Saturday, November 9, 2019

Howie Balaban: Not Stressing About My Dressing

In recent months, I’ve had a few discussions with my son about very important subjects. He’s taken a keen interest in current events, and I’ve done my best to make sure that the opinions he gives to me aren’t those of other people. If he says he heard a news item on a particular show, I’ll direct him to a different show to get more of whatever story he’s talking about so that he understands the “news” he received was given with a heavy dose of opinion. Thankfully, he appears to get that.
He’s also been busy with school and all that comes with it, so we’ve spoken about some of the various activities in which he’s involved. And, he’s a teenager. Which means he’s got opinions on his parents. Frequently, his opinion of my choice of clothing is the one subject where disagree. By a lot.

Now, as a stay-at-home parent, I am a lucky guy in that my “uniform” on most days consists of a pair of jeans and a either a short or long-sleeved t-shirt. Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll throw on a hoodie. And if I know I’m going to be doing stuff both in and outside on a given day, I’ll put on a light-weight zip-up hoodie of some kind.
Yesterday, I spent a good portion of the day in a zip-up hoodie. The front of it featured the Autobot insignia. Yes, I was wearing a shirt with the logo of the good guys from Transformers. Know what? I also own a handful of other Transformers t-shirts. Two have Optimus Prime, one has Bumblebee, one has the Autobot insignia in a smoke outline, and one just has the basic logo. I wear them all. Because I grew up with them, and I know plenty of people who did. Furthermore, with all of the live-action movies added to the franchise in the past decade, younger people see the shirt or the logo and I’ve caught several smiles and nods of approval in my direction.
Like many people, I also am a Star Wars fan. I own and wear a few Star Wars shirts, too. One is basic (just the original movie logo) and one has a variety of different characters on it. I also picked up a Captain America shield t-shirt, was gifted a Thundercats t-shirt (by my wife, who also gave me a few of the other aforementioned tees), and since we’re a family who loves Disney, I have a couple Mickey Mouse shirts and a Donald Duck shirt.
Over the summer, I also picked up a shirt advertising for Pizza Planet, the fictional version of Chuck E. Cheese depicted in the original Toy Story. And, in a wonderful stroke of luck, I also found a Pizza Planet blanket on clearance for about $5 (marked down from…much more) and decided that yes, I had to have it. It is, in fact, around my shoulders right now since the room I’m typing this in is a bit chilly.
Throw in other graphic tees of various teams, with various “funny” sayings, or from various places, and I’ve got quite a collection. Plus, like I said earlier, rarely do I have to go anywhere to do anything other than drop off one of my three kids somewhere or handle the grocery shopping, or something along those lines. So, in almost every scenario, I’ll wear what I want.
It has been brought to my attention that some of my shirt choices have been viewed as bad, embarrassing, loser-ish, or worse. This honestly surprised me. Why? Because when I was gainfully employed, and I ever went anywhere during “work hours” to do my job, I was dressed accordingly. Nice shirt, no graphic or crazy design, with a collar. Either a pair of khakis or really dark jeans. Few places I’ve worked in recent years have required a necktie, but rest assured, when I was managing editor at a weekly paper in Iowa, I showed up to work 4 out of 5 days a week in a shirt and tie. (Fridays were casual.)
I’ve given this issue much more thought than it deserves, and I’ve come to the following conclusion: worrying about what other people think about the completely inoffensive shirts I choose to wear is something I’ll stop doing upon the end of the writing of this column. 
From where I sit, what a person chooses to wear does say something about them, but not everything about them. For instance, if I’m out somewhere with my family and it’s an out of state location, and we see someone in a Bills hat, or a Sabres sweater, or a Syracuse University shirt, chances are my wife or I will say, “Go Buffalo!” or “Go Orange!” and get a positive response. There have been times when my family has visited Disney World and we’ve seen families with themed shirts, and each one has a different saying about that family’s trip. The shirts are a conversation piece waiting to happen, and this is especially true if we’re in line near a group like that. We wind up learning more about each other. It’s better than social media because it truly is social.
One of the best shirts I’ve seen in our trips to Florida was worn by a guy who I think was a newlywed. He was walking by me at a fast pace, likely going to meet up with his wife. His shirt depicted stick figures of a bride and groom, but they were on a video game controller. The caption to the shirt read, “Game Over.”
As he walked by, I told him I thought his shirt was great. I was laughing when I said it, and I don’t remember whether my wife was laughing or rolling her eyes, but she at least “got it” and grinned. 
So, I repeat, shirts can be fun. (Some of the best ones I’ve ever seen have been Disney related. For instance, there’s a Lion King shirt that’s pretty popular, depicting Simba, Pumba, and Timon silhouettes walking across a log during the Hakuna Matata scene. Now, imagine the same shirt, but with a Star Wars AT-AT as Simba and smaller characters in place of Pumba and Timon. You’re picturing it, and you’re smiling, aren’t you? See what I mean?)
Over the past 20 to 25 years, I managed to collect so many shirts in two specific categories that I had them turned into gorgeous queen size quilts. Each one has pieces of more than 20 shirts. One is from my old collection of Hard Rock Cafe tees, and the other is from all the clothing swag I wound up with at Syracuse from being a resident adviser, Goon Squad member, and fundraising caller (and of course more than a few that I bought).
There are, of course, lines we shouldn’t cross with what we wear. There are a few shirts I currently have that straddle that line, so I need to be careful when and where I wear them. When I was in high school, the “cool” shirts were, among others, “co-ed naked” activity shirts, with an obvious innuendo phrase beneath. I had one, but knew better than to wear it to school, as I knew several classmates who were asked to change out of theirs. I still own mine, and it’s the only one I ever owned. It’s buried in my closet. Same with a couple other shirts that I bought between senior year of high school and senior year of college when I didn’t care much about what other people thought. Coming full circle, though, I’ve been disappointed that in recent years, some shirts I’ve seen have made me cringe because of their hateful message. And I neither wear, let alone own, any of those. Because like I said, there are lines.
In the end, I suppose the point of all of this is to say that if you like something, and you find a piece of clothing with that something on it, go for it. Though there are exceptions to every rule, the rule with the fewest in my book is this: 
Don’t let anyone tell you what not to like.

Howie Balaban has a few holiday-themed tee-shirts he looks forward to wearing in the coming weeks, along with a Santa hat for each of his three favorite sports teams. Whether with one finger or a full hand, he’d welcome your hello!