Long Shirts

 The first time I really started taking notice of long shirts was one afternoon in Newcastle while I sat beside City Hall after a meeting waiting for a taxi.

Of course I had been aware of the stage in a man’s life where it became likely he might assume the particular status where wearing long shirts became possible but it was on this afternoon I had time to observe and reflect on the significance and meaning of this condition.

I didn’t mind waiting there it was quite enjoyable to do a little people watching and sit in the sun and avoid, hopefully, the young fellows trick riding skateboards up an down garden bed ledges and benches and slaloming between pedestrians and generally having fun. I thought how serious they looked in the pursuit of their enjoyment. And how far short of success their efforts at doing their stunts fell. So did they. I mean if you’re going to look cool and deadly and wear the right gear and talk the right language it would have looked better if you could ride. I’ve got to say this, though, each time they fell off they got right back up without acknowledging the pain or failure and, with the serious but cool look still in place, continuing on thundering, ineptly across the paving.

At about four thirty in the afternoon the first of the workers began to leave the main administration building. There were smartly dressed women in power suits or corporate uniforms and some who carried bags or portfolios with a casualness that denoted a personal transition between functions of care. It was now time to put the multi thousand dollar budget out of her mind and wonder if the pork chops were defrosted for tea.

Men were leaving too. I felt a slight feeling of envy as some proceeded to their company vehicles for the drive home, or to the club or to the special place important people go to to have the patina of accomplishment burnished. And I noticed those wearing long shirts. There were quite a number of them and they were not amongst the youngest age groups. One has to be a certain age to be able to wear this particular garment. The youngest were about thirty years of age and could be considered prodigies because to acquire the style and deportment, and the figure, necessary to wear long shirts properly takes years.

I noticed the progress of fashion and change that occurs as the wearer gets older. As the shirts get longer the trousers get shorter. So do the neckties. And the angles of clothing alter. Belt lines are diagonal from the swell of kidney fat at the rear to a crevice somewhere abdominal where the buckle hides and ties do not hang down but slope out in front like a ski run or, as the long shirts sail along like a spinnaker on a twelve metre yacht, fly over a shoulder and flap around a reddened ear lobe.

The trousers of a man whose shirt has fully developed can be really quite short. A man of six foot may have trousers with legs no longer than twelve inches. I observed on that afternoon the bottom of a brief case from an arm extended and the crotch of the trousers could both reach approximately to knee level. I watched with admiration as lines of men resplendent in white shirts and dark suit trousers sailed out of the building and glided across the square. It was not possible to see much of their feet because the the cuff of the trouser leg was wider than shoe was long. I realised there are two positive benefits in taking up trouser legs two thirds their original length, one is, if it is a gradual process, the material gets folded over so much it becomes thick like a doonah and one’s lower legs stay insulated from the weather and the other is the cuff gets to be wide enough so that one never has to polish ones shoes.

Seeing them leave work was like watching a Russian corps de dance moving around a stage mesmerising, floating before me. Gracefully they glided like elegant swans across a tranquil mill pond and I couldn’t see their feet paddling like crazy either.

Most fellows carried their suit coats and when I saw a gentleman leaving fully attired I agreed it looked better without the coat for if trousers are reasonable foreshortened coats look a little odd. Like a vest with sleeves it barely covered his ribs and even this most dignified member of middle management merely managed a Donald Duck appearance. Of course, it was the very top button that was done up, the others were not fastened because you understand by now the suit was simply too small.

So we come to the crux of the issue of long shirts. In the view of some men they would rather appear dressed in clothes far too small for them than to admit they've got fatter with age. They note with silent pride the fact that they still still wear the same size clothes as they did years ago. And of course they do. They just wear it lower or shorter. Interesting is the satisfaction that added wealth brings, and accumulated assets and experience is measured happily but not an increase in girth. That is denied or mourned with trousers at half mast and shirt tails visible to buttock level.

The most magnificent shirt I've seen was on a local high profile businessman whose shirt was so long and belt was so low that as he walked up the stairs in the foyer he had to reach round and hook fingers into the loops on the waist band of his trousers to keep them from falling down as he lifted his legs onto each step.

Until that afternoon in Newcastle I had not realised how good this look could be. My previous exposure to short jeans and long t-shirts and short shorts and long singlets had not revealed the potential of the penguin look as a fashion statement. But to see them en masse teetering along top heavy on tiny steps like a colony of emperor penguins rushing to board a passing ice flow was a marvellous sight.

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