Alligators and Flies

When I was a kid, it seems like everyone was wearing Lacoste polo shirts (they were also called Izod shirts back then). The shirt was introduced in 1933 and named for French tennis star René Lacoste who was nicknamed “the alligator” after winning a game bet, the prize being an alligator suitcase.

The shirts came in a riot of colors during the 60’s and 70’s, and it was the fashion at the time to dress in the casual, but dressy Lacoste polo, accenting your outfit with something outrageous and in-your-face (but still acceptable at the country club.) Soon others designers catered to people who wished to be ‘preppy’ by advertising a genteel lifestyle, featuring people turning up their collars. I dubbed it “The Vulcan Effect”, since most of the people looked rather stupid with the tip of the stiff color scraping their ears with a Star-Trek like rigidity, rather than the “I-don’t-care-this-is-how-I-put-my-
shirt-on and that’s-how-it’s-going-to-stay-because-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-turn-it-down”
look that real preppy people did.
I went to prep school and if you flipped up your collar on purpose, you would have had the crap pounded out of you by an upperclassman named Rand or Tad.


Eventually the Lacoste shirt fell out of favor until recently, thanks to a spiffy new ad campaign, and the fact the shirts last forever and are wonderfully comfortable and timeless and well-tailored…all that stuff that makes classic clothing come back into style. And so I searched around some boxes of mine last time I was in the US to see if I could find any old ones (the blue-alligator is the giveaway for vintage Lacoste, they switched to green some years back.)

I had lots of Lacoste shirts during my childhood.
My mother came home with the shirts for me, in super-saturated greens and reds, their scratchy fabric softened beautifully in the washing machine and fit like nothing else. Afterward you broke them in, there was nothing like a good, slightly-faded, generously cut Lacoste shirt.

Except there was one demon that I had to exorcise from my past:

The alligator.

I was terrified of the little blue devil. Baring sharp teeth, his menacing red tongue licking his chops, and a sharp, whip-like tail…it was all too frightening for me to deal with on my little chest, and I was scared.

So I did what every healthy, red-blooded American boy would do: I snipped them off with a scissors, leaving a gaping hole in my shirts.

(I also used to wear my Fruit-Of-The-Loom briefs backwards, since I liked pulling out the waistband several times a day and looking down at the colorful fruits lined up on the label.)

I did manage to find a vintage Lacoste shirt that for some reason has escaped my snipping. The fit was still fabulous and the color, Bordeaux, was a deep, wine-like red, still rich and robust after all these years. Wearing it was like finding that perfect partner who you can take shopping at a nice boutique or to a decent restaurant, but comfortable enough for lounging around with in your flannel pajama bottoms.

So I went to the Lacoste store in Paris and bought another new polo shirt last year.
The color?
Acidulé; a wildly-vivid hue, reminiscent of Chartreuse liquor mixed with Orangina. Then electrocuted. I immediately wore it to a café and was swarmed by tiny flies, apparently as attracted by it’s traffic-stopping color as I was.

Last week I made even more progress in getting over my fear of the Alligator and bought two more shirts. The Lacoste shop near the Bastille was having a liquidation avant traveaux (before the construction), and selling off all their stock at a rather nice discount, something you don’t see too often in pricey Paris. The salesperson loaded me up with a stack of polo shirts, pointed me towards le cabine d’essayage, and before I knew it I was standing at the register with a stack of neatly-folded shirts, in insanely over-the-top colors like Bonbon, Framboise, and Tomate.

I shouldn’t be too hard to spot on the streets of Paris, come this spring.

I’ll be the one swarmed by flies.

70 rue du Faubourg St. Antoine

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  • AlliK
    February 15, 2006 2:11pm

    Re: prep school and bullying for intentional collar “popping,” now it’s exactly the style that all the prep school kids are wearing (you can’t walk around M Street here in DC without seeing it). And on top of that, they boys are layering two of the wacky colored shirts on top each other, often with both collars popped (and no sense of irony)!

  • February 15, 2006 3:02pm

    I’m giggling at the thought of you checking your underwear label several times a day as a kid. Cute!

  • jennifer
    February 15, 2006 4:26pm

    The layering of the izods also happened in the early to mid 80’s when Polo shirts were considered even more hip; the colors were layered and then worn with the corduroys animals and things stitched all over them (owls, anchors, cherries etc). If you duplicated the “look” with izods then, you weren’t nearly as cool as the kids with the polos.
    This entry based on personal experience at the Universit of Cincinnati 1981-85…very scary.
    I only had izods…never polo shirts. Never as cool.

  • February 15, 2006 4:52pm

    There was a guy that cut out all the alligators on his shirts, leaving the hole.. but then had the alligator tattooed on his chest in the correct spot!
    HOW SF!
    oops was that you?

  • February 15, 2006 6:11pm

    What delicious looking colors David ! A new Lacoste shop opened recently on 5th Avenue & 49th st.They had signs up warning us of their imminent arrival but they never gave us an avant traveaux sale :( I’m going to march in & complain…maybe we could get one retroactively :) the Framboise, is very appealing..

