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When I was growing up in the late 1960s, my dad would corral me every year in February to make our annual trip to Nashville to buy clothes.

The month was important. February marked the season that his favorite men's store, Levy's (pronounced LEE-vees), would make final markdowns on seasonal men's wear — or as I called them "church clothes." Back then, Levy's was more than 100 years old and catered to dapper gentlemen across the mid-South.

I would climb into our Rambler station wagon with Dad for the 45-mile journey to 100 Oaks Mall, Nashville's first indoor shopping mall, which opened in 1968.

Our local Parks-Belk department store in my hometown, Columbia, Tennessee, was good enough for clothing staples — jeans, shirts and underwear. But Levy's was the place we went to buy sport coats. It was customary for me to accrue one sport coat a year, which meant there were always two or three in my closet that fit.

My dad, who was an Army master sergeant, was particular about his clothes. And as his only male son, I became a reflection of his tastes, which leaned toward double-breasted sport coats paired with regimental striped ties and Sansabelt slacks.

He loved to buy men's clothes for pennies on the dollar, and his tastes were commensurate with the end-of-season inventories at Levy's. These trips were really for him, but to me, the 100 Oaks Mall was easily the eighth wonder of the world. Plus, at 12, I had a crush on one of the female mannequins in the adjacent Harvey's department store.

I remember the clerks in Levy's marking out trousers with white wax pencils and taking care to fit the sport coats to my dad's shoulders, which were stooped, causing the jacket collar and shirt collar to be misaligned. Sometimes they would work for half an hour preparing the clothes for alteration.

All these memories came to mind this weekend as I thought about my older son going off to college next year. I have in mind I will buy him a new sport coat. I'm not sure he has one in the closet that fits. Also, our younger son will participate in a junior cotillion early next year, so he needs a little wardrobe freshening as well.

Clothes have changed a lot in 50 years. By some measures, our sons, 13 and 18, have more clothes than they need. Our older son, for example, has enough sneakers to go weeks without wearing the same pair twice. Both boys have a few pairs of serviceable khakis and a button-down shirt or two, but if I had to find a necktie or a pair of dress shoes in either of their closets, it would be a scramble.

On the other hand, they both have scores of T-shirts, sweatshirts and quarter-zip sweaters, that, along with cotton shorts and slacks, make up the bulk of their school wardrobes.

I guess this says a lot about the way lifestyles have changed. When I started to work at the newspaper business in the early 1980s, all the men wore ties. Now, it's only a handful.

Part of me misses the old formality. But I don't miss wrestling with neckties when I'm half asleep in the morning and polishing dress shoes.

But I still have an affinity for sport coats. I look for cashmere jackets on sale. When I slip one on, I note the supple wool, I feel the cool lining and I remember my sharp-dressed dad.

some text Mark Kennedy

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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