Skip to content
Congratulations to 2021 Ottaway Award winner Naveen Kishore! Learn more.
from the October 2007 issue

I Have Nothing to Wear

The man faces the mirror. He has just shaved and taken a shower. With one hand he pinches the little spare tire in his waist, observes it in the mirror, and clucks his tongue.

He hesitates about what to wear. Being unsure, he figures that he'll go faster if he first puts on his T-shirt and briefs. He picks up the white briefs with thin blue stripes. He checks them for tears. Puts them on. But then, as he holds his T-shirt in front of him, he thinks he'll be better off not wearing one, and puts it back in the drawer. He opens the other half of the closet door and looks at his shirts. There's a white one, made in Italy, cotton, that he bought just a couple of weeks ago and which he likes especially. He holds it up and examines it; he loves the way it feels. But white makes him look fat. He hangs it back in its place. With his fingertips, as one who flicks through the pages of a book, he caresses the sleeves of all his shirts. Decidedly the ones that suit him best are the gray one and the black one. But he's been wearing them so often lately that he's tired of them. If one of these two shirts is the one he finally chooses he could wear his gray pants, or the black Levi's.

Adding to the already established hesitation about how to dress to look his best, he now realizes he has no idea how his date will be dressed. Will she show up with an especially ostentatious dress, or dressed more casually? If, say, she came informally attired, he, with his black Levi's and his gray or black shirt, would look OK. And a rumpled sport coat over it. The sport coat is another of his hesitations: will he wear his gray jacket (the more classical one) or the one in a greenish plaid? If he were to opt for the black shirt, the plaid jacket would somehow break the seriousness of the shirt and pants, which could easily be overdone. The truth is that with a tie he could also break the black-gray austerity of shirt and pants. Shall he wear a tie? He pulls the row of shirts aside with one hand and reaches for the tie rack. Which one should he wear? Solid, striped, plaid? With his plaid jacket the plaid tie would appear too garish. But then, two plaid patterns could create a brutally striking effect.

Of course he could also not wear a tie. But, if he wears no tie and his date shows up very well dressed, will he not appear too much like a bum? Mixing a tie with jeans will give him an ambiguous look, which might allow him to seem OK no matter what she's wearing. The problem is whether the combination of a plaid tie, jeans, and plaid jacket won't appear too ironic, depending on what she wears. Or should he put on his tweed pants? With his tweed pants, the strength of his dark shirt, and the irony of the clash between the plaids of the tie and the jacket, he would not have to drag, on top of all, the burlesque touch of the jeans, a burlesque touch that would be alright with him, but that—as he has repeatedly told himself—makes him run the risk of appearing shocking next to her outfit.

OK, he mentally repeats to himself, to test whether he's happy with his overall choices, he will go with gray shirt, brownish plaid tie, greenish plaid sport jacket, and tweed pants, also brownish. What he should do now, surely, is to move from theory to practice. He does so: he puts on his gray shirt, his tweed pants, his brownish plaid tie, and the greenish plaid sport coat. He looks at himself in the mirror. His feet, bare, strike a scandalous contrast. He must decide what shoes to wear, and forces himself to come to a quick decision, lest the shoes start generating a new chain of doubts. He puts on the brown leather loafers, without fussing about it.

