#50: American Flag Sweater


Dear Ralph,

Syd Field, in his book about the craft of screen writing, reminds us that although a story ends with the resolution of the conflict, the movie ends after the last frame. There is a chasm between the idea of boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-overcomes-obstacle-and-gets-girl-back and fading to black. These letters will end, regardless of what I say here, when I write my initial at the bottom of the page and tell you to keep well.

So the “sense of an ending” has nothing to do with the fact that after this I won’t be writing you any more letters. It has to do with that almost mystifying feeling of having learned something – about myself, about you and your brand, about clothes – that we didn’t know before I began. I’ve always felt the most satisfying endings provide you with a sense that you know something you didn’t know before, but that you don’t know what you now know. In short, the explicable fades.

But let’s be honest. We aren’t, despite every protestation I’ve made to the contrary in these letters, really talking about anything more than fabric sewn together by societal conventions for the ostensible purpose of shielding us from the elements. The meaning that gathers around these garments is rooted in history and craftsmanship and all the other bullshit consumers of the idea of menswear like to talk about, but ultimately it is contingent, capricious and deeply rooted in consumer capitalism. We want garments that tell us who we are; we end up digital paper dolls in a world Thorstein Veblen could never have imagined.

I’ve been going through some notebooks lately from an abandoned writing project that was, in some typically false humble way, supposed to be inspired by a Flaubertian sense of irony. Flaubert was the first great modern writer because he recognized that the difference between the fantasy lives of an individual and the actual life they live is the great subject. In the right hands it provides all the material not only for comedy, but for tragedy as well. He obliterates those lines; in Flaubert the tragedy is that the grand ambitions of life are only suited for comic treatment. Imagine what his sensibility would do with characters like us?

So I’ll end these letters with a simple story about how I came into possession of an American flag sweater. You know already that in my overactive imagination this would be something you had sent to me; over-awed with my erudition and obsessive love of Polo you’d think ‘maybe I should send him a little note and that sweater he’s always wanted’.

Here’s what really happened.

My partner and I were talking about the most appropriate piece of Polo to end these letters on. I expressed remorse that I didn’t own an American flag sweater. We talked briefly about a colleague of hers who used to wear one all the time, but who had not been seen in the sweater since the election of Trump. She asked him about it. He said something like ‘I’m never wearing that shit again, you can have it’ and that was it. A few days later my partner brought home a canonic piece of Polo.

I haven’t worn it yet. God knows when it will ever make sense for me to wear it. But somehow just owning it is enough.

So there it is: the sense of an ending. We fade to black. And tomorrow, I’ll get up and get dressed again.

Stay well,


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