My Father’s Fashion Tips

October 10, 2011

My Father’s Fashion Tips

I have a sense of style, I guess, but it is not like my father’s—it is not earned, and consequently it is not unwavering, nor inerrant, nor overbearing, nor constructed of equal parts maxim and stricture; it is not certain. It does not start in the morning, when I wake up, and end only at night, when I go to sleep. It is not my creation, nor does it create me; it is ancillary rather than central. I don’t absolutely f’ing live it, is what I’m trying to say. I don’t put it on every time I anoint myself with toilet water or stretch a sock to my knee or squeeze into a pair of black bikini underwear. Which is what my father did. Of course, when I was growing up, he tried as best he could to teach me what he knew, to indoctrinate me—hell, he couldn’t resist, for no man can be as sure as my father is without being also relentlessly and reflexively prescriptive. He tried to pass on to me knowledge that had the whiff of secrets, secrets at once intimate and arcane, such as the time he taught me how to clean my navel with witch hazel. I was 18 and about to go off to college, and so one day he summoned me into his bathroom. “Close the door,” he said. “I have to ask you something.”

“What, Dad?”

”Do you…clean your navel?”

“Uh, no,”

”Well, you should. You’re a man now, and you sweat, and sweat can collect in your navel and produce an odor that is very…offensive.” Then: “This is witch hazel. It eliminates odors. This is a Q-Tip. To clean your navel, just dip the Q-Tip into the witch hazel and then swab the Q-Tip around your navel. For about thirty seconds. You don’t have to do it every day; just once a week or so.” He demonstrated the technique on himself, then handed me my own Q-Tip.

”But Dad, who is going to smell my navel?”

”You’re going off to college, son. You’re going to meet women. You never want to risk turning them off with an offensive odor.”

One of my favorite articles ever published in GQ is this essay by Tom Junod, titled "My Father’s Fashion Tips.” It’s excellent not for its fashion advice (that part is secondary), but because we get to see a portrait of a charming man who cared about style. Give it a read when you have a chance.