All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
When I was little, I was very “little”, maybe even a little too little, or so my parents thought. I was actually normal in size, until I was five, and thus, I was easy to dress. My mother could even doll me up … in a small Sailor Suit, like Donald Duck!
Then, one summer, my parents rented a cottage on a Lake Huron, not far from Bay City, Michigan, determined to build me up. They fed me southern fried chicken, for breakfast lunch and dinner. That being one of the few foods I liked, it worked! And I became Super-Sized, overnight. Thus beginning at the age of six, I grew bigger, much faster than I grew older.
This made finding clothes to fit me, far from easy, and shopping for them was humiliating. I became familiar with the term, “Husky”. How I despised that word! Husky signified clothing for boys who were overweight. It was the 1940’s way of saying “Fatty”! Whenever we walked into a clothing store, a salesperson would size me up, then, point and say, “The Husky Department’s over that way!” By the age of ten, I had outgrown Husky. By twelve, nothing in the store would fit me.
Therefore, I never quite determined “my style”, no signature apparel with which I could identify. Mickey Mouse had his red short pants with white buttons, Donald and Popeye their sailor suits, Orphan Annie always wore the same orange dress, and Dick Tracy had a yellow raincoat, but I had nothing; nothing but an odd selection of old men’s clothes.
In spite of these limitations, there were still some clothing categories, in which I could exercise my creativity, and let my imagination run free: socks, ties and underwear. So all through high school, I wore ridiculous socks, Day Glo, and wild argyle designs. Thank God for socks! One size fits all, even if you have size 13 feet.
Neck ties, too, came in my size, not that I wore many, but those I had were quite amazing. One had an oil painting of all the astrological signs, crammed onto a single tie. It was hideous, but I adored it. I found it when I was 13, in a novelty shop on Forty Second Street, on a trip to NYC. I also had a yellow bow tie with lights that lit up, on command. A wire ran down my shirt to a secret battery pack in my pocket that I could operate by hand. I wore it several times to school, and thought it was so cool!
And last of all, was underwear. I didn’t see them as a fashion statement, until I was over thirty. Living in the country, the summers were brutally hot, and we had no AC. I was working at home, and literally sweating over a drawing board. An above ground pool was my salvation. I jumped into the pool, every half hour, to cool down. Then I’d work another 20 minutes, or until drops of perspiration begin to appear on my artwork; and I’d head out to the pool, again. This pattern, worked for me, all summer. I never realized that this huge house could even be air conditioned, until 30 years later.
During that time, Calvin Kline began manufacturing bright colored underwear, and that became my summertime attire. I managed to convince myself, if not my family, that a pair of colored Calvin briefs resembled a bathing suit. So, I could wear them in the pool, and they would dry off fast enough to let me go right back to work again. As if to make up for a lifetime of clothing choice frustration, my collecting urge was soon directed towards Calvin’s. Every time I chauffeured Eunice to Marshalls, I would check out the underwear, and if there were any new colors, I would buy a couple pairs. Eventually, my drawer of drawers was overflowing with Calvin’s in every color of the rainbow. I even bought a pair in shocking pink. But, I only had to wear them once to realize that I had crossed the line into sheer fashion madness, and vowed to never put them on again.
Then a Miracle took place. I lost a bit of weight, and decided to relocate my waist, three inches below the place it used to be. Suddenly, size 38 pants would fit me. It was then, that Fate smiled upon me, and I discovered Blue Denim. I had worn what were called dungarees, occasionally, but I always assumed they were for people who worked in close proximity to dung, and figured that was how they got their name. The best of them had extra pockets on the leg, and loops, where one could hang a hammer.
Then, out of the blue, destiny hit me, while reluctantly shopping for overalls in J.C. Penny, I became aware that there were "fashionable" bell bottom jeans that actually fit me. So, overnight, blue denim bell bottom trousers became my signature attire. Move over Mickey Mouse, like you, I had discovered my identity, Blue Denim Jeans! And, thus, for years, that’s all I wore. And, I still do, although, without the bell bottom flair, until this very day.
