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A Clean Sharp Image”: Don Cherry’s Suits as Sartorial Statements

Julia Petrov

Abstract | Cana­di­an sports com­men­ta­tor Don Cher­ry is noto­ri­ous for his out­spo­ken opin­ions and flam­boy­ant style, both attract­ing pop­u­lar atten­tion. This arti­cle exam­ines his atten­tion-grab­bing on-air style as an exten­sion of both his val­ues for the game of hock­ey and his view of him­self as a work­ing-class boy made good. I argue that Cher­ry delib­er­ate­ly uses his suits to embody his social and per­son­al val­ues. Draw­ing on fash­ion stud­ies approach­es, I show that while not exact­ly fash­ion­able in terms of trendi­ness, Cherry’s suits are exam­ples of the abil­i­ty of cloth­ing to be index­i­cal of work­ing-class per­son­al­i­ty transformed.

Résumé | Le com­men­ta­teur sportif cana­di­en Don Cher­ry est célèbre pour ses opin­ions fra­cas­santes et son style haut en couleur qui captent tous les deux l’attention du pub­lic. Cet arti­cle exam­ine son style accrocheur devant la caméra comme une exten­sion de ses valeurs pour le sport du hock­ey et de l’image qu’il a de lui-même comme celle d’un enfant de la classe ouvrière qui a réus­si. J’avance l’idée que Cher­ry utilise délibéré­ment ses tenues pour sym­bol­is­er ses valeurs sociales et per­son­nelles. Util­isant les approches des études sur la mode, je cherche à mon­tr­er que bien qu’elles ne soient pas véri­ta­ble­ment du dernier cri en ter­mes de mode, les tenues de Cher­ry sont des exem­ples de la capac­ité du vête­ment à représen­ter la trans­for­ma­tion de per­son­nal­ité de la classe ouvrière.

The Cana­di­an sports broad­cast­er Don “Grapes” Cher­ry is a fix­ture of nation­al broad­cast­ing and cul­tur­al life. He is best known for his seg­ment “Coach’s Cor­ner,” broad­cast dur­ing inter­mis­sions in NHL games on CBC, CityTV, and Sport­snet chan­nels. His week­ly game com­men­tary has earned the atten­tion of a nation, and he was even vot­ed the 7th Great­est Cana­di­an in a nation­al tele­vised con­test (Jubas). His leg­endary sta­tus seems to be as much due to his knowl­edge of the game as his garb: “loud as the jack­ets he wears” (Rush), as the New York Times put it. Indeed, he has become not only icon­ic because of his longevi­ty as a media per­son­al­i­ty, but also icon­ic because his out­fits have become con­ven­tion­alised ref­er­ences to themselves.

To a casu­al observ­er, Don Cherry’s cham­pi­oning of an aggres­sive, work­ing-class mas­culin­i­ty in his “Coach’s Cor­ner” seg­ments on CBC’s Hock­ey Night in Cana­da may seem to be at odds with his cus­tom-tai­lored, flam­boy­ant style. Cherry’s sar­to­r­i­al choic­es have been the amus­ing sub­ject of count­less inter­views, YouTube com­pi­la­tion videos, Red­dit threads, and even Buz­zfeed quizzes, but, unlike his con­tri­bu­tions to dis­cours­es around sports, Cana­di­an nation­al iden­ti­ty (Knowles; Dal­laire and Den­nis), vio­lence (Gillet White and Young; Allain, “Real Fast and Tough”), and mas­culin­i­ty (Jubas; Allain, “A Good Cana­di­an Boy”), the state­ments made by his suits, though wide­ly acknowl­edged as being part of his pop­u­lar appeal, have not been the sus­tained and sin­gu­lar sub­jects of aca­d­e­m­ic study. This arti­cle, then, will build on this ear­li­er work and pro­vide a fash­ion stud­ies descrip­tion of his style, draw­ing on Cherry’s own words to get at the mean­ings of his out­ra­geous on-air outfits.

Inspired by Julie Rak’s analy­sis of Cherry’s con­struc­tion of him­self in the con­text of Cana­di­an celebri­ty, this arti­cle exam­ines his suits from a cul­tur­al stud­ies per­spec­tive, analysing Cherry’s con­struc­tion of his pub­lic image through the details of his icon­ic look. Far from just a strat­e­gy to draw visu­al atten­tion to him­self as a tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ty (often at the cost of his con­ser­v­a­tive­ly dressed co-anchor, Ron MacLean), it is clear that Cher­ry is proud­ly savvy about the semi­otics of his suits, and know­ing­ly rejects main­stream menswear. His assertive pro­vi­sion­ing of his own fab­rics, the hyper-mas­cu­line cut of his jack­ets, the old-fash­ioned details of his col­lars and cuffs, and the brash prints that match his bold tone are all sym­bol­ic exten­sions of his expressed val­ues for the game of hock­ey. While his stiff high col­lars and triple-breast­ed jack­ets can­not be called fash­ion­able in the sense of fol­low­ing or set­ting trends, I argue that Cherry’s style belongs to a tra­di­tion of work­ing-class male sar­to­r­i­al self-def­i­n­i­tion, from 19th-cen­tu­ry dudes, mash­ers, and swells, to 1950s ted­dy boys and the fash­ion­able rap­pers of today, updat­ed for a medi­at­ed mod­ern visu­al cul­ture that thrives on the pro­jec­tion of personality.

