My dad has a uniform that he’s been wearing for the past 20 years. When he was younger, he was more experimental, like when my parents got married he wore a purple suede cowboy suit. Now, though, he only wears a blue oxford shirt, gray flat front Brooks Brothers wool trousers, black socks, and a white undershirt. So if we went canoeing, that’s what he’d be wearing. If he went to a business meeting, that’s what he’d be wearing. If he went to a wedding, that’s what he’d be wearing. If he went to the beach, that’s what he’d be wearing, but with swim trunks instead of pants. It’s become endearing. My family will tease him – this little Jewish man and his uniform.
Around 2003 I was helping him organize his closet. In its depths, I came upon one of his 40 or so oxford shirts. It was from the 80s and it had that classic preppy look I was into. A more slender cut, a softer fabric, and it fit me well. Most significantly, it had his initials, D.R.S., monogrammed on the pocket, which I was immediately drawn to.
But it was that monogram that actually turned him off and got the shirt relegated to the back of his closet. My father’s brother, Jim, had given him the shirt thinking the monogram was a nice detail, but to my father, it represented ‘the man’. My father’s father was a businessman, and his brother was a businessman, and he rejected that path to become an anthropologist.
As his daughter, though, I loved the idea of wearing a shirt with his initials.
He gave it to me and I started wearing it all the time – to the point that I got a little psycho about it. I was wearing the shirt every week. I would bring it to work [at Woolrich] to show them how I wanted the shirts I was designing to feel – but I would never let them keep it. I started acting really paranoid because I didn’t want anything to happen to it. I traveled for work a lot and would wear it on every trip, but I wouldn’t pack it in my checked luggage. I would wear it onto the airplane—to China, Peru, India. I knew I was being ridiculous, but then my luggage got stolen and that confirmed it. I realized there was no way that I’d not wear it on every flight. Who knew what could happen to it!
Even though my father is healthy, he’s 77 and entering into old age so his death is on my mind. Because I’ve been living in Italy, so far apart from my parents in Chicago, that kind of anxiety gave the shirt more weight.
Over time I wore the oxford so much that it began to fall apart, to fray and tear. I’d repair it but when one of the sleeves ripped off, it reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t wear it anymore.
I had a friend named Guy who was a painter in Tel Aviv. He’d been doing a series of paintings of everyday objects so I commissioned him to make a painting of the shirt. I wanted it to act as a memorial – I just couldn’t bear to let it go.
When he was working on it, I’d get emails like, “Karuna, this shirt, it’s killing me. So simple and yet so complicated!” He’s very dramatic. He wound up making two paintings of it. Both are abstract, distilling the shirt to its essential elements, but each is slightly different. He gave me one and I bought the other – I didn’t like the idea of anyone owning them but me. Now one hangs in my office and the other in my bedroom.
Karuna Scheinfeld is Head of Mens Design and Concept Director for Woolrich John Rich & Bros. She just returned from three years working in Bologna, Italy and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: James Ryang.