Columns

Some new fall clothes and a geography lesson 2016.08.31

By RICH FOLEY

I suppose parents with young children have been clothing shopping lately in anticipation of the beginning of the school year. There are no school clothes on my shopping list, but I have recently purchased a few items of needed clothing and footwear while managing to avoid the financial catastrophe some “experts” deem necessary in order to pull off a “wardrobe upgrade.”

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that retailers wished “American guys would dress with a bit more panache outside the office” and provided ideas on how we could buy apparel that is “informal yet polished,” although I’d call most of it “insanely overpriced.”

For example, take the lowly T-shirt. Forget the ones you wear now, instead buy a fine jersey tee for a mere $170. That’s $170, each. After that price sinks in, maybe $220 for a “more grown-up” wool overshirt will sound like a bargain. Maybe to someone, but not to me.

Even fancy sweatpants are marked up to crazy price levels. You did want a pair or two (or three) of cashmere sweatpants, didn’t you? After all, they’re “sleeker and more versatile than athletic sweats,” even though they look just like plain old sweatpants to me. The only real difference is these cost $395 each. Sales tax alone on that will be about what normal folks would spend for a pair of regular sweats, at least folks who don’t patronize the Mall from Hell.

Designer Tomas Maier specializes in showy duds such as the “Weekend Pant.” Instead of a pair of jeans, they offer the most wrinkled chinos I’ve ever seen, said to “look more put together” than jeans. At first, I couldn’t understand how they could possibly think that $550 for a pair was a fair price. I finally decided it’s based on one dollar per wrinkle. I once bought a used Chevy Malibu for under $500 that I drove for three years and it didn’t look as bad as these pants.

But if you fall for the $550 pants, it probably follows that you’re also a potential victim—I mean buyer—of the Brunello Cucinelli calfskin sneakers, just $845 (calf not included), a mere $422.50 per shoe. And then there’s the Ralph Lauren jacket.

Several years ago, I won the bidding on eBay for a Ralph Lauren Polo brand shirt. Actually, I won nothing as I was the only bidder. The seller e-mailed me, saying he had three more shirts in different colors and wondered if I’d be interested in a deal on all of them. For something like $10 each, they almost had to be counterfeit.

Almost, but not quite. I’ve worn them for years, they’ve been through the washer dozens of times, if not a hundred or more, and they still look good. I’ve got to hand it to the garment workers in Honduras. I wonder if they make the Ralph Lauren suede jacket?

The WSJ article says the Lauren jacket “goes more places and fits in better than a hoodie, windbreaker or sweatshirt.” It had better. At a whopping $3,995, I’d expect it to do the cooking and change the oil on my car. One thing’s for sure, that price makes my recent purchases sound like the deal of the century, although style experts would probably disagree.

I bought a pair of shoes (not calfskin), a pair of black jeans (instead of severely wrinkled chinos), and a robe, the first robe I’ve owned in many, many years. The shoes and jeans were made in China, the robe in Swaziland. And therein lies the geography lesson.

I knew Swaziland was in Africa, but that’s about it. It turns out that the country is a nation of slightly over a million people in the southern part of the continent, bordered on the north, south and west by South Africa and on the east by Mozambique. English is one of two official languages. Swaziland’s major industries are coal, wood pulp, sugar. soft drink concentrates, textiles and-here it comes-apparel. Unfortunately, it’s chief natural resource is asbestos. I hope their apparel industry is growing.

Probably due to the countries of origin, all three items together cost me barely half the price of one of those fine jersey tees mentioned earlier. In fact, if you add up the prices of the tee, the cashmere sweatpants, the wool overshirt, the calfskin sneakers, the wrinkled chinos and the Ralph Lauren jacket, you’d spend quite a bit more than I did on my first brand new car, a 1979 Ford Mustang. Given that choice, forget the clothes—I’ll take the car.