Of buttons, Scooby-Doo ties and the art of dressing oneself

Burt’s Eye View

I clawed through the closet, holding up one tie, then another, then another against my oddly buttoned shirt, trying to remembered what patterns clashed with what. As I settled on an understated yet tasteful Scooby-Doo neckpiece to go with my suit, the truth dawned on me: I have lost the art of dressing myself.

In this season of gratitude, I am thankful for co-workers, friends and family who kindly never mention that I dress like a rumpled clown since my sweetheart passed away.

It’s a common dilemma for widowers. For years, our every outfit was monitored. We never left the house without passing inspection first. Now we’re out there on our own and it’s scary.

In my early years, Mom picked out my clothes. By junior high, I’d pull my own things from drawers and closets, but always had to pass inspection before I darted out the door to the school bus.

“Burton William, you can’t wear a plaid shirt with striped pants,” Mom would yelp, as if it wasn’t the 1960s. “Go change.”

Or she’d tug a pant leg out of my shoe or rebutton my shirt. “You bring home straight A’s but you still can’t figure out which button goes into which hole.”

My little sister began buying me clothes for Christmas in the hopes of educating my fashion senses. Hope is a lovely word to wear on a necklace but rather useless when it comes to dressing big brothers.

Eventually, I moved out of the house and the protective custody of my mother and sister. But I moved into a couple’s spare room, so still had guidance. (“Your shirt’s buttoned funny. And that color is losing the war against the hue of those pants. Go change.”)

I lived with them until my first marriage provided a fashion adviser. After she gave up on me as hopeless, my teenage daughter was the one who sent me back to my room to change on her visits.

Years later, I met and married Terry, who did her best to tug pant legs out of my shoes, straighten my shirts and update my wardrobe.

(“This shirt really brings out the blue in your eyes.” “My eyes are hazel.” “Blue.” “My driver’s license says hazel.” “You buttoned your shirt wrong again.”)

Sunday mornings, I always distracted Terry’s routine by asking if this tie goes with this shirt. That sent her cycling through the hundred ties that had somehow appeared over the years without me picking up a single one — except the understated yet tasteful Scooby-Doo tie, which she never chose to go with any shirt.

Then — get this — she spread a half dozen outfits on the bed and asked my opinion on what she should wear! As if I was a fashion maven. Which I had disproved about two minutes earlier.


Terry passed away in June. I haven’t buttoned a shirt correctly on the first try since.

But I hear echoes of her voice every morning: “It’s simple. Pull the bottom tails of your shirt together. See how the bottom button and the bottom buttonhole line up? That’s where it goes. No, no, no, not there. That’s a rip. Did you tear your shirt buttoning it wrong?”

Now I pull polo shirts over my head instead. No tucking. Fewer buttons. No patterns. Just wrinkles, rumples, ice cream stains and clashing colors. And maybe on formal occasions, an understated but tasteful Scooby-Doo tie. ‘Cause who’s gonna tell me, “Go change.”

Cole’s mom still wonders if he’ll ever learn to button shirts properly. Check his alignment at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.


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