Fathers, Fashion, and Family Therapy

Born in the Bronx, New York, the son of a haberdasher and schoolteacher, my father was a product of post-World War II prosperity. He idealized the American Dream seen through the looking glass of rising consumerism, stimulated by mass advertising and set free among a consumption-hungry middle-class.

As a child, I am told, my father was a “dapper” dresser among his classmates. All Horace Mann students wore the school blazer and wool slacks. However, Dad’s were freshly brushed and pressed, creases straight and his loafers had their pennies shined, daily.

My father was notorious for wardrobe changes and specialization. School attire changed to outdoor playwear and then to dinner clothing. Once, on a trip to Rye Playland, my father stepped out of a car and into a pile of steaming dog poop. A friend exclaimed, “Hey Arnie, don’t you have a special pair of shoes for that?”

Graduating Dartmouth, he exhibited his Phi Beta Kappa key on a watch fob. I am unsure whether the key was a byproduct of his intelligence and hard work, or if his work ethic was the necessary tool to obtain the accessory he coveted.

He signed up for the first Diners Club Travel Card — a $5 annual membership, only to upgrade to the more prestigious and costly American Express Card — $6. To my father, this was an important statement and a gateway to acquire the icons that would certify his accomplishments. 

Bonuses received yielded badges of achievement which my father proudly displayed. Gentleman of stature must own the following:

  • A Burberry trench coat — casually tied, never buckled.
  • A pair of Gucci loafers — always polished.
  • Several Turnbull & Asser pocket squares — worn appropriately “pointed” on weekdays, and casually “puffed” on weekends.
  • Two bespoke Alfred Dunhill three-piece suits, one navy, one grey — both midweight, with working cuff buttons.
  • One Rolex, gold day-date with the “president” bracelet — worn at all times.
  • Tiffany cufflinks, gold knots — worn on monogrammed cuffs. 
  • One Dunhill lighter, a gold Rollagas — often left on the bar at the Sherry-Netherland beside an empty pack of Marlboros and an empty martini glass.

I find it fascinating, decades later, that these icons hold not only their intrinsic value, but also their cultural significance. His choices were timeless. As a sign of independence, and generational rebellion, I vowed not to follow in his Gucci-clad footsteps. Yet, I succumbed.

I worked and saved to fill my closet with these talismans. And during his lifetime, I attempted to exhibit my trophies with nonchalance. And, he scoffed. My Burberry was modern, navy and beltless, my Rolex a Submariner, and not even black. My Gucci’s were scuffed, my sleeves showed too much cuff; my martini and confidence were shaken.

“Icons,” he dismissed, “are not subject to reinterpretation.”

Perhaps today, my father would be proud of my sartorial accomplishments. I graduated Tufts University and the Harvard Business School as astudent of neuroscience, consumer behavior and “stimulus and response.” The name Pavlov rings a bell.

I am the chief marketing officer for one of the world’s leading apparel and accessories companies. We make pants, suit separates, neckwear, belts, wallets, hats, bags and other stuff, under brands including Ralph Lauren, John Varvatos, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Haggar and Tommy Hilfiger. We distribute these products “everywhere fine men’s products are sold.”

The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Women’s Wear Daily, LinkedIn, MR Magazine and The Robin Report have called me a “Top Voice in Retail,” “Change Agent,” “Menswear Mover,” “Influencer,” and a “Retail Radical. I’ve been called a lot of other things, too: “Industry geek” and “alchemist” are printable here.

However, my Gucci’s have been replaced with Cole Haan and Greats. The Rolex sits in a dresser drawer while my wrist exhibits an Apple Watch, the new one, with the red dot. And sometimes, I wear Levi’s to work.

Dad, you’d never believe what Abercrombie has become.

© 2019, David J. Katz, New York City

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