By Robert Delaney
I never learn.
Sometimes I find a shirt or a blazer selling for such a discount that it seems irresponsible to not buy it. You know the kind. That which you think can be worn at the office and for a night out. It might be just a little off in terms of fit, but of course that’s too small a detail when you’re saving so much.
Then you wear the garment for a full day and the problem becomes apparent. It pulls in the wrong places. It bunches up oddly when you sit. It becomes a low-level irritant that puts you on edge. No matter how strategically you tuck or arrange, the garment subverts those efforts as soon as you take one step.
As I read the obituaries of Fred Phelps this week, packaged with photos of him in ill-fitting garb, I couldn’t help but conclude that the rage-filled man who made homophobia uncool probably made the thrifty fashion mistake far too often.
Mr. Phelps made a name for himself in the 1960s as a civil rights lawyer whose work helped to overturn Jim Crow laws. In photos of him from those days, he wears some decent threads. At least they fit well and probably didn’t ride up and irritate him.
I’m a bit foggy on his background over the next couple of decades, but I’m guessing that business thinned out for Fred Phelps once all of the segregation-era laws were struck down. That may have led him to the discount racks, where he must have thought: “Well, it’s just a little on the big side. If I tuck and arrange strategically, I won’t even notice.”
And that, I bet, is where the virulent hatred anti-gay passions flared.
When I’m wearing my worst-fitting shirt, (which happens when I don’t have time to iron any of the good ones), minor irritants can set me off. For example, I once almost threw my laptop out of my window because PowerPoint refused to resize a shape the way I wanted. Not only did I hate Microsoft that afternoon. I also wanted to go to Seattle to picket Bill Gates with a “God Hates PPT!” sign. Should software really incite such rage? Heavens, no. It was the Kenneth Cole shirt that I got for 70% off. It would simply not stay tucked.
Perhaps, when Fred was at the end of his rope after tucking his shirt in for the 8,000th time, he happened to be behind a couple of guys in the supermarket buying fresh endive, pasta and a nice bottle of wine. Maybe he fixated on these men as he battled his shirt. As much as he wanted to launch a crusade against his clothes, he knew subconsciously that a war on textiles wouldn’t go far unless he was sure they were woven in China.
And thus, the Fred Phelps who will always be tied to hate was born.
So, I think we should keep this in mind when we remember the legacy of Fred Phelps.
And we should hope that his family will make sure that Mr. Phelps’ shirt isn’t riding up when he’s lowered into the ground.
(For more of my thoughts on fashion, read here.)