Cherry’s Look

A for­mer hock­ey play­er and coach, Don Cher­ry has been a fix­ture of sports com­men­tary on Cana­di­an tele­vi­sion for near­ly 40 years. Since 1986, he has been part­nered with vet­er­an sports­cast­er and ref­er­ee Ron MacLean, who pro­vides a gen­tle foil to Cherry’s brash appear­ance and opin­ions. MacLean dress­es pro­fes­sion­al­ly on air, in a suit and tie, and his cloth­ing choic­es are deeply con­ser­v­a­tive: blacks, blues, greys, and kha­ki colours pre­dom­i­nate, with sub­dued pat­terns in stripes, dots, or checks only peri­od­i­cal­ly intro­duced. He prefers sin­gle-breast­ed jack­ets, and gen­er­al­ly eschews dec­o­ra­tive details like pock­et squares and tie clips. Over­all, MacLean seems gen­er­al­ly unin­ter­est­ed in pro­mot­ing his per­son­al­i­ty visu­al­ly; indeed, his style might be con­sid­ered retir­ing even for a news read­er or a politi­cian. When study­ing video of the two hosts togeth­er over time, through clips made avail­able online, a delib­er­ate pat­tern of rhetor­i­cal oppo­si­tion seems to emerge, with MacLean’s drab­ness serv­ing to fur­ther illu­mi­nate Cherry’s flam­boy­ance. Some­times, the two men’s out­fits even seem coor­di­nat­ed, as though they had com­mu­ni­cat­ed before­hand which colours or pat­terns Cher­ry would wear, so that MacLean could wear some­thing (usu­al­ly a tie) to match or con­trast with his costar.

In the ear­ly days of “Coach’s Cor­ner,” Cher­ry would stand out less due to the pat­terns of his jack­ets (the ear­ly 1980s being a peri­od of bold fab­rics in fash­ion) and more for their cut (not the loose and unstruc­tured sports jack­ets as were then pop­u­lar), as well as his eccen­tri­cal­ly old-fash­ioned shirts with their tall starched white col­lars and often con­trast­ing pat­terned body. His ties, too, would fre­quent­ly be the sub­ject of com­ment on- and off-air. Yet as time went on, Cher­ry began to rev­el in increas­ing­ly more out­ra­geous prints, which have, with the advent of the social net­work, been the fod­der of blogs, YouTube com­pi­la­tions, and oth­er inter­net com­men­tary (Fig. 1). His jack­ets in par­tic­u­lar are so close­ly watched that he brings them to the stu­dio in a gar­ment bag, putting them on only just before film­ing his seg­ment (Pop­plewell). Part of this is so that he looks as neat as pos­si­ble (Cher­ry, Hock­ey Sto­ries 82) but there is also a the­atri­cal ele­ment to the antic­i­pat­ed reveal.

Figure 1: “The many suits of Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry,” Reddit, uploaded by used ihateyourband, 15 Jan 2013,

Fig­ure 1: “The many suits of Cana­di­an hock­ey com­men­ta­tor Don Cher­ry,” Red­dit, uploaded by used ihatey­our­band, 15 Jan 2013, http://​imgur​.com/​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​/​z​T​2H1

The clas­sic Don Cher­ry look is read­i­ly clas­si­fi­able. He wears two- or three-piece suits, often in a bright sol­id or extreme­ly large-scale pat­tern. His jack­ets always have very wide shoul­ders, aggres­sive­ly angled notched lapels, and can be sin­gle-, dou­ble-, triple-, or even quadru­ple-breast­ed. He acces­sorizes with pock­et squares and a flower in his lapel (usu­al­ly a rose, in hon­our of his first wife). Some­times, he will also add a pin—a Remem­brance Day pop­py or a Sup­port the Troops gold rib­bon. His shirts (only ever worn once) may be white or pat­terned, but always with very high starched col­lars (3 ½ inch­es), the tabs held by a bar, and mono­grammed wide cuffs, usu­al­ly with promi­nent sports-themed cuf­flinks. A large wrist­watch and heavy dia­mond ring on his left hand accen­tu­ate his ges­tic­u­la­tions on screen. He does not wear tie bars, appar­ent­ly because he often untucks his tie to demon­strate its design on screen: these are some­times cus­tom-print­ed for him and fea­ture say­ings or ani­mals of which he is fond; alter­na­tive­ly, he also wears ties with sports fran­chise logos, car­toon char­ac­ters, or in pat­terns that match his jack­ets. These are tied in a sin­gle Wind­sor knot, in a unique reverse method Cher­ry shares with his idol, hock­ey leg­end Bob­by Orr (Pearce).

Unlike some celebri­ties who assem­ble their out­fits from avail­able ready-to-wear gar­ments, Cherry’s suits are not off-the-rack. Start­ing in 1985, Cherry’s suits were cus­tom-made by Frank Cosco, an expe­ri­enced Toron­to tai­lor to pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes, until short­ly before Frank’s death in 2007. Since 2010, Cherry’s main tai­lor has been John Coral­lo at the North Toron­to bou­tique The Coop (Dea­con). The bespoke approach to build­ing Cherry’s suits is, like his shirt col­lars, out­side the con­ven­tion­al fash­ion sys­tem. Cher­ry pur­chas­es his own fab­rics (usu­al­ly dis­count uphol­stery mate­r­i­al from the nation­al chain store Fab­ri­cland) and takes them to Coop for tai­lor­ing to his own spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Both the fab­ric and the fit are impor­tant to Cher­ry, as he revealed on his Twit­ter account in 2013: “Well, I go to a store called Coop on Yonge Street. John, my tai­lor does a great job. I’ve been going to him for 3 years. I just give him mate­r­i­al and I don’t have to wor­ry. They fit like a glove. Tight and that’s the way I like them. It’s very dif­fi­cult to work with the mate­r­i­al I give him as you know they aren’t made for suits” (qtd. in Cow­an). Thus, every­thing about his out­fits is unique: their mate­r­i­al, fit, and style.

