NAIROBI: For three-plus decades, the enlarged framed black-and-white picture on our living room’s wall could as well have been labeled, “Tastemakers”. The picture was of three of my father’s brothers.
In the picture, shot in the Sixties in a studio, the trio who are in their mid- to late-twenties, are dressed in fitting two-buttoned coats, fitting half-break trousers, white shirts, thin ties and pointed leather shoes.
Come mid-90s, one tastemaker remarked, somewhat disappointed, after he saw me wearing what I swore was a fashion-forward item: “Son, is that a coat, or shirt? Tell you what, only a shirt should have as many buttons. For a coat, three is the maximum.”
I dashed to our living room’s wall and took a “refresher course.” Then I “retired” my coat, and put this addendum in my will: “Beloved, please do not bury me in a five-button coat.”
Our fathers may be overtaken by fads. But, just as they know a coat from “shirt,” they will also tell you that men carry containers that end with the suffix, case. Cue in, briefcase and attaché case. And women carry containers that end with the suffix, bag.
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Briefcases looked regal on our old folk. And even luxury fashion house, Louis Vuitton has for years made luxury trunks, which, because of being briefcase-like, would get our fathers’ nod.
If you ask your pops, he will have you know that cosmetics maketh not a man. In fact, to many of them, any excessive grooming was said to be effeminate, and generally frowned upon.
The rules were unwritten, and passed on from father-to-son through observation ...
A man passes, never stands, in front of a mirror. A man licks his lips, a la LL Cool J; not dips his kisser in oil. A man never dyes his grey hair.
Grey hair is a golden crown, gained after many years of experience, and dyeing it is akin to coating gold with copper.
The only “cosmetics” allowed were methylated spirit after shaving, and the occasional dab of Vaseline. Most often, a bar of soap, preferably Lifebouy, which was the manly brand, did the bathing, oiling and perfuming.
This should teach us oodles about cleaning up nicely, without it seeming like we are competing with our women.
Most of our old fathers grew up in the village and only came to the city after independence. Back in the village, shoes were luxuries that they could ill afford. Yet, if you look at the pictures they took way back when, they seem to have mastered the shoe game.
Many of us have tens of pairs of shoes, but our fathers had just one pair. Yet they made that one pair to work, and it was fit for every occasion and went with every outfit.
Watches were must-have items for our fathers. No wonder that, back in the day, there were many watch repairers in the estates. For our folk, a watch was not an accessory, but an item that made their life easier and made a mission statement about their manhood.
One friend tells me that, his father never left the house without a watch. His mantra was, “A man without a watch is a layabout, and such cannot be trusted with anything.”
Back then, a watch — wrist or pocket — was not a fashion statement; but a testimony that a man could be trusted to keep his word and the time.
Approximately four decades before Gor Semelang’o started rocking two watches; Fidel Castro did and dusted it.
And Fidel Castro did not do it for the show, because, back then, Rolex was not a pricey status symbol and preserve of the nouveau riche that they now are.
Just like any old school father would, the socialism supremo wore two watches for functionality’s sake. While on foreign soil, he always wanted to know what the time was in Havana.
Nowadays, we read the time on our phones. If we wear a pricey piece, many times it is for the show than to show us the time.
Other times it is because we are trying to keep up with “updated” gadgets, or the Joneses.
If you check in your father’s safe, you will find his old time piece from the Sixties. It still looks stylish on him. And it is still ticking, and will continue doing so long after your “update” has conked out.
Happy Father’s Day to our taste-making dads.