7 Fashion Lessons I Learned From My Dad, Who Can Dress For Hiking Or Wall Street In Equal Comfort
Even though my mom is a pretty stylish lady and has taught me much of what I know about skincare (because she is a licensed esthetician, after all), lessons from my dad definitely include fashion inspiration. Most of my fashion lessons, and the values I consider when I figure out what I want to wear or how I want to spend my money, come from my dad.
He isn't exactly trendy, but my dad is pretty cool. He's something of a chameleon, a consummate outdoorsman who once spent a summer living in a Mexico City dump while spelunking in caves with his buddies. He eventually traded in his shoulder-length hair and climbing shoes for a crew cut and a nice suit from Brooks Brothers to go to an Ivy League business school and eventually work on Wall Street. My dad is as comfortable in a board room or a fancy restaurant as he is on an eight-mile hike, and he's always rocking an appropriate outfit.
Now, I'm not going out and buying the same clothes he is (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I have definitely stolen a Patagonia fleece from him at some point, and we do have matching boots from L.L. Bean), but I do take a lot of his values and lessons to heart when I go shopping, and in honor of Father's Day, I figured I'd pass some of the gems along to you, too. Here are the seven fashion lessons I learned from my dad:
1. Know What You're Looking For...
Before my dad buys anything, be it a car or a frying pan or a pair of socks, he does his research to figure out what he wants. He's rarely looking for just a raincoat. Instead, it's a raincoat with a pocket on the inside that's good for temperatures down to 30 degrees and gusts of wind up to 25 MPH.
Knowing exactly what he wants and why he wants it and doing his research beforehand prevents him from making impulse purchases. This careful thinking is a strategy I could better apply when hitting up Sephora, but I try to keep it in mind before heading out shopping, always asking myself, "What am I looking for?"
2. And Don't Be Afraid To Ask For What You Want
It is not uncommon to find my dad deep in conversation with a salesperson about some specific detail about some specific article of clothing. He's quick to pepper the staff with questions, always making sure that what he's about to buy is what he actually wants, and if what he wants exists but isn't available in the store, then he figures out how he can get it. It usually works. I, on the other hand, hate talking with salespeople because I feel like I'm bothering them, which, of course, is irrational. I should take a page from my dad's book, and ask for what I'm looking for.
3. It Can Be OK To Splurge
My dad is always looking for a good deal and is a big fan of coupons, but he's willing to pay full-price on items that will get a lot of use. These investment items generally are outdoor-themed, like galoshes or winter jackets or snow boots, but also apply to workwear like business suits and ties. (I was always blown away by my dad's collection of Hermès ties when I was younger.)
You should still keep an eye out for a deal if you can find it, but don't feel guilty if you're spending your hard-earned money on an item that you love, is well-constructed, and will last you at least few seasons, if not the rest of your adult life. (This is why my dad loves Patagonia so much. It's a little pricey up-front, but it'll last forever and you can't beat that warranty. Plus, my dad's still rocking his vintage Patagonia fleece, decades after he first bought it so he knows it lives up to the promise. I have inherited my father's penchant for Patagonia, for sure.)
4. Once You Find Something You Like, Buy In Bulk
Just because my dad is willing to spend good money on items he likes, doesn't mean he's a chump. If there's an accessory or a piece of clothing that he knows is either being discontinued or he will use frequently, he's willing to buy it in bulk so he never has to buy it again, or at least not for a long time. This is as true of Patagonia duffel bags as it is of Wrangler blue jeans from Wal-Mart. If you like it and it works for you, stick with it.
5. Become Your Own Tailor... Or Cobbler
My dad's feet are huge; he wears a size 13 wide. (When I told my dad that his shoe size was huge, he got defensive and said, "No! My feet aren't huge. My brother's feet are huge; he wears size 15. My feet are just wide.") It should come as little surprise that my dad has a hard time finding shoes. Although he does have a couple brands he relies on, he recently took an old pair of Merrell slip-ons and cut off the heels and threw in some insoles so his feet would fit more comfortably.
In less dramatic fashion, my dad also ties extra rope to zippers on backpacks and jackets to make them easier to open and close, or he'll go to a "real" tailor sometimes if he needs something hemmed. The lesson here being, if your clothing or your shoes aren't fitting properly, don't be afraid to make some of your own modifications. They are your clothes, after all.
6. Every Piece Of Clothing Has A Purpose
In much the same vein that my dad knows what he's looking for before he goes to buy it, he knows that every item in his closet should have a purpose. That jacket is for rain while that other jacket is for snow. That fleece is for when it's between 15 degrees and 30 degrees, while that fleece is for temperatures between 30 degrees and 50 degrees with high wind.
Although I don't think I'll ever take it to that extreme, there is something to be said about knowing why you own each jacket, each pair of pants, each shirt. If you can't explain the purpose of the piece of clothing, then you probably don't need it.
7. Wear What Works, Not What's Trendy
My dad has been wearing variations on the same outfits for as long as I can remember. When he was working on Wall Street, it was always a grey suit with a blue or white shirt and a slick silk tie, sometimes with snails. Now, it's either khakis or blue jeans, paired with a salmon or hunter green t-shirt with a pocket, or a polo shirt if we're going over to someone's house. It's simple, but the formula works and will always work because it's what he's comfortable wearing.
My dad has taught me it's more important to wear clothes that are well-constructed, comfortable, clean, and will last for years to come, rather than outfits that are trendy.