The blog Don We Now Our Gay Appar­el, ded­i­cat­ed to the sub­ject of Cherry’s on-screen looks, sug­gest­ed that he looks like a 1920s gang­ster (“Is Don Cher­ry a Code Name?”). This is an apt metaphor, because, like Cher­ry, the endur­ing image of these pet­ty crim­i­nals, as por­trayed in clas­sic Hol­ly­wood films, is of work­ing-class boys who main­tained their image with casu­al vio­lence, snap­py dia­logue, and occa­sion­al big­otry. Although Cherry’s exag­ger­at­ed suits are a long way away from the casu­al ele­gance of James Cagney, there is some sim­i­lar­i­ty to the wide lapels, tall col­lars, and sharply tai­lored sil­hou­ettes of the ear­ly-20th cen­tu­ry. The starched col­lars Cher­ry wears were a fea­ture of menswear around 1905-1915. Indeed, his pre­ferred com­bi­na­tion of a white starched col­lar and pat­terned shirt can be seen in adver­tise­ments for Arrow Col­lars of that peri­od (Fig. 2). Indeed, Cherry’s use of pat­terned cloth, such as large-scale checks, tar­tans, or bold-coloured stripes is also a fea­ture of Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian sports­wear, the fab­rics of which were con­sid­ered more infor­mal than the solids and pin­stripes worn for busi­ness or evening occa­sions. How­ev­er, the empha­sis on the chest and shoul­ders seen in Cherry’s jack­ets is more char­ac­ter­is­tic of 1930s menswear (Fig. 3). While his jack­ets are, in gen­er­al, cut high­er, the place­ment of the but­tons open­ing wide across the chest and nar­row­ing towards the waist, as well as the peaked lapels that point to aggres­sive shoul­der pads, are throw­backs to that decade’s fash­ion. Indeed, when inter­viewed by the nation­al news­pa­per The Globe and Mail about his style in 2002, Cher­ry stat­ed: “I con­sid­er my style that of the men of the 1930s, where men had an ele­gant style, tight suits, tight col­lars, lots of jew­ellery, a clean sharp image” (Pearce). Cher­ry was born in 1934, and his stat­ed role-mod­el is his father, Del Cherry—an ama­teur base­ball and foot­ball player—whose cus­tom-tai­lored, dandy style was also derived from that era. Indeed, in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Cher­ry cap­tions a pho­to­graph of his father hold­ing him as a tod­dler with the rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, “Doesn’t he look like he should be in Board­walk Empire?” (Cher­ry, Cher­ry Straight Up and Per­son­al n.p.)—alluding to the HBO series cen­tred on crim­i­nal activ­i­ty in Atlantic City, N.J. dur­ing the 1920s and 1930s. When inter­viewed for the Cana­di­an lifestyle talk show Steven and Chris in 2012, Cher­ry reit­er­at­ed: “I go back to 1936—the way [peo­ple] dressed back then. I thought they were the sharpest dressers of all” (“Back­stage Q&A”).

Figure 2: “Arrow collars & shirts. Saturday evening post, April 12, 1913.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1895 - 1917. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art&Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library.

Fig­ure 2: “Arrow col­lars & shirts. Sat­ur­day evening post, April 12, 1913.” The New York Pub­lic Library Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions. 1895 - 1917. The Miri­am and Ira D. Wal­lach Divi­sion of Art, Prints and Pho­tographs: Art&Architecture Col­lec­tion, The New York Pub­lic Library. http://​dig​i​tal​col​lec​tions​.nypl​.org/​i​t​e​m​s​/​5​1​0​d​4​7​e​2​-​9​0​e​6​-​a​3​d​9​-​e​0​4​0​-​e​0​0​a​1​8​0​6​4​a99

Figure 3: Menswear 1930s - American, Plate 020. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fig­ure 3: Menswear 1930s - Amer­i­can, Plate 020. Gift of Wood­man Thomp­son. Cos­tume Insti­tute, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. http://​lib​m​ma​.con​tent​dm​.oclc​.org/​c​d​m​/​r​e​f​/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​/​p​1​5​3​2​4​c​o​l​l​1​2​/​i​d​/​9​072

Yet exag­ger­at­ed col­lars, bold prints, and accen­tu­at­ed waist­lines were also revived in the male fash­ions of the 1970s, the decade of Cherry’s coach­ing career. His son Tim sug­gests that the out­ra­geous jack­ets date back to 1979, when Cher­ry was inter­viewed by Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists wear­ing a crushed vel­vet bur­gundy or pur­ple jack­et: “To me, that was Dad’s first over-the-top jack­et. It was pret­ty tame com­pared to some of the jack­ets he wears today” (Cher­ry, Hock­ey Sto­ries Part 2 305). Accord­ing to Cher­ry, how­ev­er, he began wear­ing the high col­lars and plaid jack­ets that are syn­ony­mous with his style as ear­ly as 1971, when he was coach­ing in Rochester, N.Y. It is unsur­pris­ing, then, that he should choose to ref­er­ence the fash­ions of his coach­ing days in his Coach’s Cor­ner outfits.

