My parents raised me in defiance of the saying clothes make the man, and as photos from high school and college attest, I may have taken their teachings too close to heart. I forced my academic and musical accomplishments to stand for themselves, unaided by my pyramid-shaped outfits. In almost every teenage photo of me, a skin-tight t-shirt flares into baggy cargo shorts and boot-cut jeans, with stretched-out crew socks bunched around my ankles. When internships forced me to update my wardrobe, I scoured Goodwill for sales on shirts that fit well enough, by which I mean any small or medium that still had most of its buttons. Less money for clothing meant more money for hiking, traveling, and booze.
I eventually learned that clothes do make the man, at least for casual dating and first impressions, and that a professional ensemble legitimizes a freelancer’s prices as much as his portfolio does. To the horror of my anti-appearance past, I now research styles, brands, fits, and combinations. I own a jacket that cost as much as a plane ticket and underwear that didn’t come bundled in shrinkwrap. I pay a tailor to fit shirts to a nine-inch drop. I’ve bought a pair of dress boots custom-made for my feet; the bootfitter measured not just length, but width, foot circumference in three places, and leg width all the way up my calf like stripes on a sock.
I value my clothes. They make me feel confident, attractive. I’ve found self-expression through wool, leather, and waxed canvas. But when I die, bury me naked. Or burn me. I’ll leave the choice between casket or urn to my loved ones, so long as they keep clothing out of it. I don’t want leather boots mixed with my ashes or a wool suit rotting around me.
Some of this, sure, is about comfort with death. I want my end to be honest, not dolled up to look “my best.” I am dead, and I will decay, like everyone else. No need to cover it up.
It’s about comfort with my body, too. The Bible and particular readings of the Bible have infused nakedness with shame. Clothes stay on except for showers, sex, and those few seconds while changing between work clothes and gym clothes and comfy clothes and pajamas, as if the human form was inherently sinful, or an embarrassment. Should there be scandal, too, in the nakedness of birth?
Clothes provide dignity in a society where clothes make the man. But in the privacy of death, I find more dignity in accepting my body without a disguise. More dignity in embracing the liver spots, wrinkles, and loose skin. More dignity, no matter when I die, in being at peace with my ass and genitals and armpits and stomach and all the other parts of myself that are supposedly unsightly, or immodest, or rude.
Mostly, though, it’s about self-sufficiency. A clothed burial implies incompletion without clothes. It implies that this particular avenue of self-expression has become inextricable from my identity. I want to stand for myself. I am sufficient, no matter how old or ugly or decrepit my body has become. My body, which is me, has carried me all the way here, growing and pumping and healing and dying.
This is a small thing, and it’s a little absurd. I’ll be dead, after all. But it’s the end—a sort of inverse womb—and before that time, the idea of a naked burial reassures me that although clothes might make the man, clothes are not the man. That although I live in a world of protocol and societal standards shaped by others before me and carried on by others after me, that although groups more powerful than me decide policies and practices, their sovereignty only extends so far. At the end, I am myself, and I am enough.
NPR called Josh “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” after he wrote about his 7,000-mile, no-money hitchhiking journey through the United States. Since hitchhiking, he’s found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He builds websites as the director of Branded Look LLC. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.