On my journey through life, two words have consistently held special meaning for me. These two words have been known to warm the cockles of my heart, they have made me weak in the knees and they have even gotten me into trouble a few times by falling in love at first sight. Those two words are “NO IRON”!
Ironing was a life skill that was instilled at a very young age in our house. Having been raised by a Dad with a military background, it should come as no surprise that the “spit and polish” approach to shoe shining and the necessity for perfectly creased, crisp shirts would become my destiny in life.
That’s not always a good thing though as I can still walk into a casual clothing store and if I notice that all the mannequins are decked out in wrinkly clothing (because that is the style) a brief wave of panic comes over me. It’s a little like the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach if you’ve had too many espressos, but a few deep breaths (and sometimes a few affirmations) later, the feeling passes.
Bear in mind that when I was a kid, it was customary to dress up for holidays, special occasions and certain dinners out. But along with that came an obligation for the formal look to be neat and well pulled together, so learning to properly tie a tie, to shine my shoes and to iron a shirt were mandatory training.
I recall that my Dad was a snappy dresser and always looked dapper. I know that it was with the best of intentions that he was preparing me for life and for my future career, to know how to take care of my appearance in order to convey to a prospective employer respect, trustworthiness and attention to detail. Deep down, I know I have been hired for my work ethic, my experience and my positive attitude, not my fashion sense, but I think in the same way that a costume can transform an actor, a sharp suit, shirt and tie combination is an empowering business tool.
Who knew that ironing would become a life journey in itself? When I first started to buy my own clothes, I really was not a label reader and frankly, before I hit the work force, it didn’t really matter. But fast-forward to my 20’s, I started spending countless Saturday or Sunday mornings, hunched over an ironing board, with sweat trickling down my brow, ironing 100% cotton shirts that seemingly didn’t want to get ironed, regardless of the technique or extra products I used. There came a time when I would have rather painted a closet on a humid August day or cleaned an oven by hand after a major spill than continue spending hours with the iron.
I sometimes think that my educational curriculum tipped more toward the theoretical rather than the practical. With the thousands of dollars spent on my education, my professors could have at least mentioned something about effectively dealing with puckered seams as a textbook example of a corporate challenge.
When life got busy, I would occasionally “contract out” the chore and send the shirts to the cleaners. Sometimes shirts would come back with chipped or missing buttons, or required another pressing to undo the wrinkles the cleaner created. That is when I started wondering if there was not an easier, more cost-effective way.
A few years ago, I was stuck with a backache that made ironing impossible. Fortunately I had learned a trick or two over the years and managed to save on ironing by layering sweaters and jackets over unironed shirts (and OH! did I feel like a badass those days!) But nonetheless, week after week, the unironed shirts were accumulating and naturally I started asking myself “what’s wrong with this picture?”. With a hot humid summer in the forecast, the sweater trick would only go so far. Even though I always used my ironing time for multi-tasking and catching up on recorded TV shows, I had hit the tipping point. It didn’t matter anymore how nice a shirt was, or how I was just finishing paying for a high end iron in easy monthly installments, my days of spending hours ironing were over.
Over the next year, the big switchover began as I evicted almost all the high maintenance shirts that required significant ironing and replaced them with no-iron shirts from Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers, whenever a great sale came along.
Even though no-iron shirts have been around for years, when I entered the work force, choices for short men (in Canada), were very limited. Personally, I could not confine my taste in office shirts to just white, grey and blue. It’s not like today where a walk into a men’s store can be, for some, an overwhelming prospect of styles, fits, patterns and colours.
Back then, if I wanted to incorporate more unique pieces into my look, I had to buy the 100% cotton shirts and suck it up when it came to ironing. As much as I loved the look, I had grown to hate the iron.
Today, as I glance at my closet and see the rainbow-coloured row of no-iron shirts, I think of how my Dad would be proud not just of where I am today, but to know that he raised a clean-cut kid, inspired by his sense of timeless, classic style and who carried the family name forward, upholding his values of solid work ethic, respect, professionalism and crisp shirts.
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