The Duke Didn’t Do Dockers

June 24, 2008

Last week I was working at the McCoy’s Building Supply store in Searcy, Arkansas. There were hundreds of customers in the store during the week, but one man caught my attention. He was about six feet, seven inches tall, but that isn’t what made him stand out. What caused me to notice him was his clothing. He was wearing an old-fashioned prison outfit – the kind with the black and white horizontal stripes. Suddenly I felt completely “out-of-it” in terms of men’s fashions. I couldn’t imagine how I’d missed such a radical change in styles. Then I realized the man walking beside him was wearing a badge. They were from the local detention center.

I was relieved that I hadn’t been totally missed by the avant-garde of designer clothing, but the experience got me to thinking. How would John Wayne have reacted to the way men dress today? I tried to picture the Duke sporting an earring. It didn’t click. I tried to picture him wearing tennis shorts and anklets. That didn’t click either. I tried to picture him with a gold chain around his neck and a pinkie ring. At that point, my mental camera broke.

We macho he-man types like to think we can do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. We men who have the self-esteem of a bull elephant think we can dress however we want and it’s nobody else’s business.

If the truth be known, it is all a ploy to make it look like we have our act together. Under the surface of our masculine camouflage is a little boy trying to emulate his heroes. We wouldn’t dream of dressing in a manner that would make Aldo Ray, Audie Murphy, or John Wayne sneer at us. At least, this is true for those of us who are the “real” men. I can’t speak for those who wear white socks under their sandals. Obviously, those males missed something in their childhood. They don’t care what the Duke would think. Such a pity.

I may be ostracized by my fellow studs for revealing this age old secret, but I feel a sense of duty. It’s not too late to save those guys who wear anklets when they play tennis. The reality of manhood is that genuine bona-fide authentic men don’t dress to impress or attract women; they dress to keep other men from laughing at them.

Every morning I, and millions of men like me, have an imaginary talk with the Duke. It goes something like this.

“I’m getting tired of wearing plain old blue jeans. I’m thinking about getting a pair of Levi’s 501’s. What do you think, John?”

“Well, Pilgrim, if you really want to know what I think, picture yourself walking into a saloon wearing Gloria Vanderbilt’s.”

“That’s not a pretty sight.”

“You’re the one who wants to wear the sissy pants.”

“All right. I’ll stick to the plain jeans. But do you think I could wear these little socks that come up just short of my ankles? They’re much cooler than the ones that come up to my calves.”

“Why not just go bare foot and pretend you’re a Chinese martial arts expert?”

“I take it you don’t approve of anklets.”

“Not unless you’re wearing them with your Easter dress.”

“O.K. I get the point. I’ll wear the old sweat socks, but I don’t think they’ll look very good with my sandals.”

“When did you become a Padre, Pilgrim?”

“I’m not a… Oh. You don’t like the sandals.”

“Not unless you’re going to carry a purse that matches.”

“Fine. I’ll wear my work boots. What about a shirt? Should I wear the powder blue silk or the paisley print cotton? I think they’d both look good with my gold chains.”

“The only thing a gold chain is good for is hanging a pocket watch. And both of those shirts should be burned.”

“What do you have against men’s jewelry? Look at all the football players who wear necklaces and earrings? Are you saying they’re sissies?”

“Nah, they’re not sissies. They’ve just been hit in the head too many times.”

After this conversation, I’m finally dressed in clothes that no honest-to-God he-man would ever think to question. I’m ready to face the world and sneer at the men with earrings, gold necklaces, silk shirts, bright colored golf outfits, and white socks under their sandals. I bend over to pick up my work boots and hear the Duke saying… “Gull darn it! Are you wearing flowered silk boxer shorts?”

“Yes,” I reply timidly. “My girlfriend gave them to me.”

“Well, if that don’t beat all. And I thought you were a real man.”

It’s a dilemma that every genuine macho man must face from time to time. I’d die of embarrassment if the guys at the sawmill saw me in those shorts, but I’m not about to try to explain to my girlfriend why I won’t wear the clothes she buys me.

I look the Duke in the eye and say, “I’m sorry if you’re disappointed in me. But sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do.”

As the Duke turns to leave I notice that the back of his trousers is torn. It appears he has torn off the “Dockers” label. I say nothing. I don’t want to add to his shame.