Under-Appreciated Style Icons: Calvin’s Dad

When The Wizard Of Oz came out in 1939, it was said that it expanded the viewer’s imagination, instead of limiting it.

That’s how I felt while reading Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes as a kid. Sure, I had a fertile imagination on my own, but after an hour or so of reading the strip, I would go and pretend I had a transmogrifier, or a duplicator, or a time machine.

I even had a stuffed Tigger toy that I re-named “Hobbes”. These days, instead of accompanying me on my adventures, he relaxes on a shelf in my office.

“It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…”

My five-year-old son has recently taken an interest in Calvin and Hobbes. The book collections have become our “meal time books” (reading to him during meals helps keep him in one spot long enough to finish his food).

I have also found that reading the strip to him has helped his overall reading skills since he can figure out what the words say based on the picture.

The humor in the strip works on so many different levels. My son appreciates the illustrations of dinosaurs and the slapstick. I find myself laughing at the reactions of Calvin’s parents.

Calvin’s dad was very different from the dads I was exposed to in movies and TV shows at the time. He wasn’t oafish or clueless. He wasn’t the stereotypical “dopey dad”.

Quite the contrary. He had a good job. He not only worked hard but proactively discussed with his son the importance of hard work. He enjoyed bike riding and reading. He and his wife split the child care as reasonably as they could; she did the cleaning and the cooking while he did Calvin’s bedtime.

He also went out on dates with his wife with relative frequency. I know it was a plot device so Calvin could clash with his babysitter, Rosalyn, but it served to further flesh out the impression that he was a caring and responsible man.

As far as his clothes, Watterson really captured, whether intentionally or not, exactly how a dad should dress. Simple, classic, comfortable.

Even though the strip is mostly from Calvin’s point of view, we still get the chance to see his dad in a variety of settings. Those settings are mostly: at home, at work or going to/coming home from work, out to dinner with his wife, or various leisure activities like camping/grilling/exercising.

At home, it’s mostly oxford shirts, crew-neck sweaters, and jeans or corduroys. Sometimes we see a Harrington or bomber-style jacket.

The office is strictly a jacket-and-tie affair, as are his dinner dates with Calvin’s mom. Cold weather necessitates a stately overcoat and either black or grey fedora. He seems to only own one tie: a sporty red and black striped number.

Down time is spent in short-sleeve collared shirts.

The two pairs of shoes he is shown wearing are a pair of white sneakers when dressed casually and black oxfords when in a suit.

Occasionally, he is shown wearing a small wristwatch on a black strap.

Calvin’s family is pretty solidly middle-class. Even though they live comfortably on a one-salary income (a pipe dream for most now, but the strip debuted almost 40 years ago), they are shown grappling with the challenges of any family with finite means. They own one car which breaks down occasionally. They are frugal with their vacations, opting to go camping. They mention how going out to eat is expensive so it can only be done once-in-a-while. Calvin’s mom resists buying a large Christmas tree since it costs too much. Even the instances where Calvin “builds character” by shoveling the walk or raking leaves are revealed to be because the family doesn’t want to buy a snow or leaf blower.

And Calvin’s dad’s wardrobe reflects someone who knows how to dress elegantly on a budget. As previously mentioned, he has one or two suits, one tie, two pairs of shoes, two hats, and a handful of casual staples.

He doesn’t need much to look good. And the key here is that you hardly ever notice what he’s wearing. He just looks like a grown-up. Appropriate in every situation even with a small wardrobe built on a tight budget.

There’s a lesson there I think we can all appreciate.

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