A number of local customs helped forge Needham into a cohesive community — coming together on Memorial Field for fireworks on the Fourth of July, gossiping at the town dump on Saturdays and the car wash on Sundays, canoeing on the Charles at Red Wing Bay, loitering on the town common hoping to catch a glimpse of one of Needham’s sports icons, like Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, or Vic Gatto, hero of The Game in 1968 when Harvard “beat” Yale, 29-29.
But something else helped weave Needham’s social fabric together even more tightly — most of us wore irregular underwear. This unifying aspect of the town’s sartorial history may not have come up in connection with Needham’s recent 300th anniversary celebration, but it is, nonetheless, important.
One of the many things Needham had going for it was Calvert’s in Needham Heights. Calvert’s sold factory seconds. It was our very own Filene’s Basement without having to go into Boston. Calvert’s was an outlet for the venerable Carter Co. In its day, Carter’s was a prominent manufacturer of knitwear, and still today is the largest maker of baby clothing in the United States. As such, Calvert’s had a superb selection of first-class seconds from Carter’s. The irregular underwear and irregular baby clothes departments were especially strong.
The irregular men’s briefs and T-shirts generally had helpful bright red arrows stuck to the garment. The arrow pointed directly to the defect in the item in which you were about to invest upwards of 99 cents. Imperfections were usually minor, sometimes almost imperceptible. In cases where the defect was blatant, like a three-armed T-shirt or undies with no elastic around the waist or no fly, an arrow was not necessary, for most shoppers anyway.
Though this is the first time I’ve publicly admitted it, I regularly wore irregular underwear, and I almost always remembered to remove the bright red arrows. No one seemed to notice I was wearing irregs, and if they did, they didn’t make a deal out of it because they too undoubtedly belonged to Needham’s proud legion of irregularista.