26 April 2010

My school uniform's cooler than yours

So, after my unfortunate incident with my trousers not too long ago, I was desperate to get a replacement ASAP. Immediately, Marks & Spencer came to mind. The place is great especially when you’re a disproportionately-shaped person like yours truly.

Yes, I long for the days when I could go out, pick a size 40-suit and hey presto, the trousers that came along with it would magically fit me like a glove. These days, I’ve gone up a suit size but unfortunately, my waist has gone up by even more!

Cue M&S and their great choice of trousers/jackets in varying sizes no matter how disproportionate one might be. All I had to do was decide on a “look” I liked (ranging from bland business to classic Italian to Mod-ish slim fit designs), get the suit jacket in my size and hunt down a pair of trousers that fit. All-in-all it took me about 30 minutes between walking in the front door and paying for the suit (extra pair of trousers thrown in free as well!).

A far cry indeed from the painfully long-winded but at the same time pleasant suit-buying experience I had growing up in Malaysia.

Pleasant because it was the only “quality” time I got to spend with my father. You see, my father’s work involved that he travelled a lot. And I mean, a lot. It got to a stage where we couldn’t even keep up as to where he was. For all I (and my siblings) knew, he could have been New York or Nairobi, Tampin or Tokyo. It didn’t make a difference. Post cards sent from faraway lands gave an idea as to where he was but, thanks to the great postal service in Malaysia, they were normally a month behind.

So, visits to my father’s favourite tailor were always that little bit special. It was our father-and-son time. Well, that and visits to Chandran the barber. I don’t even think the man’s name was actually Chandran but because my father called him that, the barber eventually gave up explaining what his real name was and stuck with Chandran to this day, just to save him the hassle.

Anyway, the tailor in question was Peter Tailor that used to be located in PJ New Town (or PJ State), the de facto capital of the state of Selangor, where we lived. The head tailor and owner of Peter Tailor was a nice old man I merely called Uncle. “Uncle” was of course, the Malaysian term used when referring to someone much older than one’s self especially, if that person was a non-Malay individual. If he was Malay, we’d revert to Pak Cik which basically, means Uncle as well!

I never understood why my father insisted on going to Uncle for most of his tailoring. My theory was that my father liked to go to Uncle because he was an expert in tailor-made bush jackets. This was important to my father because the humble short-sleeved bush jacket was THE single-most important item of clothing for a male member of the public service in Malaysia, even if it didn’t involve one to go off on a safari somewhere in the rainforest. Basically, if you didn’t have a bush jacket, you weren’t cool.

The bush jackets came complete with little loops on top of the left chest pocket for slotting in the black and white name tags public servants were forced to wear on official duty. The loops were a special addition by Uncle which saved the jacket from any damage made by the name tag pins: a simple, yet effective innovation in my father’s eyes. Peter Tailor could do no wrong after that.

Of course, I didn’t get my own mini-bush jacket. I was too small then and in hindsight, it was probably a good thing. I wouldn’t have liked looking like a young, Asian Idi Amin anyway!

Eventually, when I was in secondary school, I finally got my chance of getting a piece tailor-made luxury from Peter Tailor although at that stage, being a rebellious teenager, I had my own ideas on coolness. I wanted what the other cool kids at school had: tailor-made school trousers in the so-called “GQ” style.

GQ trousers were a type of bell-bottom design with folded hems but without being tight on the thighs. The bigger the cuffs, the better. Pleats, normally double pleats or jeans-style front pockets were also a recommended option. A sort of MC Hammer meets the Bee Gees design with a touch of Miami Vice (the old TV series, not the 2006 movie). Thank God, that phase of my life is now well and truly over!

As I went to school in Kuala Lumpur, it was not only important that I had trousers in the correct design it was equally important that I got the trousers in the right places (Jun Saito and another place I just can’t remember the name of, was THE place to go). Drab old Peter Tailor just wouldn’t do.

Unsurprisingly, my father would have none of that. Either I had trousers made by Uncle or I was to wear standard government-issue trousers sold at the Globe Silk Store. Peter Tailor being the lesser of two evils was my only option. I could wear Globe Silk Store clothes but I would be forever condemned to geekdom for the rest of my teenage life. It was that bad.

I remember having countless arguments with Uncle and my father as to the design of my trousers. There was just no way that I was going with fashion advice from two men who still think that Engelbert Humperdinck is the definition of cool. No way!

I even went as far as to bribe one of Uncle’s assistants (with some Teh Tarik or Air Mata Kucing) so that he’d agree to increase the size of the trousers’ cuffs.

Why you want trousers like that, boy? You work as a street sweeper for DBKL, ah?

Uncle was referring to the enlarged cuffs and the impractical “sweeping” effect it would have.

In the end, as with my father, Uncle came through for me. The trousers I had were a milder, more sublime version than the ones the cool kids wore at school. You could say it was a more mature version of the juvenile design. And, like the name tag loops he did for my father’s bush jackets, Uncle couldn’t resist when it came to pleasing his customers with the smaller things. For my troubles, I had probably one of the first button-fly trousers in the school and probably the whole of Kuala Lumpur!

To me, it was like a pair of school trousers and a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans rolled into one. A pair of trousers which on its own, elevated me into semi-cool status at school. I was one happy teenager and that was all I could have asked for from my father.

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