Semiotics and Values

Cher­ry has been con­scious of his cloth­ing for a long time. In his books, he recalls what he wore at impor­tant junc­tures: writ­ing about his ear­li­est Coach’s Cor­ner seg­ments, he remem­bers his out­fit: a tan ultra-suede jack­et (Cher­ry, Hock­ey Sto­ries Part 2 41). Remem­ber­ing the chal­lenges of pre­sent­ing in Sochi dur­ing the 2014 Win­ter Olympics, he con­cludes: “I don’t know if ‘Coach’s Cor­ner’ was good or not, but the suits were and Cana­da won both golds in hockey—that was the main thing” (Cher­ry, Straight Up and Per­son­al 90). The syn­tax of the sen­tence makes it dif­fi­cult to deter­mine whether he is proud­er of his and Ron MacLean’s suits or the dou­ble gold medals won by the Cana­di­an hock­ey team. Evi­dent­ly, Cher­ry is also con­scious of whether his cloth­ing achieved its desired effect; rem­i­nisc­ing about his coach­ing days, he recalls wear­ing a plaid jack­et whose flat­ter­ing fit was not accu­rate­ly record­ed by a jour­nal­ist: “So there I was with a nice jack­et on, sort of a light brown plaid. I had black pants. I looked pret­ty good. […]. The next day in the paper, a woman reporter real­ly ripped us. […]. She said, ‘Not only that, Cher­ry had a very bland jack­et on.’ […]. She didn’t say that I had a nice plaid jack­et. […]. Nev­er let the facts get in the way of a good sto­ry” (Cher­ry, Hock­ey Sto­ries Part 2 112-113). Although this inci­dent took place in 2001 or 2002, Cher­ry remem­bers it bit­ter­ly. In his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, he cap­tions a pho­to of him­self as a coach in the 1970s in a dark three-piece suit with a pock­et square, watch chain, and pin nip­ping his tall col­lar behind a snowflake print­ed tie as “Look­ing sharp behind the bench in the Boston Gar­den” (Cher­ry, Straight Up And Per­son­al n.p.).

Hock­ey, to Cher­ry, is not an excuse for mere play or casu­al vio­lence; as he points out, “when you’re going to play hock­ey, you’re not going to see your friends, and you don’t want to look like a bunch of thugs” (Cher­ry, Don Cherry’s Sports Heroes 53). Even the vio­lence that is, to Cher­ry, an impor­tant part of the game, comes with its own set of sar­to­r­i­al rules; Cher­ry con­sid­ers one of his main con­tri­bu­tions to hock­ey to be redesign­ing cloth­ing to be more con­ducive to fights. He claims to have loos­ened elbow pads for swing­ing punch­es, tied down sweaters like sock garters to pre­vent being ambushed when anoth­er play­er would pull it over his head, and cut a slit in the neck of his jer­sey to save his neck from injury when it would get pulled (Cher­ry, Straight Up And Per­son­al 162-4). In this con­text, the adapt­ed hock­ey uni­form is a means to achieve the kind of aggres­sive play that Cher­ry equates with the game—the kind of behav­iour that Kristi Allain has called “hege­mon­ic Cana­di­an hock­ey mas­culin­i­ty” (“Real Fast and Tough” 473).

To Cher­ry, wear­ing a suit—or at the very least, a shirt and tie—is part of the pro­fes­sion­al image required for hock­ey. Apart from hav­ing a uni­form and spe­cial equip­ment to play the game, he fre­quent­ly encour­ages both ama­teurs and pro­fes­sion­als to wear for­mal cloth­ing to delin­eate the sport as a dis­tinc­tive activ­i­ty and to civ­i­lize their behav­iour. The game is spe­cial, and he believes that for­mal­i­ty is part of hockey’s her­itage. A care for image and pro­to­col is, for Cher­ry, aligned with pro­fes­sion­al­ism, team spir­it, upward mobil­i­ty, and Cana­di­an cul­ture (Cher­ry, Don Cherry’s Sports Heroes 54). Hon­esty and respectabil­i­ty are also impor­tant hock­ey val­ues for Cher­ry, some­thing he believes is expressed through dress:

One night on “Coach’s Cor­ner,” I showed some bas­ket­ball play­ers walk­ing into their game dressed like slugs, and then I showed some hock­ey play­ers walk­ing into their game dressed like they just stepped out of Esquire, and then I showed Evan­der Kane of the Win­nipeg Jets in an inter­view, and he looked like a male mod­el. I was mak­ing a point. Hock­ey play­ers have respect for them­selves and respect for the game. In many ways—the way they act and the way they dress. (Cher­ry, Straight Up And Per­son­al 159)

He cred­its the lack of drugs and crime in hock­ey (as opposed to oth­er sports) to this uni­formed cour­tesy, and thinks this is some­thing that starts at a young age in ama­teur hockey:

It does my heart good to see them [minor midget play­ers] with their team jack­ets and their shirts and ties. What sport in the world has young play­ers wear­ing shirts and ties to and from their games? The same as our junior teams—90 per cent shirts and ties. I remem­ber in the Amer­i­can Hock­ey League, we’d trav­el ten hours on the bus, but when we’d get off, we would have shirts and ties, respect for the game and respect for our­selves. (Cher­ry, Straight Up And Per­son­al 161)

As a tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor on hock­ey, there­fore, Cher­ry strives to main­tain the same sar­to­r­i­al stan­dard on screen. Set­ting a pub­lic exam­ple through his dress in demeanor hear­kens back to a Renais­sance ide­al of the court­ly gen­tle­man with a moral imper­a­tive to dress accord­ing to his sta­tion, as a his­to­ri­an of the suit David M. Kuch­ta writes: “brav­ery in dress was jus­ti­fied by brav­ery in bat­tle. Con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion was a right­ful and man­ly hon­or bestowed upon him by his noble sta­tus and posi­tion at court” (503-504). Just like his Renais­sance pre­de­ces­sors, Cherry’s self-fash­ion­ing is a social and pro­fes­sion­al obligation.

