A Taxonomy of Boxy Clothes
“The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk”, wrote Hegel*, meaning that we can only understand a historical system once it has begun to decay. So it is with great sadness that I present for you here a precise taxonomy of the boxy-cut shirt, a fashion that I have loved for years. Built like Otho in Betelgeuse? Yeah, the boxy shirt is for you. I’m talking about a shirt with the same width at the waist as at the shoulders; a shirt cut straight across the bottom, not meant to be tucked in. A shirt that looks as good on a blustery, red-faced Australian sheep farmer as it does on you. Let’s pick apart the directions in which the boxy shirt style is moving.
There are three centers of influence in American boxy clothing. First, the British working-class center, typified by the mid-nineties Ben Sherman shirt (I haven’t linked to Ben Sherman, because their new line is 180 degrees different, meant for skinny wastrels with Caesar haircuts.) These no-nonsense, square-cut work shirts were favored by mods (and later skinheads) for their blue-collar ethos, much like Dickies in the US. Second, the skate punk center. It’s harder to identify pure skate punk these days, as fat pants have been adopted by many teen social groups. For our purposes, let’s look for the chain connecting the wallet to the belt, and for use of non-corporate graphic symbology. See Che Guevara with an X-box controller? That’s skate-punk.
Ganing momentum in the past two years, the West Coast Hot Rodder look is rapidly taking over the mall. Here’s where you’ll find the bowling shirt with flames on it, the boxy shorts with flames on them, or anything with a stylized crown. A lot of barrio culture went into this look, but soon it’ll be as redneck as a “no fear” sticker on a Toyota truck.
Now, most of what you’ll see out there is a combination of these three influences. Jesse James, for example, dresses like a skater, but he wears his watch cap pulled low in front (barrio), not up on top of his head (Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3.) Henry Rollins is a punk, but his wide pants and Ollie-friendly Vans shoes put him on the line where skater meets skinhead. And your freaky uncle in the merchant marine with the square beard and the Sailor Jerry tattoos is actually on the vanguard where hot-rodder meets the original Cockney working-class look.
Why do I care? Because I have to leave this space. I’m thirty-two years old, and every time I pulled on my Chochie Casuals shorts last year, the cool ones made from the Dickies workpants with the embroidered crown on the knee, I’d shake my head regretfully and realize I was wearing a teenager’s shorts. And not an especially cool teenager, either: hot-rod rockabilly is as dead as goatees or saddle shoes.
I could try to transplant myself altogether to the New York City Adult Male venn diagram, but a choice between Prada, Adidas, and Gucci does absolutely nothing for me. Darts in my shirts make me sweat, and I’m uninterested in wearing saucy Prada clamdiggers. Instead, I’ve decided to take the Duane Hansen route, achieving escape velocity on a collision course with the Ugly American Tourist.
Hence, my four-hour quest in New York City on Saturday to find a pair of white bucks with red soles to wear this summer. I checked all the hipster stores in Nolita: no luck. Each one of the thirty shoe stores on eighth street: blank looks from the attendants. Prada? No. Saks? No. Barneys? No. Bergdorf Goodman, for God’s sake? No. Clearly, I’m breaking new ground, here. That’s good news.
Ladies and gentlemen, I rode my motorcycle thirty miles to Lancaster, Pennsylvania this weekend to purchase a beautiful pair of tan oxford bucks with genuine red soles from a giant outlet store. In a field of giant outlet stores, in an area packed with fields of giant outlet stores. I was surrounded by senior citizens off the shopping bus, each of whom had been given a box lunch and a golf cart with which to drive from store to store. The shirts were boxy, the colors were bright, and a sense of hopeful optimism was in the air (“I think that Cracker Barrel will have chicken-fried steak at the buffet!”) I’ve found my new stylistic direction, a direction that’s fun, exciting, and age-appropriate, and made from low-maintenance, wrinkle-free synthetic blends.
I ask you to remember me five years from now when you see white oxford bucks at Hot Topic in the Short Hills Mall.
* One of the two quotes that philosophy majors remember after graduation, and throw around in coffee bars. (The other is Descartes’ Cogito, Ergo Sum: “I think, therefore I am.” Extra coffee-bar points for referring to the phrase as “The Cogito“, instead of just saying the damn thing.) Kate and I saw a sandy-haired philosopher in the Noho Star over the weekend, and Kate thought he looked familiar. Turns out he’s a barista at the Suburban Square Starbucks in Ardmore!