“I’ve weathered society’s cruel intolerance to short, Tasmanian, Catholic, recovered bed wetters, but to be judged on my fashion sense – in a menswear shop – was beyond the pale.”
MIKE WELSH admits he’s no fashion plate, but he wasn’t ready for a form of discrimination to which he’d not been subjected to before.
PEOPLE with too much time on their hands irritate me. Tourists, window shoppers and tyre kickers have the annoying knack of getting under the feet of the busy people around them, some of whom are unfairly judged as being prickly.
But when I’m on holiday in a new city, the rules change.
Waiting for a family member at a nearby barber, I impatiently loitered outside a funky menswear store in the heart of Auckland’s fashion district.
When the light rain, which had been falling for much of the day, began to fall more heavily I entered the oddly named Strangely Normal store for a look. The store’s facade and eye-catching window display could have easily been the NZ bricks and mortar version of the J Peterman (of “Seinfeld” fame) fashion catalogue.
Once inside my attention was immediately drawn to a large wall of hats. The impressive and comprehensive range of lids included straw, felt, woollen, high, low, square and peaked (though not one Urban Sombrero in sight). As I stood in awe, I spotted in my periphery a man of similar age to myself but more flamboyantly attired.
I was ready with the universally accepted response, “No thanks, just looking” to the anticipated, “Can I help you sir?”.
Instead, I was completely floored by his long, slow, judgemental scan down my person beginning at the black woollen beanie through the burnt-orange Kathmandu windbreak and battleship-grey backpacked torso down my beige Vinnies Country Road chinos with holes in both pockets and finishing with a scowl at the Vans (again sourced from an Op shop) on my feet.
At this point he rolled his eyes superciliously and mumbled something which may have been “bloody tourists” but was more likely “how could you possibly think we would stock anything the likes of you could afford or appreciate?”.
He then dramatically returned his focus to the chunky mahogany counter and the keyboard on which he was furiously tapping, one finger at a time, when I ignorantly entered his hallowed and tasteful turf and apparently assaulted his sartorial sensitivities. I apologised “sarcastically’ and left.
It was a form of discrimination to which I had not been subjected before. I’ve weathered society’s cruel intolerance to short, Tasmanian, Catholic, recovered bed wetters, but to be judged on my fashion sense – in a menswear shop – was beyond the pale.
I know I should have pulled a “ Vivian” from “Pretty Woman” and slipped around the corner, purchased an expensive hat and popped my head back into Mr Snooty’s den to show him he’d made “a big mistake”, but I didn’t have playboy corporate raider Edward Lewis’ black plastic to splash about.
On reflection, at the very least I should have flounced out the door after a dramatic “well, I never!”, but the truth is I have never flounced, out of a menswear store or anywhere for that matter. Not a good time to begin the theatrical exit on holiday in a foreign city.
Clearly NZ is not yet ready for the edgy, almost homeless, semi-retired over 60s with precious f@#$s left to give look.
Later that day, my faith in the humans of Auckland was fully restored. Leaving a bar, heavy rain still falling, a man entering handed me the umbrella he was collapsing and shaking with a friendly: “You’ll need this”. The only caveat was: “If you are still standing here when I finish my pint I’ll have it back”.
He may well have been taking pity on a homeless person loitering at the front of a bar for loose change, but I’d much rather believe he was a kind soul looking out for a fellow traveller.
The day definitely wasn’t a complete loss as I also made a high-grade celebrity spot. The Australian actress Rachel Griffiths was out doing a spot of shopping. I have no doubt that if the stylish star of the Aussie classic “Muriel’s Wedding” and director of current hit “Rides Like a Girl” entered crusty old mate’s gentleman’s emporium. he’d be gushing like the geysers at Rotorua for a month.
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Ian Meikle, editor