Cherry’s con­scious­ness about cloth­ing has become part of his per­for­mance as a com­men­ta­tor. He is pur­pose­ful with his image and vis­i­bil­i­ty, as he explained in an inter­view on Steven and Chris:

When I was in Boston I got a new suit and every­body in the papers were say­ing: “Oh, what a beau­ti­ful suit.” So I thought, “Well, if they like this suit, let’s get a plaid.” So I got plaid. It then got to a point where peo­ple were tun­ing in to see what I was wear­ing, not what I was coach­ing. Then I got into tele­vi­sion. I remem­ber they all wore blue jack­ets. I said, “I don’t have to wear one of those jack­ets.” So I got into the plaid and every­thing else. Now I go out and get drap­ery and every­thing. I think the kids get a big kick out of it too. (“Back­stage Q&A”)

He fre­quent­ly dis­cuss­es his out­fits on air, point­ing out details to the cam­era. When he does, he high­lights them as a cos­tume; they per­mit him to express his alle­giance to par­tic­u­lar hock­ey teams through his choic­es of colours or logos, or to appeal to “the kids” with car­toon ties. In 2008, he gave fans a com­ic look into his style process with an appear­ance on the CBC satir­i­cal pro­gram Rick Mer­cer Report (Fig. 4). Cher­ry took the host through the drap­ery sec­tion at Fab­ri­cland, choos­ing a zebra print. The duo then pro­ceeds to fit­tings at his tai­lor, and all the while Cher­ry signs auto­graphs. In the last scene, Cher­ry adjusts his tie in a mir­rored door, from behind which Mer­cer emerges wear­ing a copy of Cherry’s suit in the zebra print, with a high-col­lared shirt, wide tie, and pock­et square (but sans Cherry’s sig­na­ture rose in his lapel). In effect, Mer­cer is Cherry’s mir­ror image—if Cher­ry is an effete, but het­ero­sex­u­al hyper­mas­cu­line man, Mer­cer is open­ly gay, but het­ero­nor­ma­tive in his self-pre­sen­ta­tion; the joke is that accord­ing to stereo­types Mer­cer (who usu­al­ly wears open-col­lar white shirts and black suits) should be wear­ing out­ra­geous out­fits. Yet I would argue that Cherry’s suits are exag­ger­at­ed sym­bols for what he per­ceives as his authen­tic self: a proud­ly well-tai­lored work­ing-class ath­lete. Fur­ther­more, as Rak sug­gests, his suits allow him to align him­self with the cos­tumed fan audi­ences for hock­ey, but also, in his self-aware out­ra­geous­ness, as an out­sider to the wealthy elite who con­trol the media and the game.

Figure 4: Screencap from “Making a suit with Don Cherry.” YouTube, uploaded by Rick Mercer Report, 18 Nov. 2008

Fig­ure 4: Screen­cap from “Mak­ing a suit with Don Cher­ry.” YouTube, uploaded by Rick Mer­cer Report, 18 Nov. 2008, https://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​E​F​P​u​M​z​z​a​9hk.

Working-Class Dandy

It is very impor­tant to Cher­ry to stay close to his roots. He devotes a sec­tion in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy to what he calls his “minor lea­guer” ways—the lin­ger­ing sense that his fame and suc­cess are fleet­ing. He describes feel­ing guilty fly­ing first class, eat­ing out, or buy­ing expen­sive con­sumer items; he envies Ron MacLean’s abil­i­ty to treat him­self and thinks about what it felt like to work an inse­cure job in con­struc­tion or in minor-league hock­ey. He lives in a small house and dri­ves old cars. He insists that this is a con­scious con­sumer choice, rather than a char­ac­ter trait: “I am not cheap, I pay my rounds” (Cher­ry, Straight Up And Per­son­al 106). Indeed, over and over again in inter­views he under­scores the fact that he sources and pays for his cloth­ing him­self. In an inter­view, the news­pa­per Globe and Mail asked him, “Where do you shop? Any spe­cial peo­ple who help you out—salespeople, friends, fam­i­ly? Do you have any spon­sors?” (Pearce). In an age of celebri­ty styl­ists and endorse­ment deals, such a ques­tion is nat­ur­al. Yet Cher­ry bris­tled, and empha­sized his inde­pen­dence in his reply: “I buy my own clothes, noth­ing is giv­en to me, except the odd ties that a fan will send to me. Nobody picks out my clothes but me!” (Pearce). Eleven years lat­er, in a series of tweets, he reit­er­at­ed this point: “I pay for my shirts, suits, ties, jack­ets, cars etc. I pay for every­thing. I do not get any­thing for free. That’s just the way it has to be. As my dad used to say… there is no free lunch in this world” (qtd. in Cow­an 2013). It seems that this sar­to­r­i­al inde­pen­dence is not mere­ly a state­ment of his indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, but also relat­ed to his sen­si­tiv­i­ty about his class roots.

