A Madras Sport Coat?

Lughnasa                                                                College Moon

In 1965 Gentlemen’s Quarterly had an off to college issue for the young man. As a result, a navy blazer, charcoal slacks and several oxford cloth shirts ended up in my closet along with a madras sport coat. There was, too, an oxblood pair of casual dress shoes. None of this had been part of my wardrobe before.

It felt, what did it feel? How to describe it? It was costume for the new role, the away from home, out of town guy. Choosing this clothing was more important than the clothing itself. The act of shopping, getting measured and fitted, deciding on cuffs or no cuffs, stripes or no stripes and the radical choice of a madras sport coat. First. A sport coat! Second. Madras. Au courant.

This was about shedding the t-shirts, plaid shirts and cotton pants of high school, putting high school behind me, or, perhaps better, leaving the high school me behind. Wanting to. Needing to. This was a boy leaving home, wanting and needing to become a man. Whatever that meant.

It meant being ready. And of course I wasn’t. We never are when we make these transitions. Kate and I sat behind a young girl today, maybe 13. She had blond hair, neon sneakers, khaki shorts and a pair of fashion sunglasses. I watched her as she leveled her shoulders, threw out her chest just a little and ran her hand through her hair. All while looking bored. Or unsure. She was between being a girl and wanting desperately to be a woman, or at least an older girl.

That was me. Wanting desperately to be a man, at least a young man. Not. A. Boy. It was this navy blazered, charcoal slacked, blue oxford dress shirted, oxblood shoed young man who wanted a liberal arts education. He wasn’t sure quite what that was but he had come to believe that he needed one. That’s why he had chosen Wabash, a private liberal arts college. The emphasis at Wabash was not on vocational training but on learning, about developing the ability to think and becoming saturated with the Western intellectual tradition.

What happened to that young man and the need for navy blazers is another, more complicated story, but he never let go of liberal arts. Never. Not even now. It was the one aspect of that transition from boy to man, from secondary education to higher education, that did not get set aside or changed or abandoned.

And you know, I don’t recall ever wearing that madras sportcoat.

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