Whenever I run into old high school friends or fraternity brothers, and I tell them that I’m working for Ralph Lauren, the response is always the same,
“Of course you are.”
When I was 13 years-old my mother bought me a pale orange oxford shirt with a polo player on the left chest. I wore that shirt everywhere, and with everything. I knew that it was more than just a piece of clothing …. it was a way of life. That perfect American life I’d seen advertised between the pages of Vanity Fair magazine – Bruce Webber images of guys riding horses, and families lounging on boats or playing touch football on the overly green lawn of a Hampton’s estate. It was from that moment on, I only wanted to wear shirts with four letters on the label….
P. O. L. O.
The walls of my bedroom were plastered with Ralph Lauren ads torn from Esquire and GQ. I didn’t save my baby-sitting money for a car like my friends were doing – I never really wanted one. I spent every dollar I had in the boy’s Polo department at Bloomingdale’s on bright-colored knits. I needed twice as many because I wore them layered two at a time, both collars flipped towards the heavens.
My first cologne; Polo green. I spritzed my sheets, my school locker, my Guinea pig.
In my teens, while most of my friends were experimenting with goth and new wave styles, I was in the full throes of W.A.S.P. I didn’t wear Reebok’s, my shoe of choice was a basic white tennis shoe with Polo on the heel. Socks, if I was wearing them, had a little man on a horse on each side.
I went through fraternity RUSH in cuffed white shorts and a navy cardigan sweater with big brass buttons. I was the frat guy who wore madras ties to keggers – madras that I meticulously matched to the pink and green in the fraternity crest on my navy blazer – the navy blazer I wore with everything. I mean, is there such a thing as a “navy blazer phase”? Because I had one.
Who made my first adult suit? You guessed it – Ralph Lauren. I had to put it on lay-a-way to afford it. It was a double-breasted, navy blue pinstripe number with peak lapels. I felt like Cary Grant every time I wore it.
But my passion wasn’t limited to just clothes anymore; there was the comforter that looked like a faded map of the Sarah desert, and china that could have come from a 1940’s roadside diner, candles that smelled like the ocean, serape beach towels and paint that mimicked the texture of suede …. it never stopped. I surrounded myself with the timeless designs of everything Ralph Lauren. He was the first fashion designer to produce anything other than clothes.
Lately, I have been hoarding Polo “conversational” ties from the 90s. Those are the ones with pictures of fishermen, or race cars, or maybe just one big cowboy boot emblazoned across them; a little reminiscent of the ties gangsters in 1940s movies would wear. I scour eBay for styles I’ve never seen before, or different color ways of old favorites …. or what I like to call “back ups”. (That means it’s one I already have) Jamie rolls his eyes every time I receive a soft, pillowy envelope in the mail. He knows it’s another never-to-be-worn, used tie.
Relax. At least I’m not buying crystal meth.
Do I wear any of the 150-200 I’ve amassed? No, not really. But I’m not parting with any either.
I’m not that natty of a dresser anymore.
In my later years I go more for comfort; overly washed western shirts, mended jeans and espadrilles is pretty much how I roll. Still faithful to my favorite fashion designer though. After all, I shop in one of his stores about 60 hours a week – I’ve been working in Ralph Lauren creative services since 2004.
I do wear a tie about twice a year. (I average about one funeral and one Broadway show per.)
I’ve recently discovered the importance of having a shirt with a front pocket. I used to scoff at the old men who would shuffle into Macy’s and complain about every shirt that was sans front pocket. Now I enjoy a place to stash my readers, and notes I’ve jotted down and medication that I have to wait and take with food. As I sit on an airplane writing these very words I’m wearing a shirt with TWO front pockets. One holds my phone and the other; my glasses, a wad of napkins, and the Visa card I intend to “quick draw” and pay for my bloody Mary. (The wad of napkins is for dabbing the tomato juice out of my mustache)
I’m on a flight returning from New York City ….. with a carefully rolled tie in my carry on.
No, I wasn’t attending a musical, or even a funeral.
That 13-year-old boy that I once was would never believe where I’ve been ….. at the Ralph Lauren 50th anniversary fashion show.
I opened my email Thursday afternoon and saw this…
The models – a few I recognized as friends and family of other employees, even Pierce Brosnan’s son, Paris – well over 100 at this point, gathered on the steps. As the last notes of Neil Diamond’s America was playing the crowd parted and Mr. Ralph Lauren made his way down to the front.
There he was.
The man whose name was printed along the waistband of my underwear.
I lost it and cried some more.
I never imagined that I would get this opportunity one day……