  • February 15, 2006 9:04pm

    Mr Lebovitz, my darling. I am glad we have gotten these facts into the open so I can practise and learn them by rote. Now, when the immigration investigators come to check up on the validity of our marriage, I can amuse them and impress them with the fruit of the loom story. I won’t be able to stop giggling so I am certain they will be charmed.

  • February 15, 2006 9:54pm

    Ah, David, I remember these shirts well. When I was in junior high school in southern California, boys and girls wore alligator shirts (that’s what we called them). My favorite was the cherry red. Considering where the alligator landed on me, cutting it out wasn’t an option. But I did dislike it, intensely.

    And Sam, you poor dear, remember all the stories you want. But remember — he’s marrying me.

  • Ash
    February 16, 2006 2:54am

    I wondered why Lacoste seemed suddenly to be the entire spring line in the shop at my gym.

    Now I know :) Its all because of David …

  • February 16, 2006 8:26am

    Izod alligator shirts are all the rage here in Buenos Aires these days – especially amongst the teen and young adult set – not having an alligator on your chest is tantamount to declaring yourself hopelessly out of touch with fashion reality.

  • February 16, 2006 9:28am

    Boy does that bring back memories! I remember seeing all the preppies in school wearing the Izods, with the collars up, and also with the wild pants like Jennifer (above). I was anti-label then, just as I am now, however you will see me sporting L.L. Bean and Smartwool. They also last forever and fit fantastically.

    Congrats on facing your ‘gator fears.

    I have a chocolate question — have you paired it or have tasted it paired with pineapple? If so, could you please write about it and the products? I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

  • Lisa
    February 16, 2006 1:19pm

    When I was in high school I got an Izod sweater for Christmas and promptly took off the alligator; I guess I felt it was too preppy. That spring, I went to prom wearing a dress my mother had made me — a colored replica of Princess Di’s wedding gown (sans train). Lifting a glass of Champagne to toast, I discovered my mom had had the last laugh when my friends pointed out that she’d sewn the alligator into the inside cuff of my puffy ruffled sleeve. Long live the ‘gator.

  • February 16, 2006 2:04pm

    Diva Judy: At first I thought you were kidding, but after living in San Francisco for 20 years, I believe you! That’s the kind of thing I miss about SF…

    Lisa: Thanks for the story, I had a good laugh!

    Deb: As far as I know, Lacoste doesn’t make a pineapple/chocolate combination, but when they do, I’ll try to write about it.

    Dan: Glad Argentinean teenagers aren’t afraid of alligators, like me.

    Shauna: I’m sure that was one, happy croc (no wonder his tounge is hanging out.)

    Sam: You’ll have to get Fred a pair, and take a peek once in a while yourself.

    Carol: The sale is a once-in-a lifetime thing around here. I’ve never seen the Lacoste sell the polo shirts at reduced prices. I hesitated printing the address, since I think I need to go back tomorrow!

    Alli: Can you ask them to turn them down, or do it for them?

    Jen: That IS scary. Are you sure they weren’t Garr-animals?

    Ash: Remember, you go to the gym to get fit, not to shop, my dear.

  • Ben
    February 17, 2006 8:58am

    Not to nit-pick your otherwise great site, but I believe that Rene Lacoste’s nick-name was “le crocodile.” This would make the little critter on the front of your shirts a crocodile, not an alligator. Seems like a minor distinction, but they are actually two distinct species of reptile.


  • February 17, 2006 11:30am

    hi Ben:
    Yes, there is a difference between alligators and crocodiles, although I got the historical info from the US Lacoste web site. Perhaps it was not a good translation on their part, but here it is, paraphrased…

    “The true story of the “Crocodile” begins in 1927. René LACOSTE liked to recount how his nickname became an emblem recognized throughout the world.

    “I was nicknamed “the Alligator” by the American press, after I made a bet with the Captain of the French Davis Cup Team concerning a suitcase made from alligator skin….”

  • February 17, 2006 1:15pm

    Wow….I wonder if Dolphin short are coming back too?

  • February 20, 2006 6:42pm

    Geez, you went to one rough prep school. R. Lauren Polo shirts were de rigeur by the time I got to prep school, and I never could get the collar right. But nobody ever beat me up or anything. : )

  • Katie (aka a 6th grader)
    February 23, 2006 8:09pm

    I want to leave a comment about your Dulce de Leche but I don’t know how! Anyway I will leave it here. I am cooking Dulce de Leche for a school project and I love your recipe! It is so much faster! I am doing my project on Argentina! I just wanted to know that when you take it out of the fridge, is it hard? Hard like a chocolate bar? Because I wanted to make it for my class but I wanted to make the hard kind. Would you recipe work? If you don’t anwser me by 2/26/06 well then I will just try it and hope it works!