As Kristi Allain has not­ed in her dis­cus­sion of Cherry’s sports com­men­tary, “A Good Cana­di­an Boy,” the for­mer coach cham­pi­ons a nos­tal­gic vision of a pri­mar­i­ly rur­al, work­ing-class, aggres­sive mas­culin­i­ty with­in hock­ey, with its own whole­some moral­i­ty policed through hard work and fair play. Yet there are many con­tra­dic­tions inher­ent in his avowed identities—his lucra­tive roles as spokesper­son for lead­ing brands and his fame put him far apart from the hard-scrab­ble coun­try boys he iden­ti­fies with. Fur­ther­more, although his style harkens back to a tougher ver­sion of het­ero­nor­ma­tive mas­culin­i­ty, he him­self rec­og­nizes that its per­for­ma­tive flam­boy­ance may be seen as camp: “I must admit my style has been called fop­pish, but I like it. I also heard on the radio the oth­er day that I looked like a gay because every­thing was so clean and neat and all jew­ellery. Love it!” (Pearce). Indeed, more than one Twit­ter user has not­ed a sim­i­lar­i­ty between his style and that of the camp gay icon Sir Elton John (CBC News; @Pegger3D). Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and eccen­tric or extrav­a­gant dress are aligned in het­ero­nor­ma­tive stereo­types because of their asso­ci­a­tion with effem­i­na­cy. Susan Son­tag has sug­gest­ed that both are expres­sions of medi­at­ed pop­u­lar moder­ni­ty; in “Notes on Camp” (1964), she writes: “Camp is the mod­ern dandy­ism. Camp is the answer to the prob­lem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass cul­ture” (528). Her posi­tion has more recent­ly been reassert­ed in Fabio Cleto’s def­i­n­i­tion of camp as an aes­thet­ic, cen­ter­ing on car­ni­va­lesque flout­ing of con­ven­tions, espe­cial­ly in the dec­o­ra­tion of the body through fash­ion­able excess (9-10). While there are cer­tain­ly ele­ments of camp’s iron­ic friv­o­li­ty in Cherry’s wardrobe choic­es, his fas­tid­i­ous­ness about his appear­ance is, how­ev­er, less relat­ed to a per­for­mance of sex­u­al­i­ty and more close­ly aligned with a long tra­di­tion of work­ing-class pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with appear­ance as a dec­la­ra­tion of cul­tur­al capital.

In his sem­i­nal 1979 text, Dick Heb­di­ge ana­lyzed the uses of dress by work­ing-class youth sub­cul­tures in Britain, not­ing a tra­di­tion amongst many of them towards a kind of dandy­ism. The use of the term “dandy” may be a misnomer—generally, dandies are men who prac­tice extreme self-restraint in their search for fash­ion per­fec­tion as opposed to being flam­boy­ant­ly vul­gar. How­ev­er, in pop­u­lar usage, the term does refer to men who dis­play above-aver­age con­cern with self-fash­ion­ing and the high­ly vis­i­ble per­for­mance of style, in oppo­si­tion to nor­ma­tive (casu­al) atti­tudes to cloth­ing (see Bre­ward for a defin­i­tive overview of dandy­ism). Like­wise, in Hebdige’s case stud­ies, these often-mar­gin­al­ized groups used dress to dis­tin­guish them­selves. Hip­sters, ted­dy boys, mods, Rasta­far­i­ans, skin­heads, and punks to vary­ing degrees all appro­pri­at­ed nos­tal­gic and aspi­ra­tional aes­thet­ics to locate their own imag­ined iden­ti­ties. While James Gillett, Philip White, and Kevin Young sus­pect­ed that Cherry’s dandy­ism was a car­i­ca­ture and part of an act (61), a com­par­i­son between sub­cul­tur­al style and Don Cherry’s dress reveals com­pelling sim­i­lar­i­ties. Cher­ry has fash­ioned him­self into an icon: like the play­ers he coached, he uses his body as cap­i­tal. This self-aware­ness of sar­to­r­i­al per­for­mance has a long his­to­ry: Mon­i­ca L. Miller iden­ti­fies it in Black dandy­ism (219), its roots in the dress of the work­ing class­es, dias­poric Africans, and sports fig­ures of the ear­ly-20th cen­tu­ry. Even ear­li­er than that, the swells, mash­ers, and dudes of the 19th cen­tu­ry were work­ing-class men who dressed in upper-class styles, often in high­ly pat­terned and heav­i­ly acces­sorized suits to attract atten­tion. These men were asso­ci­at­ed with var­i­ous dis­rup­tions of mid­dle- and upper-class social norms, with their affect­ed cloth­ing, slangy speech, pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with leisure pur­suits and alco­hol, as well as their propen­si­ty towards assault: the swell (Fig. 5) betrays his pre­ten­sions to a high­er sta­tus with his showy dress and extreme facial hair; the mash­er mar­i­onette (Fig. 6) holds a beer bot­tle in his hand, and such young men were known for sex­u­al­ly harass­ing bar­maids and music hall actress­es; and Fig. 7 shows a brutish yet styl­ish man from the Bow­ery, an area of New York City noto­ri­ous for gang activity.

