I'm not the Hawaiian shirt type. Those billowy, comfortable-looking shirts with colorful patterns aren't really me. Or at least that's what I thought.
Now I own one.
Basically, I like to wear blue. But on a recent shopping trip my wife persuaded me to add some color and variety to my wardrobe.
"Summer's coming," she said. "Remember our camping trip."
How could I forget? We'd been talking about it for weeks.
But then I remembered a guy at work who wore Hawaiian shirts every Friday, payday or not. He tried to start a trend in our bland, buttoned-down office, but no one had yet followed his example. Maybe it was finally time to join in.
At the store, I looked at about seven different shirts. One had a sailing ships pattern, one had fishing gear, another had glasses of beer. Too much for the office, I decided. Then I saw the one with palm trees. It was off-white with a tasteful pattern and looked very comfortable indeed.
At home, I modeled it for my family. "Looks nice, Dad," was the consensus of my loved ones, who wouldn't hesitate to tell me if they hated it.
That settled it. I decided to wear it to work.
The first person to notice was my boss. As I dropped off a document for him to sign, he looked at the shirt, almost said something, then stopped himself. So far, so good, I thought. At least he didn't send me home to change.
Then my trendsetter buddy came by, wearing his own Hawaiian Punch special. He caught a glimpse of the palm trees surrounding my torso and congratulated me. As he did, another worker came by, dressed in his usual shirt and tie, and stared bemusedly at us both. "I didn't get the memo," he said.
The next two hours were weird.
I tried to forget, but the palm trees seemed to be burning their way into my skin. People were stopping to look at me, almost saying something, then going about their business -- just like my boss. Of course, this was to be expected. After all, the entire agency was trained not to compliment anyone's hair or clothes. Might be considered sexual harassment, we were told, and these stern instructions were drilled into us every year without fail.
So I resigned myself to being noticed but not discussed. At break time, however, my shirt finally got a rave review:
"Don, I love your shirt!" It was a woman who worked in another section in the building. She gushed on and on, ending with "It's so unusual -- and it made me smile."
There. It was worth it. If she was willing to say it, perhaps others wanted to as well. I was happy that someone said something. Perhaps she didn't care what the agency rules were, but she just wanted to be herself and say what she felt.
I felt better about my Hawaiian palm tree shirt after that. I made it through the day without incident and felt I had done my part to loosen up the office.
So, what did I wear to work the following Monday? My favorite blue shirt, naturally.
But I have a feeling the palm trees will make another appearance before long.