With a Capital P

April 10, 2012 — Leave a comment

A while back Mtuseni sent me a quick chat message with an attached photo that said, “Buddy, yesterday I got my first polo shirt!” I thought to myself “What do you mean? I sent you some polo shirts last spring. What’s the big deal?”

Then I opened the picture. He wasn’t talking about generic pull-over, golf-type shirts with a button V-neck. He got his first Polo shirt… with the little man on the horse embroidered on the chest. We’re talking Polo with a capital P!

teen-in-Polo-shirt, South-AfricaSouth African postal restrictions limit how much I can send to Mtuseni. And when I buy clothes for him, I’m trying to balance style and volume. I want him to be able to compete with his school peers on the fashion scale, but he also just needs a lot of stuff. I’ve found some pretty cool threads, and with the Southern Hemisphere on opposite seasons from the US, I clean up at clearance sales here. If I saw a cheap Ralph Lauren at Marshall’s, I’d get it for him. But they’re not that cheap, and I can buy him three cool tops or a jacket for the same price.

For any teen, clothing and brands are important. For my mother it was poodle skirts. For me it was Levi’s — but all I ever got were Wranglers or Toughskins. (I’m still scarred!) But for a kid from very poor circumstances going to college in a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg, those labels have extra value. That first Polo shirt he got was a hand-me-down, but he loved it.

When I went to visit him in January, I brought along my classic Ralph Lauren cream canvas jacket with the embroidered horseman. I don’t wear it often, but figured it might be good for cool summer nights. And I knew it wouldn’t be coming back with me.

I only wore it one windy night in Capetown, and in the carnival-cafe atmosphere of Long Street, Mtuseni didn’t take much notice. So packing up before my flight back home, I told him I rarely wore the jacket and he could have it if he liked. He gave it that noncommittal teen once-over, then noticed the Polo man. His eyes lit up. “Oh! I didn’t see that before! That’s nice!” And it was his.

So the jacket brings Mtuseni’s Polo count up to two. It’s fall there now. He tells me he’s worn it, and it looks good and so it “must be filled with integrity.” Can’t ask for more from a canvas jacket!

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