Figure 5: Alfred Concanen, Music sheet cover for ‘I like to be a swell’, written by Gaston Murray, sung by Arthur Lloyd, 19th century, lithograph, 33.5 x 23.5 cm, Gabrielle Enthoven Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fig­ure 5: Alfred Con­ca­nen, Music sheet cov­er for ‘I like to be a swell’, writ­ten by Gas­ton Mur­ray, sung by Arthur Lloyd, 19th cen­tu­ry, lith­o­graph, 33.5 x 23.5 cm, Gabrielle Enthoven Col­lec­tion, Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um. https://​col​lec​tions​.vam​.ac​.uk/​i​t​e​m​/​O​1​2​4​9​9​2​0​/​i​-​l​i​k​e​-​t​o​-​b​e​-​a​-​s​h​e​e​t​-​m​u​s​i​c​-​m​u​r​r​a​y​-​g​a​s​t​on/

Figure 6: Tiller family marionette company, marionette representing a young ‘masher’ brandishing a beer bottle, 1870 to 1890, carved wood with paint and fabric, 71 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fig­ure 6: Tiller fam­i­ly mar­i­onette com­pa­ny, mar­i­onette rep­re­sent­ing a young ‘mash­er’ bran­dish­ing a beer bot­tle, 1870 to 1890, carved wood with paint and fab­ric, 71 cm, Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um.https://​col​lec​tions​.vam​.ac​.uk/​i​t​e​m​/​O​5​7​5​5​8​/​m​a​r​i​o​n​e​t​t​e​-​t​i​l​l​e​r​-​f​a​m​i​l​y​-​m​a​r​i​o​n​e​t​te/

Fig­ure 7: “Cock­ney” and “Bow­ery” from World’s Dudes series (N31) for Allen & Gin­ter Cig­a­rettes, 1888, Com­mer­cial col­or lith­o­graphs, 7 x 3.8 cm each, The Jef­fer­son R. Bur­dick Col­lec­tion, Gift of Jef­fer­son R. Bur­dick, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. http://​www​.met​mu​se​um​.org/​a​r​t​/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​/​4​1​1​306, http://​www​.met​mu​se​um​.org/​a​r​t​/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​/​4​1​1​240

All these class­es of men, across time, have co-opt­ed dom­i­nant cul­tur­al sta­tus sym­bols to over­come their own dis­en­fran­chised sta­tus--which Roopali Mukher­jee has iden­ti­fied as a basis for hip-hop style (the alliance between rap­pers and lux­u­ry brands as a form of social posi­tion­ing). Yet it can also be said to be true for oth­er groups, such as the white work­ing class­es of the late-19th and ear­ly-20th cen­turies. And so, it seems, also for Don Cher­ry: he is able to use his plat­form to sig­nal the val­ues of those from back­grounds such as his and to give them cul­tur­al visibility.

But Is It Fashion?

Cherry’s out­fits gar­ner a lot of pub­lic atten­tion: there are blogs, Tum­blrs, Twit­ters, and Pin­ter­est boards ded­i­cat­ed to his “style,” though most are tongue-in-cheek homages to his most out­ra­geous looks. His jack­ets even have been screen-print­ed as designs for hock­ey jer­seys, usu­al­ly for char­i­ty games—the medi­um has become the mes­sage, as Cherry’s out­fits have come to stand in for the man him­self. Some play­ers, such as Mon­tre­al Cana­di­ens defence­man P.K. Sub­ban and Edmon­ton Oil­ers cap­tain Con­nor McDavid, have worn Cher­ry-style suits as cheeky trib­utes to the leg­endary com­men­ta­tor (Sub­ban actu­al­ly bor­rowed one of Cherry’s jack­ets for an on-air impres­sion in 2015). His co-host, Ron MacLean, also riffs on Cherry’s looks sometimes—wearing a dou­ble-breast­ed jack­et on his return to “Hock­ey Night in Cana­da” in 2016 (Mud­har), or bor­row­ing one of Cherry’s jack­ets (in saf­fron-yel­low raw silk) in 2002 (“Hock­ey Night in Cana­da”). Sur­pris­ing­ly, it fit him rather well through the shoul­ders and arms, although Cher­ry appears to be much heav­ier than MacLean, which demon­strates how the suits are cal­cu­lat­ed to empha­size and enlarge Cherry’s appearance.

Cher­ry points out that he has two wardrobes: one for his pub­lic appear­ances as a tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ty and anoth­er for his pri­vate life. He writes: “All those fan­cy suits and jack­ets. Hon­est­ly, I treat them as cos­tumes. I feel more at home with a T-shirt, cut-off sleeves and Crazeewear [Amer­i­can ath­let­ic-wear brand] pants” (Cher­ry, Straight Up And Per­son­al 105). Yet this casu­al look is also cos­tume-like. Indeed, can­did images of Cher­ry out-and-about show him almost under­cov­er in over­sized trench coats or bag­gy foot­ball jack­ets, heavy boots or train­ers, loose pants, and flat-caps worn low. Even when try­ing to be incon­spic­u­ous, he main­tains a dis­tinct visibility.