At the time, I was so swept away by finding clothing that I liked, that I considered it my lucky day, when I discovered what appeared to be Blue Denim Briefs. They were actually made out of soft cotton, but, nonetheless, they captured the look and color of blue denim. To me, they seemed to be the very embodiment of perfection. Better still, unlike my multicolored Calvin’s, they had no fly. So they looked even more like a bathing suit, and being slightly skimpier than Calvin’s, they dried more quickly après pool. Therefore, I soon acquired several dozen more. And, over time, my multi colored Calvin’s got banished to a lower drawer, outnumbered by blue denim briefs, which from that time forward, is what I wore, exclusively.
Now, my wardrobe was almost complete. It lacked only business attire, of which, working in the country, I had no need. I never went anywhere, except down to Colorforms factory in New Jersey, once a week, and that was, on my part, at least, always very casual. Until, one day, it was announced that there was to be a sales meeting, where Colorforms would show the line to a luncheon of perspective buyers, and I would be required to attend, and, I assumed, dress appropriately.
So, once again, I was compelled to embark on the odyssey I hated so, when I was ten, and try to find a jacket to fit me. I searched the countryside from Marshalls to Monkey Ward’s, and Incredibly, I found one, easily. It sort of jumped right off the rack to meet me, the sports jacket of my dreams! And would you believe it was made of Blue Denim? And, although, a little small, it nearly fit me! It was not a cheesy denim jacket like the ones that I wear lately, but an actual real sports jacket, tailored of blue denim fabric. So, when the big day of the sales meeting arrived, I was ready. Below, is the only known photograph that includes me in that outfit:
There happened to be a group of eight to ten men who worked for Colorforms, and were considered to be “Executives”: the Product Manager, the Purchasing Manager, the Plant Engineer, the Comptroller, the Sales Manager, etc., and, to an ever increasing degree, me. Even though, I wasn’t employed by Colorforms, technically, I was referred to as the “Creative Director”, and, therefore, I was considered to be sort of an executive.
Over the years, these men and I had become, more or less, buddies, although, we met only occasionally, as I worked, upstate, at home. That situation interjected an element of ambivalence in their attitude towards me, as some were resentful of the fact that I could work at home, like Harry, doing work that they considered play, and I was making money, while they had to trudge to work in New Jersey every day. Because of this subtle undercurrent, I never felt completely comfortable, or at ease, in their company.
Now picture this scene: We are all congregated on the street in front of Colorforms,
waiting for a limousine. It is due to appear, any minute, to transport us to the hotel conference room that was rented for the occasion. The entire group is kidding around, and ribbing me about my outfit. Everyone has something to say, but the essence can be summed up this way: “Jesus! Birnkrant, we’ve never seen you in anything but blue jeans! We were wondering what you would wear today. And you show up in a jacket made of Denim! Don’t you ever wear anything that isn’t Blue Denim?”
I thought for a split second, Should I, or shouldn’t I, unzip my pants and show them that my underwear is Blue Denim too? I know that they will find it amusing, and good for a laugh, or two. The set up is so perfect, a straight line that is "once in a lifetime". But, what are the risks? The briefs have no fly, so I’m pretty sure that there can be no mishap there. But is the very concept inappropriate, over the top, obscene, and out of line? Well, at home, I run around in just these blue jean briefs all the time, and I consider that all right. I better think fast and make up my mind, for if my response isn’t quick enough, it won’t be funny!
OK! Fast as lightening, I decide, I’ll Go for It! So, I reached down, and unzipped my fly, with a flamboyantly well executed Zip, as I simultaneously announced: “LOOK AT THIS!”
How utterly Embarrassing, Pointless, and Humiliating! How could I even attempt to explain? The Hand of Fate must have been guiding mine, that morning, as I reached into my underwear drawer. What perverse impulse led me to grab what I did, and then, forget? The whole point of my little demonstration was merely to show that even my underwear was Blue Denim … Now, as I dramatically unzipped my fly, with a certain flair and savoir faire, and theatrically proclaimed, “LOOK AT THIS!”, out popped, ... the single pair of Shocking Pink underwear!