Somehow, I got hold of a Banana Republic catalog and I ordered a lot from it over the space of a few years. Now this was not same Banana Republic chic clothing company of today. Then, it was an expedition outfitter. At least that was their image. They sold clothes and paraphernalia that the traveller would need in the wilds of the world--khaki shirts, chino pants, boots, leather jackets, boonie hats, canvas water bags, travel journals, and so on. It was the kind of mail-order catalog that Indiana Jones would have bought his stuff from (though I don't recall any whips).
Now I wasn't a traveller, I only wanted to be. I was in fact a geeky young computer operator working the night shift for the state and going to school during the day. But the inspiration was always there to be something else.
This was probably a holdover from my childhood. In the 1960s, television was becoming more common and more commonly broadcasted old movies. On Sunday afternoons my family would gather at my aunt and uncle's farm and my brother and I would watch Tarzan and Jungle Jim movies (both starring Johnny Weissmuller) on their television. These movies were actually made in the 1930s and 40s and were inspired by novels that came out of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when colonial expeditions swept the world. While there was a dark side to that, there also arose the image of the explorer-hero.
Writers have used this image of the square-jawed, barrel-chested explorer to make popular fiction at least since Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, James Hilton, Ernest Hemingway, H. G. Wells, and many lesser writers. When movies came along, Hollywood quickly seized on these stories and made silent features and serials on "jungle adventures" such as The Sheik, King Solomon's Mines, and Tarzan that remained popular through the advent of sound, and on to this day (judging by the success of the Indiana Jones movies).
This is the genre of storytelling that evolved through the centuries to reach me at a time when technology allowed them to be performed in visual media. As I grew older, I gravitated more towards genres of science fiction and sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but the explorer-hero protagonist lay at the root of these and remained the driving inspiration for me. I'm seeing this, and embracing it, as I reach a more mature level of life and seek to spin tales of my own.
But the appeal of the explorer-hero is not just one of action--fighting crocodiles, monsters and Nazis to find the diamond mines or lost tribe--there is a wistful side to him (yes, the image is almost always expressed as male). He is an explorer in the sense of Stanly-seeking-Livingston, wandering the globe with purpose, seeking his prize while enduring the journey's hardships and wondering at the mysteries he encounters. This aspect of the image is seen in the past popularity of travelogues and in today's Travel Channel.
So this, I think, is the basis of why I dress for a life I don't lead. I doubt I'm in any way special in this. How many of us sit in our cubicles staring at spreadsheets when a blind over a distant window is adjusted and a glint of sunlight from an azure sky hits us like an unearthed jewel. Something within, nearly forgotten, stirs and our imagination puts us on camelback, riding into Timbuktu with the salt caravan. Maybe we feel this, but we dare not speak it. It is suppressed as foolish, childish, and at odds with our contract of employment and responsibility to the clock. Dreams are for after-hours.
The old Banana Republic catalog was filled with cartoons and commentary, sometimes by a celebrity, and often on some theme. I remember one cartoon that struck me. It was of a middle-aged, overweight man, dressed in pith helmet, camp shirt, chinos and boots, looking into a mirror. The reflection he saw was of a young man, tall and muscular, ready to explore the world.
Yeah. I can relate to that.
My friend, if you can relate to this journal entry, if you feel a desire to stand on a precipice overlooking Machu Piccu or on the pitching deck of a sailboat navigating the Galapagos Islands, then you are my fellow traveller and seeker of insight into life's mysteries. I encourage you to wear your khakis this week in defiance of the corporate constraints you toil under (or whatever else sucks the life from you). And if you pass me on the street or in a hallway, then raise your hand in recognition and greet me with the password of our common vision: "Timbuktu!"