But, what if his date should show up in a tweed suit of a color similar to that of his pants, close but not exact, which would make this sort of matching hideous? And this is to say nothing of the possibility that she shows up in a plaid dress... It's one thing for him to mix deliberately and playfully two types of plaid (the greenish of his jacket and the brownish of his tie), because he thinks such a clash can be attractive. But, if she also wears plaid, the contrast would become simply laughable. How can he find out what his date will be wearing? She hasn't told him to what type of party they've been invited. Now that he thinks about it, on the phone she sounded skittish. Even when—hearing her rural accent and brittle voice—he asked her if she had a cold, she answered evasively and rushed to hang up. Perhaps, facing the evidence that there is no human way to know how she'll be dressed, he'd be better off not taking chances with plaid. This way, at least, he'll run no risk that, if she shows up in plaid (if she came in a plaid jacket, then he'd have to kill himself), the two of them cut a ridiculous figure. Should he, then, forget about the jacket or the tie? As he muses about this, he makes himself a cup of coffee. He pours the coffee into a glass and drinks it without sweetener. At last he makes up his mind: he will drop the jacket, for not only is it much more likely that she shows up in a plaid jacket than with a plaid tie, but, should they perchance coincide in that accessory, a tie is always much smaller (and therefore more discreet) than a jacket. OK, which jacket will he wear? The crumpled black one? The more traditional gray one? He tries the gray one on and it becomes obvious that it does not suit him. He takes it off and puts on the black one. But, even though the jacket is crumpled and he's wearing the gray shirt, he feels he looks too conservative, not only in case his date shows up dressed casually, but even just by himself, leaving aside whichever style she has chosen. If he wears his black jacket, his gray shirt, his plaid tie, his tweed pants and leather shoes, won't he look awkwardly traditional next to her, should she come dressed, say, in jeans, a sweater and a raincoat? Of course he could cheat: he could examine her through the peephole and, according to how he'd see her arrive, decide at the very last moment to keep his tie on or, in a second, pull it off to appear just as informally dressed as she.

But is it that crucial that her outfit and his, how shall he put it, match? Isn't such an idea, if you think about it (and the more he thinks about it the more he decides it is), perfectly idiotic? What is the problem if she dresses one way and he another? It might even appear somewhat funky if one dresses one way and the other quite differently. Or does he rather think it a good omen that their respective outfits match? Instead of racking his brain figuring out what to do so that her outfit not clash with his, what he should do is get dressed as he thinks he'll be looking best. But, which way had he decided he'd look his best?

He goes back to his idea about jeans and the plaid sport coat. He takes off his shoes, his tweed pants, and puts on his black-dyed Levi's and, once again, his shoes. And he changes his jacket. He looks at himself in the mirror: on second thought, he feels he'll look better with his black jacket. He takes off the plaid one and puts the black one on again, But, the brown leather shoes with black jeans? Awful. He looks for his black Oxfords and finds them: soiled. His black moccasins, however, are clean. But they are so goofy that he has not even considered wearing them for at least two years. He sits down in a hurry, rolls up his shirt sleeves, and starts applying polish to his black Oxfords.

He changes his shoes and looks at himself in the mirror. He looks OK, but there is something that doesn't quite fit. What if he gave up his idea about a dark shirt and started looking for his red shirt, the one that suits his complexion so well? He takes off his black jacket and gray shirt and puts on his red shirt and, again, the black jacket over that. He looks at himself. No. He takes off his jacket and his shirt. With no time to theorize, he tries on all possible combinations: a beige shirt with the black jacket; a green shirt with the plaid jacket; a yellow T-shirt with the black jacket; the green T-shirt with the gray jacket; a gray T-shirt with the gray jacket; a white T-shirt with the plaid jacket; a yellow shirt with the green tie and the black jacket; a fuchsia shirt with the blue and yellow striped tie, and the plaid jacket; a brown shirt with the beige jacket (which he had somehow ignored before); the white T-shirt with the gray jacket...When the doorbell rings he's wearing a navy pea-jacket, a white shirt, an abominable bow tie, wool pants with brown, beige, and green speckles, and black socks. He has not yet made up his mind about shoes. So as not to drown in a renewed sea of doubts, at the very last moment he decides not to use the peephole, and opens the door.

A figure stands in front of him, dressed in a full-length hooded black cloak and carrying a scythe. The man looks at the grim figure, half disappointed, half surprised.

"You never told me we were going to a costume party," he says.

"We're not."

Translation of "No tinc res per posar-me." First published in L'illa de Maians (Barcelona: Quaderns Crema, 1985). By arrangement with the publisher. Translation copyright 2007 by Josep Miquel Sobrer. All rights reserved.

Read more from the October 2007 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.