#49: Maximal Fucking Ralph

Dear Ralph,

In the first of these letters I wrote you, we talked about neckties. Despite owning close to 50, I only wear one once a year to my family’s Christmas Eve get-together. I also told you that I wore the necktie not because it was appropriate, but to get a few laughs from my brothers, who invariably show up in black T-shirts and jeans.

Could anything be less Ralph Lauren?

At that point, I imagined these letters would culminate in something; that there would inevitably be – after 50 miniature essays and 50 items of clothing – some logical conclusion to whatever it was I had set out to do here.

Maybe I had imagined that you would respond. Maybe I had imagined the two of us meeting at the Polo Bar and over a hamburger we could have discussed doing a line for RRL inspired by the American Transcendentalists. Maybe I imagined that you would send me a custom bomber like the one you did for Kim and Kanye when Saint was born.

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But 2017 turned out to be a year where it didn’t make sense to be writing the haberdasher of the American dream letters about clothes; it was a year where having opinions seemed at once essential and pointless; it was a year where the few things that were explicable seemed to mock every other vexing event.

It was also a year I spent mostly in sweats and T-shirts.

So when it came time for me to get dressed for Christmas Eve celebrations with my family, I was torn. I had thought that maybe on this, the one day of the year when I got dressed in a fully conceptualized outfit, I should try to assemble something that would be pure Polo. The climax of these letters could be an outfit that was maximal-fucking-Ralph; I would describe to you all the different combos this nebulous concept could produce and come to the PR-sounding conclusion that maximal-fucking-Ralph is as much a mindset as it is a combination of clothes.

But on the morning of the 24th, like every other morning in this dismal year, I just wasn’t feeling it. Even if I could achieve a smattering of “total concept outfits” that would encapsulate the world of Ralph Lauren, I was resigned for the first Christmas in many years to dress for the world of today. If maximal-fucking-Ralph was a mindset, it certainly wasn’t mine.

But as the day wore on, I couldn’t resist the siren-call of my over-stuffed closet. Plus, I owed it as much to you as I did to myself to figure out just what maximal-fucking-Ralph was. My first instinct was a pair of bright-green Preston-fit cords and a Shetland-style sweater in red with your initials in gold. Pretty good, but not quite there.

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I briefly thought about wearing a southwestern patterned Henley under a brown corduroy half-Norfolk jacket with combat pants.

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I thought about wearing an OCBD and tie under a rugby shirt with a herringbone blazer and chinos.

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But I ended up sticking with my Edwardian-mountain-climber-fantasy because, really, nothing says Christmas in a high-density urban centre like woollen pants, a tweed jacket, mountaineering boots, a Bahama-blue striped oxford and a tie with hunting dogs chasing pheasants out of the bush.

Of course, none of my brothers asked about what had inspired the outfit. No one was curious to know how my feelings about Mallory and the first attempt on Everest had translated into a Christmas Eve outfit. No one was even curious to know how you were doing. I didn’t have a chance to tell them that after starting the year on unsure footing, you have managed to slim down the company, get your stocking problems under control, and trim back the lines that were bloating the discount rack and tarnishing the brand’s name. I didn’t even get to tell them that Jay-Z name-checked you in a pretty amazing way recently in the New York Times.

And it didn’t matter because none of it really matters; our fantasies and obsessions are landscapes we traverse alone, regardless of whether we are dressed for the peaks of Everest circa 1924 or a Walmart in 2017.

The end of any year is naturally a time for summing up. Yet somehow, after all these letters, I feel like I have even less of an idea of what clothing, the world of Ralph Lauren, or personal style means to me. Lacanian theory teaches us that as soon as we get what we desire, we no longer want it; that what we actually want is longing itself. I think that might be exactly what Polo sells and exactly why I love it so much. So even if you did send me a custom bomber like the one you sent Saint West, odds are it wouldn’t live up to the thrill I get imagining that you might.

One more letter to go – and I still have so much to say.

So please, Ralph, bare with me,

S

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