My Back Pages: Season of Discontent

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Author: Liam Farrell '04

Liam Farrell, alumni editor

There are a lot of reasons to hate winters in South Bend, be it the interminable snowfall, the feeling that sunshine is a fictional creation, or the chilling wind that pounds your face no matter what direction you are heading into.

But for a man who loves loafers, this is a real season of discontent.

Over the past several years, men’s style has shifted back into reclamation of so-called “heritage” pieces, which roughly translates to things you would have found in your tweedy grandfather’s closet. I’ve read some psychobabble that this had to do with the Great Recession, and rediscovering the quality of American manufacturing and clothing history, but I have a hard time connecting the obliteration of my 401k with every men’s store turning into a lumberjack ski lodge with flannel shirts on tree stumps and wool ties hanging from deer antlers (looking at you, New York City J. Crews). And I can only go so far with the other dissertations on how this is an attempt to reengage with a more tactile past, where our lives were less digital and our clothes less synthetic, where our hands got dirty in the soil and we wiped them off on really solid denim purchased through barter in a general store, etc., etc., etc.

Frankly, I think it’s more because the clothes my generation saw growing up were terrible. The March Esquire has a nice little feature called “How We Dress Now: An Oral History,” that shows the shiny polyester tents once known as shirts and rectangular rubber slabs once known as shoes that populated the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s also a picture of Ashton Kutcher in a trucker hat, because that was popular, for reasons that are not now, and never were, rational. So is it any wonder that anybody who likes looking good would eventually escape headlong into black-and-white photos from the 1950s or 1960s? One glance through pictures of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue sessions should make any dude in their late 20s and early 30s set fire to his college wardrobe (the polyester would make it much less cathartic, probably).

Those fellas knew what they were doing. I’m listening to Sam Cooke while I’m writing this, and although his personal life left much to be desired, the guy undeniably had some style that works beyond the time when he made his recordings.

So as a consequence, loafers are having a bit of a moment now, from driver to tassel to horsebit. Within the workplace population, it’s hard to find better mix of preppy comfort and formality than some pennies. I recently got a pair of burgundy Bass Weejuns with side beef rolls, and I pretty much want to be buried in them. You don’t get much more heritage than that — the company has been around since the 1870s, outfitting everyone from the 10th Mountain Division to James Dean, and that shoe style started in 1936.

It truly is a marriage of history, quality and a style tested by time. Think of it as perpetually having your feet ready to walk into an Atlantic recording session or a New England foreign policy discussion.

Winters make style hard, though, especially for footwear. The popularity of Uggs in South Bend and elsewhere can only be attributed to their acceptability and function in cold weather, because it sure as hell isn’t because they look nice (these are slowly being disgorged in favor of boots apparently left over from productions of The Pirates of Penzance). And loafers, much like many other fun things, do not mix well with snow, as wind whips over exposed ankle, ice slicks over leather soles, and moisture marches up your feet.

So what’s an aspiring style maven to do in Indiana? Like much everything else in the Rust Belt, soldier on in spite of the elements. Bear it, and perhaps grin while doing so. Most of you may be stuck in the Arctic, but at least your feet are ready to head for the Copa.


Liam Farrell is the senior alumni editor of this magazine. Email him at lfarrell@nd.edu.


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