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Barry Kubas, owner of Desmonds, said after he announced the shop was going out of business he started receiving phone calls from people wanting to buy Joe Cool, the mannequin in the window of the men's store in downtown Missoula. The shop has been in business for 37 years. 

Having recently reversed my decision to cancel the Missoulian in the interest of cost savings and paper conservation, I was more receptive than usual to the headlines earlier this week, recognizing the rolled, plastic-wrapped, nearly weightless paper I dredged from my dark, soggy lawn as an anemic friend I’d taken for granted for so long and nearly lost to the temptation of easy online access.

Desmond’s was closing, and this made me think. Once, I had bought two shirts at this downtown men’s store in a moment inspired by an impending TV interview that may or may not have actually happened. If you think in terms of charts, this purchase was a pizza slice-shaped chunk out of our family’s pizza-shaped budget. The shirts lasted for several years, though.

In the Missoulian article, Desmond’s owner decries the reduction of classiness and self-respect among Missoula men who effectively abandoned his shop after the recession hit 10 years ago, and never returned in enough mass to generate a profit.

Reflecting on this notion, it is probably true that many of us who relocated to Missoula and environs did so with the hopes we would never have to wear a suit and tie again as long as we lived. The Montana mountain lifestyle requires practical gear.

When I first moved here, the Army-Navy store downtown had all the apparel a Montana man-in-training could ever imagine he would need. Years later, as a 50-plus-year-old man with a business and a professional reputation to uphold, I still grab the Carhart jeans most days, and once or twice a week I will wear a shirt with buttons as a nod to some faint aspiration it’s hard to put my finger on. Mostly, functional pullovers made of comfortable synthetic fabrics carry the day. Or wool. You never know when you’ll be caught out in freezing, wet weather and your choice of non-cotton clothing will tip the balance in your favor, keeping the reaper at bay.

But, something about Desmond’s closing struck a chord in me. What if there is something to the self-respect and societal uplift that can be gained by men walking around dressed snappily?

In my profession, I am an applied scientist, emphasis on the applied. The resulting mindset leads one to devise impromptu experiments to test hypotheses and, well, see what happens. Thus, my proposal to Missoula (and environs — you know who you are) men is to turn the tables on what normal society does.

We moved here to sidestep conformity, to chart our own courses, to dress like our mythical mountain heroes in modern-day furs and fibers. In keeping with our rebellious natures, I propose we institute a “non-casual Friday” where we dress to impress — not ourselves, but whatever that faint aspiration is that hovers like an evaporating hoarfrost at the edge or our perception as we skin up the latest couloir in pursuit of meaning, self-respect, edginess or maybe just the edge.

So, join me in a new western Montana edginess. Dress up once a week. Be snappy. I’ll be looking for you on Higgins on the rare occasion when I am there. And maybe you will find me strolling the streets of Hamilton once a week in dapper fashion. 

Tom Parker is the president of Geum Environmental Consulting in Hamilton.

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