Today, I tied the perfect half Windsor. The knot was just slightly asymmetrical, there was a nice dimple, and the tip of the tie just barely broke the top of my belt buckle. I did it on my first try. It’s my maroon club tie. It bears the logo of a proud institution that I can finally sport with legitimacy. It isn’t aspiring, it is earned.
I don’t think shoes have to be earned, but it took me forever to find the right ones. They are brown slip-on loafers. Not Weejuns, or the normal penny loafers. The seams around the top of the shoe turn inside, making them just a little sleeker. They ride that thin line between formal and casual. (For the longest time all I could find were either frat boy moccasins or Euro genie shoes. Thank you, eBay.) Of course my brown leather belt matches.
I have on flat-front cotton khakis. They reach right to the top of my shoe, covering my socks but not touching the ground, no break in the pant leg at all. This was luck. Even when I have had pants hemmed they never get it perfect. They still pool on the shoes or sag in the seat. This pair came right off the rack. Serendipity.
I rarely if ever use a comb, just fingers. The key isn’t the comb, it is the product. I’ve gone through gels, mousses, pomades. Some just didn’t have the hold, others held but turned flaky by mid-day. I don’t want wet and glossy, nor bed head, just a nice mid ground that looks tidy, but with a little style. I’m too old, too responsible to do anything wild, but I’m not quite ready to give up and have hair that is just blah. So the idea is to do the blah 'do, but with fingers instead of a comb. With the right product it works. At least it works for what I want, and today I got it right.
I shaved and did not cut myself. Not on my neck next to my Adam’s apple, not at the corners of my mouth. Not only did I not cut myself, but I shaved in record time and managed to still erase that pesky little patch right under my nose. That spot where nose and upper lip meet. The one that no razor built by man can quite fit. Today I got it.
I buttoned down the collar on my powder blue shirt, and took a step back to take it all in. Perfect. After all these years of wandering in sartorial ignorance, being swayed by cargo pants or T-shirts, being wooed by four button suit jackets or chunky soled Doc Marten’s, I finally figured it out. I nailed it. Today I was top to bottom happy with what I put on.
Then, when I reached for my jacket, I turned just a little sideways. It ruined everything.
That dreaded ballooning a shirt makes when tucked in, the one you should buy slim or fitted shirts to avoid, was full of me. My stomach hung out over my belt buckle like some cornice — an avalanche just on the brink of happening.
It wasn’t always like that. That thing, that baggage, that waistline that isn’t really me, it is a some-thing, not a part of a some-one. It isn’t me, it is just some passenger that stowed away while I was busy with other things. It used to be I could not only not find the right shoes, but I couldn’t afford them. I could never afford them so much so that even if I had money I had no idea what I should be buying. I was in the wrong shoe wearing the wrong shirt, in the wrong fit, but on the perfect body.
This body had its own reputation.
Every bit of it was solid. Large in the chest and shoulders, slim in the waist and wrists. I was maybe a little thick in the ankles but massive enough in the calves to balance it out. While I may not have been clothed very well, I had a great form to fit. My form wasn’t the best part of that body of old; the best part was what it could do.
It was never all that fast, but it was quick. Nimble. That body could run forever and lift anything. It could bend any which way, needed very little rest, and no matter what I did, it bounced right back. It just was. Because of it I rode bikes, swam in rivers, climbed mountains. I ran, tackled, punched and got hit right back. That body was fantastic.
That body was 18 years old. But looking in the mirror today, I saw something else.
Looking in the mirror today, I saw God.
God's influence is not in the tie I earned, those perfect shoes, or even in that once fantastic body. I saw God right at the moment when I realized I had tied the perfect half Windsor. I began to swell with pride. I began to become full of myself. Then I stepped back and saw how my midsection had swelled and the results of filling my plate 100 times too many. I came crashing right back down like Icarus.
To me, that was God's influence.
It was the same influence that kept that perfect body wearing the wrong clothes and wracked with insecurity. That perfect body could never find the perfect hair product, or even the right haircut. It wore knock-off brands and could never quite figure out what was going wrong.
I have finally found the right haircut, but it has come complete with nose and ear hair, too.
Such is the justice of God.
It is God's influence because it keeps me grounded in reality. Real. Like God.
Real like spare tires and zits. Real like sports cars and divorces, bankruptcy and the birth of your first child. Real, like important things.
Now do not get me wrong, my health is important, and how I dress can greatly affect how I am treated by the world, and therefore influence how effectively I function in that world. But oh, how easily am I distracted by myself. My tastes, my ideas, my hopes and my soul-crushing insecurities. How easy is it for me to forget that I am not more important than you, and how one look should not influence how I feel about you. Looks can be either an expression of self or a distraction from truth, and I cannot tell which is which from just looking. Neither can you.
Not that beauty is bad. I love line shapes and color, in nature, in art, in people. I love it in me and in you and in them. But getting in too deep is like eating nothing but the frosting off a cake. It is wonderful, but your teeth will eventually hurt and your sugar high will come down. Frosting has no substance without the cake.
Dessert can be damaging without the meal.
My big, round belly beneath a perfect half Windsor knot reminded me of that meal.
God didn’t curse me with fat. I did that. What God has done is bless me with a reminder that paint needs to be spread on canvas to mean anything.
My perfect shoes are stupid unless my feet are standing in the right place. The break in my pant leg is invisible unless I stand up. The perfect hair product is pointless if my head is empty.
On the other hand, making the mistake of matching your pocket square perfectly with your tie and not your shirt is less important than whether or not that handkerchief is over a heart filled with hope.
That being said, your pocket square should match your shirt if it is going to match anything at all. I didn’t know that until after I got fat.
Dalyn Montgomery has a masters in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania and works in college admissions. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.