Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Credit Limit

For a generation of men raised wearing oxford cloth shirts, what I'm about to say may come as a surprise, but I was in high school before I developed my life-long affection for the button-down, all-cotton variety. Why so long? It's not because they hadn't been invented yet. That took place in the nineteenth century when English polo players discovered the basket weave pattern provided better ventilation during a match. The buttons were added when someone complained about collars flapping in the breeze.

Growing up, as I did, the son of a cowboy-saddlemaker, my father's shirts and mine were made of broadcloth and had snaps on the front and cuff plackets. Patterns were more popular than solids in Western-style shirts, and the truth is, you really can do a lot more with broadcloth when it comes to designing shirts in patterns. Don't believe me? Take a look at your Land's End catalog for men sometime. Brooks Brothers, Joseph A. Bank, you name it. Stripes do fine with oxford cloth, especially pinpoint, but the Scottish plaids, paintbrush styles, and paisleys (if anyone wears those anymore), are generally made of broadcloth. It just takes the dye better.

So, that brings us to high school. Somewhere along the line, my mother came home with three oxford cloth shirts, two of which were all-cotton, the other a blend. We had our shirts laundered at the time because you could have that done for a song, unlike today when it costs a symphony to get them out of hock. It was quite a while before I figured out why the all-cotton ones took starch so well and the blend, no matter how much starch was added, hung on me, limp as a banana peal. Polyester may help reduce wrinkling, but it can't absorb starch, and it's due to the fact that polyester is petroleum-based and starch has to be mixed with water.

I'm thinking about all of this today because I have freshly starched shirts drip-drying on hangers in the shower. It's part of my weekend routine. Come home from my rural medicine rotation with a bag of laundry, starch the shirts, dry and iron them. It's a habit I got into several years ago. I used to think having shirts professionally laundered was the way to go until learning about the process itself changed my mind. Because shirts are draped over a form-fitted model and steam is shot through the fabric, professional laundering tends to break down the fibers and as a result, shirts wear out faster. Since the steam is hot, they also tend to shrink a little each time. I don't know about you, but being on a medical student's income, there are limits to my shirt budget. Besides that, once I find a shirt I like, I'd prefer it to last a while.

I suppose one could argue laundering, starching, and ironing takes time and time is money. That's true, but the time I spend doing all of this is not time I'd spend making money, so in the long run, I'm saving it. Also, you have to consider how, once you've learned to iron and iron well, you get faster by sheer practice. If you iron while watching television, you can do two things at once and it cuts down on boredom.

Now, before the male members of the audience start thinking this is "woman's work," I'd like to suggest a couple of things. First, never, ever use the term "woman's work" around the opposite sex unless you want to limit yourself to first dates, because that's all you're going to get. Just because mom used to press your clothes, don't entertain the fantasy that girlfriends do likewise. Second, one of the secret benefits I've discovered about doing my own ironing is, women find it attractive. I'm not kidding. If you're a man, you already know there are things cooking in the minds of women that you won't understand if you live to be a million, so stop trying. This is one of them.

Still, I'll hazard a guess. I think women find it attractive because it suggests to them a man is secure enough in his identity and masculinity, that he can do domestic chores without thinking twice. They take it to mean he takes pride in himself, his appearance, and knows how to be responsible. A man who can do these things can also take care of them. Not that they can't take care of themselves, because they can, but you get the idea. It means a man is dependable, mature, and especially, confident. He's got the stuff money can't buy, no matter how high is his credit limit.

Oh, and if you'd like a good recipe for homemade starch, drop me a line.

(Creative Commons image, "The Morning Routine," by Mike Schmid via Flikr)
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