I can tell the story of my son Charlie in a single shirt.
With its crisscrossed pattern of fat red lines and magical wear resistance, it has become our family’s Polish tartan, a symbol of familial love and fashion obstinacy.
My Dad first wore it in the 1970s and, even in that crazy mod leisure suit era, it stood out. My sister borrowed it occasionally in the 80s, pulled it over her asymmetrical bob and tied it at the waist — our own Molly Ringwald, all tight red curls and sass.
Dad wore that shirt until he died in January of 1993; its light-weight, cotton, short-sleeved look constituted year-round wear for him, even through cold Wisconsin winters.
In Dad’s absence, his little buddy Charlie inherited both the shirt and the confidence to wear it. His tiny kindergarten shoulders eventually grew broad enough to fill it out and Charlie ended up even taller than my dad.
Through it all, he wore that shirt, a touchstone to family, the Midwest and our gentle patriarch, a former NFL lineman who called him “Chooch”.
Last March, Charlie, a television producer for the Meredith Vieira Show, attended New York Fashion Week as an unlikely correspondent. He proudly sported his signature style, “Wisconsin Casual,” a zip up hoodie over plaid collared shirt.
Charlie often sports a lime green hoodie over his grandpa’s red plaid shirt, a bold move among Manhattan’s sleek masses, who tend to favor darker colors and more sophisticated lines.
His “Wisconsin Casual” style, transcends the cargo pant and size 17 Chuck Taylors. It’s comfortable, friendly, loyal, whip smart and bold. In the metropolitan world of media production, Charlie’s “Wisconsin Casual” connects him to his steady roots and giant family.
He celebrates his birthday today, wedged into the stress of apartment hunting in the East Village. He’ll zip that ridiculous hoodie over that durable shirt and head out to take on his 28th year. Like the busy people he passes on those congested streets, we’ll think of him and smile.
Happy birthday Choo Choo Charlie. We love you, and your style, good and plenty.
Here is the episode in which Charlie tests his #WisconsinCasual style at New York Fashion Week: