Things My Mother Taught Me: Max Wastler
I often tell people that I grew up in a store. Truth is, my mom just really liked to shop. A lot. In addition to learning how to play the opening sax solo from Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” and how to throw the perfect spiral, and how to swim the butterfly effortlessly, thanks to my mom, putting in the hours when we were little, I really learned how to shop.
My brother (L) can’t believe our friends left their Jams at home.
I remember watching as seasons changed, colors changed, silhouettes changed. I was trend-forecasting by the time I was five. My mother taught me which colors looked “right” on which skin types. I knew I’d never be allowed to wear an orange shirt long before I knew how to spell the word “orange.” She’d let us run free while she figured out what was working and what wasn’t each season. My brother, always a master collector and far less-interested in shopping than I, would hide in the circular clothing racks, gathering pocketfuls of the little plastic size rings — S, M, L, XL — while I would compare Lee and Levi’s, Adidas and Nike. My mother will proudly tell you she was the first person to bring anything made by Ralph Lauren home to our small town in Southeastern Kansas. And to be honest, I’m secretly proud of that as well.
Notice, I said she loved to shop, not buy. Among her many lessons, Restraint was perhaps the greatest I learned and continue to learn every day. My mother is a proud coupon clipper. Her Volkswagen Cabrio is constantly littered with expired, or just dying to expire coupons for this or that. If we ever bought anything new, it was always, and I mean always On Sale.
In addition to her incredible efforts as a shopper, my mother is a master seller, clerking off-and-on in retail her entire life. When my parents met, my mom managed a J.C. Penney’s store. Today, she works part-time at a small boutique selling goods for the home; she’s seen the high and the low, slaving for the multi-national corporations and toiling for the locally owned, locally operated. With a friend’s mom, she ran an antique booth for a time, which I loved. My brother and I reaped the one major benefit of being kid pickers: an insane bottle collection. She’s always known how to approach a sale, both as a buyer and a seller. Alongside my stock broker father, my mom instilled in her kids the art of the sale and the science of the buy.
While she doesn’t always agree with my clothing choices, my mother has been gracious enough to allow me to cultivate a uniqueness. “You always marched to the beat of your own drum,” she’ll remind me from time to time. She claims that my first brush with a personal style choice came in 1993, when “out-of-the-blue,” I came home begging for a pair of olive-colored Abercrombie & Fitch corduroy pants. But, I remember my sartorial opinions taking root much earlier, at three-years-old, as I hobbled, one step at a time, downstairs in a navy polo, green cords, and E.T. shoes on the wrong feet. I’d dressed myself for the first time. Regardless, she was always there with the good advice. “Don’t mix patterns,” was the message when I wanted to wear head-to-toe Jams on a trip to Traverse City, Michigan (She still cringes when I wear a striped shirt and a patterned tie). She took me to buy plaid flannel and black jeans for the grungy mixers in seventh and eighth grade. While my father insists that with informed research and a proven track record, a well-made garment will always be a worthwhile investment over some flash-in-the-pan bargain store buy, my mother is the one who preaches the Gospel of Quality, recites the Credo of the Classics, and instilled in us the Dogma of the Deal, all the while keeping us in tune with what’s going on in the marketplace.
Those who know our family, know my mother: president of her high school’s senior class, chair of every committee possible — and frankly, some not (I don’t know how she does it) — will tell you that she is one special lady. She’s a leader. She’s out front of the pack in everything she does. She’s competitive (these days, she’s often found besting my father on the golf course). She’s smart. She’s funny. And she really, genuinely cares. While I really only touched on what my mom taught me about clothes, as most of the guys did in their posts this weekend, her example — surely, all our mom’s example — strikes so much deeper.