SMOKE: Favourite Item Of Clothing

Originally published: 26 July 2005

I've written at length before about my shocking wardrobe, from the litany of faded t-shirts to the one pair of jeans I how possess (which has a gaping hole in the crotch), and an I've even written about clothing I find irresistibly sexy.

I've never talked about my favourite items of clothing ever, however, and sitting here in a threadbare jersey that has a huge hole at the back of the neck - allowing the gusting Cape Town winter breeze to eddy through the windows and find its way straight down my throat - I thought the time might be appropriate.

My childhood was a succession of hand-me-downs and other crap seventies and eighties fashion disasters and I have no real fond memories of any of that clothing. Except for one item - a cub scout belt.

I was a cub scout in junior school (for a limited time only - I never had any friends at cubs and spent my time tying ridiculously bad knots by myself in the corner) and part of the uniform was the thickest, toughest belt I had ever had and one which to this day hasn't been topped.

It was a belt made from tightly sewn material - the sort of stuff they use for military belts. The buckle was a monstrous contraption of polished copper or some other alloy and it had a hitch mechanism to fasten it.

I used to wear that belt everywhere, particularly when I had my camouflage uniform on and was stalking through the jungle at the bottom of our garden, evading capture at the hands of the Gestapo.

But one day a bully called Rudi - a leviathan of a kid who towered above everyone and who impressed with his teutonic accent - told me to swap my belt for his, and although I didn't want to I had to - that's the way bullies work.

So I handed it over and he scarpered and I spent weeks living in the hope of getting it back. But I never did, despite a bold approach one day in which I asked him for it straight out. A push in the face was all I got for that one.

But nothing else from my childhood wardrobe inspired me - it was once I got to university that the fun really began.

Having just left school and succeeded in my drama school audition I couldn't wait for the first year of varsity to start - mainly because I wanted to swagger around in my version of cool.

I couldn't swagger around in anything at school as all my clothes were too appalling, but I spent hours daydreaming of the time when I would be able to don a black shirt, black pants, black boots, a black trenchcoat and a black and white fedora to top it all off, and stride down Long Street with a cigarette stuck to my face and the devil in my eyes.

I have no idea why I craved that image so much, but I did.

I already had the hat - I'd worn one since Standard Eight (outside of school of course) and it had become something of a trademark.

I also had the pants and shirt and midway through my first year at drama school I got the boots and the trenchcoat.

That's how I spent my drama school years, which pissed off the staff no end. They were always telling me to lose the trenchcoat and hat, but I wore them in just about every acting piece I ever did while there.

I even brought them kicking and screaming into a Shakespeare piece once - the play was Othello and I had to perform a scene with some others as part of our acting exam.

My partners and I dragged the entire staff and student body out into a courtyard behind the Movement building and we performed half the piece on the rooftops overlooking the courtyard.

I was Iago - the villain - of course. Tom Waits was the soundtrack and the piece was probably not exactly as old Billy S imagined it when he wrote it.

The hat and trenchcoat were definitely my favourite items of clothing ever. I lost count of the amount of times they provided me with something reasonably warm to sleep under.

Don't underestimate the warmth of a hat over your face and a trenchcoat pulled up to your chin, with your knees curled up tight into your chest - I've survived nights in Grahamstown in the dead of winter with no more than that as a covering.

The hat suffered an untimely demise one terrible night - I wore it to some party at the Baxter Theatre Centre and found myself jam-packed like a sardine in a room with tons of other wild partygoers.

A few people took my hat off my head and put it on theirs briefly - I didn't mind that as it happened all the time with that hat. Drunk chicks dig wearing hats, dude. 'Specially Claremont ones.

But I was trying to jostle my way up the crowded staircase to get out for a breath of fresh air when some dude grabbed the hat off my head and bolted up the stairs ahead of me. I yelled at him and he shouted back that he would give it to me outside.

When I got there he was standing there without the hat. He told me he had given it so the guy who ran the door.

Like an idiot I went back in to find the guy, and as soon as I asked him and he shook his head I knew I had been duped.

I went haring off to find the guy but he and his buddies had disappeared. I rounded up some of my mates and we picked up half-bricks that were lying nearby and combed the area thoroughly, to no avail.

It was the most terrible thing to be stolen from me, as it was my identity. I felt stupid and enraged at the same time and after a long cooling off period I decided not to buy another one.

I've never had a hat since, but I'll always remember that one.

The only other item of clothing I've had worth mentioning is my pair of hobnail boots. They were an ancient pair of boots with actual early 20th century hobnails set in the bottom - I think I lifted them from some theatre skip that nobody had touched in years.

They were clearly not made for our time - I could hardly walk in them on flat surfaces and the lino in the canteen was a special adventure all on its own, as I slid this way and that without any traction.

But walking on tar they were brilliant and they went down a treat at the Fringe, digging into the sodden old oak floors and providing me with lots of protection against over-enthusiastic headbangers.

They were genuine ass-kickers - if I'd had to put the boot in with those puppies I would have done some serious cranial damage.

Eventually they simply fell apart, like pretty much the rest of my clothing over the years.

These days I have nothing I'm particularly proud of wearing, but I'm still holding out hope for that Cardin suit one day. Johnny Clegg sang it, man:

Liyeza, liyeza, liyeza ilanga lami seliyeza
(It's coming, it's coming, my day is coming)

Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Take My Heart Away, Shadow Man, 1988

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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