Things My Father Taught Me: Aaron Britt

Aaron Britt helms The Pocket Square, a weekly column in The San Francisco Chronicle, and he toils away day-to-day as an editor at Dwell Magazine. Suffice to say, he is one of my favorite writers. As you read about his father, Dan, you’ll soon see why.

Dan and Aaron Britt

If we accept the notion, and teams of advertisers are hoping we do, that our clothes are some direct representation of who we are, then my father is a man unfettered. Bolo ties, multi-hued batiked shorts, a plumed fedora, and of late, even a warm, woolen beret have found their way into his wardrobe. He runs around the Northern California town in which I grew up in clothes I would never wear, stalking the garden in Keens, a tasseled fleece jester hat flapping behind him while snowboarding, the suspenders and 20s-inspired garb he sported at his wedding two years ago.

He didn’t always dress with such abandon, and in the main he still doesn’t. Most of his clothes are those of a small-town carpenter: work boots, dirty jeans, fleece jackets and t-shirts bearing his company’s logo. Growing up, working clothes defined my father’s style of dress—not the work wear now so voraciously embraced by the urban fashion set, work clothes in which you paint a house or set forms, work clothes you mar, then quickly destroy. Anything that was initially to be kept apart from the jobsite—corduroy pants or button-down shirt—invariably came home with flecks of dried concrete or marked with spray paint. He seemed to me a man largely defined by his work, and was at times reluctant to extend beyond that, and he dressed accordingly. Fashion was not his concern. He kept his head down. Little suggested an inconsequential person more than undue flash.

But since my parents’ divorce nearly ten years ago, this inward man has expanded. Suddenly free to break from old routines, root out what was inessential and honestly reckon with what he wanted from the rest of his life, the burdens of a long marriage a glimpse of what might lay in store invigorated him. Bouts of sullenness, or ill-temper, things that I had taken to be essential elements of his personality were revealed as little more than entrenched habit, and were cast off. He became lighter, more open, more accepting and more fun. He had always been a very kind, generous and loving father, and I saw these qualities, those which I take to be his core, renewed. Like many things in his life, his sense of style was in for renaissance.

Now let me reiterate, I’m not terribly sanguine with all his choices, but to see him embrace so many new aspects of his life has been a joy for me. From his wild hats to his Jack Nicholson glasses to his bright yellow shirts, dressing is now one of his pleasures. He’s given himself license to play, to dress for pleasure, and for all the snappy patter in the media about what’s in, what’s out and what’s next, let us–men who give it a second thought when we put on our clothes in the morning–never forget to dress for the sheer fun of it. Perish vanity, perish self-consciousness, perish trends.

For years my dad didn’t allow himself to dress for any reason save keeping out the cold. But of late his whole outlook has changed, and though he remains uninterested in what’s cool, what’s in, he has started asking himself, “What do I like?” In dressing to please only himself, in coming to see his clothes at as another avenue for expression and delight, my father has immensely pleased me. May I one day pass on that idea, that a man can do a thing to please himself without becoming inauthentic or solipsistic, to a son of my own.

Aaron Britt