When a ship is at sea for a long time, a bizarre species of crustacean, known as barnacles, affix themselves to the hull.  Although one barnacle does no damage, too many impair the ship’s speed and manoeuvrability.  When that happens, the ship must return to port to be cleaned, stripped and fixed.

As creatures set afloat in a sea of commerce, we too gather many little barnacles.  Passively acquired, protected by a rock hard shell of psychological attachment and glued to our lives by a mixture of laziness, passivity and fear, these creatures slow us down, stop us from moving and must be removed.

At times, we humans too must return to port.

pic nicked from here

Because of my mode of dress, my closet is perhaps more susceptible to barnacles than most.  Each suit, after all, requires a certain amount of supporting clothing.  Shirts, ties, various accessories and accoutrements.  When purchasing these, it’s quite common to find something else to buy.   And most of that is never actually used though it remains because one day, maybe, I’ll need it.

One day, maybe.

Well, one day maybe never comes.

I have tried, every spring, to strip off the barnacles but to leave the hull intact. And this has met with varying degrees of success.  Yet, not matter how through I am, every winter I find myself overwhelmed by clothes I never wear.  They clog up my closet, lay strewn over my floor, impair my speed and manoeuvrability while causing needless complication when getting dressed.  It’s a minor but constant psychic strain.

An utterly unnecessary one.

Other than my bespoke suits, I always wear the same few suits to work.  To introduce variance to these work clothes, I have tried adding.  More shirts, a variety of sweaters, different ties, even more shirts.  It has not worked.  The drag on my life is increased.  I cannot acquire my way out of this mess.  After all, I acquired my way into it.

Drastic measures are called for.

And drastic measures have been taken.

Today and yesterday I gathered every single item of clothing I own, other than underwear, socks, ties and bespoke, and bagged it.  It’s all in the garbage.

I have replaced all of that with three pairs of navy blue work pants and three pairs of navy blue work shirts from BIG B WORKWEAR.  I work three shifts a week.

These are now my work clothes.

When I’m not working, I own enough bespoke to be exclusively clad in that.

The entire middle of my closet has been removed.  No matter my sentimental attachment to any item, it has gone.  No matter how much money I once spent on it, it is now garbage.  No matter how much I once liked it, I murdered the fucker.

Purges are a ruthless business.

Sentimentality is deadly.

And I have been here before.  Every so often I find my progress impeded by old ideas, old items and old things.  I return to port and tear the ship up.  Rebuild it and start again.  There has been many Ryans over the years.  Punk, drunk and the one that you have gotten to know here.  The fellow who exclusively wears suits.

But that was never meant as the complete final version.

If you thought that, you haven’t really been listening to a word.

I’ve always been a quality over quantity sort of person.  But constricted as I am by limited finances and desirous of fine suits, I have had to acquire a great deal of not so fine suits.  Over time, as planned, my one-time front line of suits has become my bottom end work clothes.  I simply did not have the money to have both suits and work clothes.   I needed to do a sort of double duty.  Buy a suit, replace it with a better one and turn that old one over to the job.    Any money spent exclusively on work attire took away from this replacing of the top end.  It slowed me.

pic nicked from here

Over time, that bottom end decayed through wear and tear.  As they say in the maritime business, it became biofouled.  Quite literally, in some cases, frayed around the collar.  They needed to be replaced; not as suits but as work clothes.

I could have bought other suits but that would have required a great deal of effort and money spent in an impractical pursuit.  A lot of time searching through second-hand shops. And just to have work clothes.  It is much better to simply buy work clothes that match my aesthetic of efficiency tempered with biology.

Once upon a time, when interviewed about my sense of style I said: “Function is beautiful and beauty is functional.” These are words I stand by.

I never wanted to be that fellow who wears suits.  Never wanted to be your dandy or your fop.  What I wanted was some beautiful suits and to find a sort of timelessness within them. That I had to constantly wear suits, was not a matter of taste but one of finances.  It was a part of a progress to a life more beholden to quality than to quantity.  Having a lot of suits is no article of pride.

I bought bespoke suits because they would lead to a greater efficiency in my closet.  This was my ten year plan and they have served this purpose admirably.  I can now honestly say that my collection of suits are about the best that my money can buy.  My wardrobe can still be increased [it will be: much more slowly] but it can only be improved on with a series of details invisible to even to myself.

To do that, I would have to be a millionaire.  I’m not a millionaire.  I’m not any sort of aire.

Lacking the money for a direct approach to the problem of making my bespoke suits better, I have used a trick that I learned in writing.

It sometimes appears that there’s a problem with a chapter when there is no problem with that chapter.  The problem is in a different place.  In another chapter.  And that’s what needs to be changed.

I can make my bespoke look better by not constantly wearing suits.  Rather than being an improvement on something that, to the uneducated eye, probably all looks the same anyway, it will be a stark contrast with BIG B WORKWEAR.

But not too stark of a contrast.  At opposite ends of the spectrum, we often find more similarities than differences.  To me, this workwear is simply another example of a suit.  Though lacking the bio-sartorial functions of a suit and tie, it is recommended by being stripped down to even greater simplicity.

To make a very old and oft wrong prediction, jumpsuits are the way of the future.

The whole history of menswear teaches that today’s ultra-simple work or sports wear is tomorrow’s formal clothing.  This was the insight of the lionized though misunderstood Beau Brummel.  Though extravagant by today’s standards, his clothing was, by the standards of the Regency, shockingly simple.  He understood better than most that the past is little more than a collection of barnacles.

So perhaps the B in BIG B WORKWEAR stands for BEAU.  Perhaps it stands for BROTHER.  But one thing it does not stand for is BARNACLE.  It’s the future.

Get used to it.


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  1. duncan

    barnacles are not shellfish, they are crustaceans, like crabs.

    1. Ryan Oakley


  2. Nadia Lewis

    Ryan, you are my Hero of the Day! I’ve been meaning to make this kind of cut for years, but being the useless, weak-willed and fickle female I am, I haven’t yet done it yet. Cheers to your ruthlessness!

  3. Patrick M

    I file this under G, for Good Ideas.

    Ultimately, I think you may be headed for bespoke workwear.

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