My dad has had a major influence on my personal style. As far back as I can remember, he was a man who enjoyed his clothes. He was irresistibly drawn to vivid colours and bold patterns – no doubt because they reminded him of the vibrant surroundings of his West Indian childhood. He had a true fondness for oddball sneakers. I remember one specific pair of yellow, red and blue high tops that he found on a discount rack and wore proudly for years and years until they literally fell apart.
And he absolutely loved hats.
During the week, my father always donned a fedora. He had an extensive collection in all manner of colours and fabrics. I can still see that gleam in his eye as he flipped one onto his head and walked out the door for work. On weekends he favoured tweed newsboy caps, and in the summer months a big straw-brimmed sun hat trimmed with a citrus-coloured band. None of the other dads wore those kinds of hats. I pointed that out to him once, but he was undeterred.
“This is a sharp hat!” he would insist. If my dad felt good in what he had on, there was no bursting that bubble.
Dad often asked me what I thought of his outfits. Sometimes I approved, which pleased him. Sometimes I had criticisms. “Da-a-ad! What are you doing? Everyone knows purple and orange don’t go together!” I was young and self-righteous and I’m sure my tone was more than a little obnoxious. He’d consider my opinion and occasionally he would take my advice, but as often as not, he’d give himself a second glance, decide he was happy with his choices and continue with his day.
I know my father’s attitude was – at least in part – the result of his early life. His childhood wasn’t easy. He grew up on a small island with very limited access to anything beyond its shores. Racial oppression was blatant and brutal. His family had very little money. Even as a kid, he had to juggle school with any work he could find in order to could contribute to the family finances. Sadly, there wasn’t always enough money to pay for services like medical care if someone was sick. He lost more than one sibling and eventually his mother to preventable illness. My dad grew up watching fine gentlemen in dapper hats and envied the comfortable, carefree lives they seemed to enjoy. These were the men who were privileged enough to spend time reading great books and enjoying fine art. They were respected in the community. They could protect their families.
The reality is that few of us live truly carefree lives and my dad was no exception. But through a combination of very hard work and some very good fortune, my father did find some comfort in his adulthood. He understood that his hats wouldn’t make him more respected, more learned or bring greater to security to our family. But they were a tangible reminder of how fortunate he was to have realized some of those youthful aspirations. After everything he’d been through, getting dressed as a daily exercise in self-expression and joy was something he deserved.
A few weeks ago my dad died, unexpectedly from undiagnosed cancer. It happened so quickly, I’m only just now starting to feel how profound his absence in my life is. It hurts so much right now, but I keep reminding myself that I was lucky to have had a father that I loved and who loved me back. And I’m lucky that he taught me to find happiness in something as simple as putting on clothes. People always have said that I’m my father’s girl. They’re right. When I find an item of clothing I love, I look in the mirror and smile that same goofy smile that he had. On more than one occasion, my son has given me some serious side-eye and told me, “Mom, that outfit is not…the best.” I must admit the kid has valid criticisms at times. But if I what I’m wearing is making me happy, it’s very hard to talk me out of it.
I miss my dad. Terribly. His favourite fedora now sits on a shelf in my office. I’m glad no other dad wore that kind of hat because now when I look at it, I only think of him.
Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and writer. She has recently returned to her hometown of Toronto, Ontario to complete her doctoral studies in Human Sexuality. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.