Looking back, I was a difficult child. I had issues. Shy, stubborn, quiet and stocky. But I think clothing and associated issues were, and still, are some of the great issues of me. Clothes shopping is the most painful of activities.
I did not like looking through racks, did not like trying clothes on in the fitting rooms and absolutely despised the clerk and mother asking questions concerned over the status of the fit in the crotch. Horrific! Always a difficult activity that shopping for clothing, plus when I was a kid in the 1970’s, fashion leaned a bit to the embarrassing as a general rule. But as I have said on several occasions, I was a lineman, a Bubba, from day one, and finding clothes was always a difficult task.
I also had trouble with a shirt tuck. Seriously. Still do at age 46. One of my favorite pictures from childhood is what could be an Easter Day photo of my older brothers, my sister, and me, all dressed to the hilt. The others stand as perfect kids of fashion, worthy of any Madison Avenue ad campaign, cherubs sent down from heaven. Then on the left side of the photo is me. Dress pants, clip-on tie, scowl on face and hands balled up tight at my side. Not bad, except the right half of my shirt’s completely un-tucked. In this photo of youthful fashion perfection, I stand out like a flashing red light. Pathetic.
But with all those unfortunate fashion incidents, there was a pillar of apparel hope. Toughskin Jeans from Sears. Look at the photo. Appreciate the high tech design features. The tri-blended material Toughskins, the HUSKY variety in my case, were the jeans for me. I had gone through a pair of Levis by the end of first recess, scoffed at the durability claims of Wrangler and the blue-light special jeans of K-Mart, forget it. Only one jean could handle the abuse of the Kid Coach Hays, Husky Toughskins.
Listen, these jeans were so tough they didn’t need a sappy name variation, like Tuf’ Skins or any of that sort of marketing mumbo-jumbo. (Look at the models in the ad, those are no nonsense kids, ready for action! And the jacket! Holy jumping Jehoshaphat! That is the height of big lapel 70’s greatness.) The Toughskins were so bad-ass, so tough-as-nails that Sears, confident in their creation, put a guarantee on Toughskins. If you wore through the 3/4 inch, highly fortified knee of the pant, they would trade you out a new pair. And thanks to a certain young boy, a decision which almost took the company down in the mid-1970’s.
I never fancied myself any sort of fashion expert. As my wife points out, I often wear black shoes with brown belts. But, I have to tell you, I became sort of a celebrity at the 38th Street Sears store in KCK. As previously mentioned, I was tough, tough, tough on clothes. I still rip through clothes, especially my fashion foundation of blue jeans. I’ve gone through knees, ripped out belt loops, ripped gashes front and back. Heck, one time, I even caught the cuff of a pair of jeans on the heel of my shoe and walked/tore the hem right off the pants. So naturally, a mother with six lovely children and limited budget, eventually threw up the white flag to insure the financial solvency of the Hays family and put Destructo-Boy in the new technology out of Sears Research and Development. It was not so much that the mother believed any of the Sears durability claims, she liked the guarantee.
Long story short, I became somewhat of a celebrity at our Sears store. I would go through the indestructible Toughskins jean in a matter of months. Right before the guarantee would expire, I would do something else and have to go switch out for a replacement pair. Mostly the quadruple fortified knee would crumble under the pressure of recess on a parking lot. Falls, dives, rolls, tackles took down many a pair of Toughskins.
I would walk into the Sears store with my guarantee-savvy mother, and after a few moments for my ears to adjust to the ever-present high pitch squeal of our Sears store, the clerks would call out my name. I felt like a Hollywood celebrity strolling into a premiere, flash bulbs popping, fans waving.
“Hello, Master Hays. New jeans, sir?”
“New Toughskins. Husky, not regular.” (It was like I was 007 in a exotic Russian nightclub).
“And may we interest you in the new forest green color, or the goldenrod, or perhaps the corduroys?”
“Not today, just the usual blue will do.”
The new pair would be traded out with the old pair. I always liked to believe the ruined pairs were sent by armored courier to Sears-Roebuck Home Base in Chicago for additional research and study. The clerks would step off to the side in private conversation with mother, with an occasional point to me standing in the aisle, for probably some “suggestions” about parenting. She never cared, mother loved the fact that she outfitted me in one purchase of Toughskins jeans for several years. I went through them so fast, the growth spurts played little effect.
It was the perfect, accidental fashion plan.