Editor’s note: Brandon native and Tampa Bay Times correspondent Scott Purks periodically reflects on memories of growing up in the Tampa suburb. Today, he chronicles a memorable studio photo shoot.
BRANDON — In December 1977 my mom decided it was time for me to get a suit.
She said this was going to be one of my Christmas presents, when in fact it was one of her presents because after Christmas we were going to the local Olan Mills studio for a professional portrait.
I was 13.
I said, okay, but only if it’s an all-white suit: white shoes, white shirt, white vest, white socks, white coat, white belt, white undershirt, white underwear.
The tie and handkerchief could be black, but most definitely everything else must be white.
I wanted this for reasons that were perfectly, and resoundingly, logical: For starters, Ricardo Montalban wore an all white suit with a black tie on Fantasy Island, and more importantly, John Travolta wore a white suit with a black shirt in Saturday Night Fever.
Could this possibly be any more obvious? If anybody knew about style it was Travolta and Montalban, the latter of whom drove the stylish Chrysler Cordoba, which he explained with his intoxicating accent in the television commercial:
"The thickly-cushioned luxury of seats available even in rich Corinthian leather."
Corinthian leather? I wanted that as well. Who wouldn’t?
And Travolta? Simply the coolest.
After all, what did we know about style in Brandon? Nothing. We had to defer to the television and movies and stylish guys like Montalban and Travolta.
So mom and I went to the local clothing store, Scogins, which I believed would understand my feelings about the white suit.
They did not.
Politely, the folks at Scogins suggested that an all-white suit might be a little much for going to church or the junior-high dance or an Olan Mills photo shoot.
They were cool about it, and they laid out several options, one of which we enthusiastically settled on: A navy blue polyester leisure suit with subtle red and white stitching, combined with a baby-blue faux-silk shirt with some kind of modern-art design, a huge collar that draped over the jacket lapels and extra huge cuffs that folded back over the end of the jacket arms.
Oh yes, and blue shoes and belt to match.
Man did I ever look cool, sentiments my mom and the folks at Scogins "oohed and aaahed" when I walked from the dressing room.
It wasn’t white-suit stylin’ like Montalban and Travolta, but it was stylin’ nonetheless.
Then, of course, I got a haircut and went for my photo session in a little room where backdrops of everything from library books to farm scenes were rotated depending on the mood.
We went for a lovely bucolic backdrop, just behind a wooden fence (actually plastic), on which I leaned, because, of course, this scene fit perfectly with my navy-blue, polyester leisure suit and baby-blue faux-silk shirt.
I looked to the left where I saw something — perhaps a pretty girl riding a horse galloping through the meadow — that made me very happy.
I smiled with full-on braces.
The shutter snapped: A moment captured for all eternity (please see accompanying photo).
Years later I learned a few things.
Corinthian leather, for instance, had nothing to do with the ancient Greek city of Corinth, or with anything really. Corinthian leather, in fact, involved a good deal of vinyl and mostly originated from a supplier outside Newark, N.J. The term "Corinthian leather" was something an advertising agent made up.
But it sounded great when Montalban said it in his intoxicating accent: "Cor-inth-ian leather."
As for white suits, I learned that few people can pull off wearing them. Montalban and Travolta were rare exceptions.
I’m glad I never got the white suit because I don’t think I could have pulled it off.
I’m also thrilled that leisure suits quickly went out of style.
Seriously, it was awful, wasn’t it?
And yet, you know, looking at myself in that Olan Mills’ photo, it was in another way, incredibly …
Contact Scott Purks at [email protected]