With his delib­er­ate ref­er­ences to 1930s style, Cher­ry stands apart from the con­tem­po­rary styles embraced by moder­ni­ty. Yet he is not the only famous sil­ver-haired male to wear anachro­nis­tic cloth­ing. The emi­nent­ly fash­ion­able Karl Lager­feld also wears extreme­ly high col­lars (as high as four inch­es, cus­tom-made for him by the Lon­don tai­lors Hilditch and Key), acces­sorizes with heavy jew­el­ry, and does not shy away from bold pat­tern or out­spo­ken opin­ions. He is equal­ly aware of its the­atri­cal­i­ty; in 2007 he said of his style, “I am like a car­i­ca­ture of myself and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me the Car­ni­val of Venice lasts all year long” (“Karl Lagerfeld’s Quotes”). It is per­haps more appro­pri­ate to call both of their looks a style rather than fashion—while it is imi­tat­ed, it is not com­mer­cial­ly pop­u­lar in the way that mass-mar­ket fash­ion is, and imi­ta­tions tend to be lov­ing humor­ous par­o­dies of Cher­ry or Lager­feld as per­son­al­i­ties rather than whole­sale attempts to copy a look for its aes­thet­ic appeal. Karl Lager­feld has even inte­grat­ed aspects of his look for fash­ion col­lec­tions (such as white col­lared shirts for his ready-to-wear Fall 2017 col­lec­tion) for those who wish to play­ful­ly mas­quer­ade as the design­er, whose brand is his own appear­ance. Indeed, Cher­ry dis­cour­ages would-be imi­ta­tors; when asked on Steven and Chris, “What’s your num­ber one fash­ion tip?” Cher­ry replied: “I don’t rec­om­mend any­one to wear what I’m wear­ing, espe­cial­ly the shirts. They’re very uncom­fort­able. As my Dad told me one time: it’s bet­ter to look good than feel good. You have to feel uncom­fort­able” (“Back­stage Q&A”). Indeed, to suf­fer for fash­ion seems to be, for Cher­ry, anoth­er way to express his mas­cu­line strength and fortitude.

Cherry’s style might be called kitsch: it is icon­ic but irrev­er­ent. Indeed, Rak has sug­gest­ed that there is an ele­ment of irony with­in Cherry’s wardrobe choic­es, a know­ing nod to his fans and an ide­al­ized past (162). How­ev­er, despite its seem­ing out­landish­ness, Cher­ry is total­ly com­mit­ted to his look, and this con­sis­ten­cy makes it seem sin­cere. Although he was named Canada’s “worst-dressed man” in 1994 (Smith), he actu­al­ly pro­duced a sur­pris­ing­ly sen­si­ble list of tips for wear­ing suits and ties for Macleans mag­a­zine in 2013, exhort­ing male read­ers to press their cloth­ing and con­sid­er its fit and appro­pri­ate­ness to the occa­sion. Yet, for the 10th and final tip, he admits that while a casu­al look may be appro­pri­ate to some occa­sions (such as trav­el­ling by air), it is not for him. Like­wise, in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Straight Up and Per­son­al, Cher­ry dis­cuss­es his flight to Afghanistan:

It seems we are fly­ing for­ev­er, and I can look around and every­body looks so com­fort­able in their casu­al wear. Why do I have to be so vain that I must trav­el in a suit, shirt and tie? Ron [MacLean] and I are the only ones in the media who trav­el in suits and ties. Much to our regret, when the finals run into late June and we’re in the heat from places like L.A. and Tam­pa, the shirt looks uncomfortable—and they are, but you are who you are. (47)

No mat­ter how out­ra­geous he may seem to oth­ers, or how out of touch with con­tem­po­rary trends, Cher­ry has a deep need to be authen­tic to his own vision of himself.


In the ear­ly 2000s, the “Coach’s Cor­ner” seg­ment was spon­sored by men’s cloth­ing brand Moore’s. As Thom Work­man has point­ed out, the con­trast between their con­ser­v­a­tive, cut-price styles and Cherry’s flashy out­fits pre­sent­ed an appar­ent­ly ludi­crous con­trast (37). Yet as this arti­cle has shown, the company’s “Well Made, Well Priced, Well Dressed” slo­gan also fits well with Cherry’s ideas about respect­ful, hum­ble, fru­gal, work­ing-class hock­ey and, if we are to take his own words at face val­ue, about him­self also. Any expres­sion of iden­ti­ty, includ­ing through dress, is inevitably informed by the inter­sect­ing gen­der, class, and oth­er social con­texts of the indi­vid­ual, and so Cherry’s suits are a per­for­mance of self and all-at-once ref­er­ence: his father and the decade of his birth; tra­di­tion­al sports­wear; the self-made work­ing-class back­ground he iden­ti­fies with; his coach­ing career; the pro­fes­sion­al mas­cu­line image of Cana­di­an hock­ey; his per­son­al aes­thet­ic; his late wife; and his per­for­ma­tive role as an on-air com­men­ta­tor. Cher­ry is a mas­ter of the lan­guage of clothes; like him, his suits are loud, and like his on-screen opin­ions, their mes­sage is bold and straight­for­ward. While undoubt­ed­ly cal­cu­lat­ed to make the max­i­mum visu­al impact for media dis­sem­i­na­tion, they are also authen­tic to his sense of his own identity.

Don Cherry’s sig­nif­i­cance as a Cana­di­an pub­lic fig­ure and his appeal to hock­ey fans and Cana­di­ans at large is due not only to his knowl­edge of the game but also to his skill­ful and sin­cere sense of style. The appar­ent para­dox of his out­landish out­fits and his con­ser­v­a­tive views and iden­ti­ty is resolved by view­ing Cher­ry in light of the his­to­ry of work­ing-class dandy­ism. Fur­ther­more, as he is per­haps the only Cana­di­an pub­lic fig­ure to gen­er­ate so much media atten­tion for his cloth­ing, an analy­sis of Cherry’s style is a con­tri­bu­tion to the field of Cana­di­an fash­ion stud­ies and the ways in which dress and iden­ti­ty are unique­ly aligned in this context.

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Mak­ing a suit with Don Cher­ry.” YouTube, uploaded by Rick Mer­cer Report, 18 Nov. 2008, https://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​E​F​P​u​M​z​z​a​9hk.

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Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: “The many suits of Cana­di­an hock­ey com­men­ta­tor Don Cher­ry,” Red­dit, uploaded by used ihatey­our­band, 15 Jan 2013, http://​imgur​.com/​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​/​z​T​2H1

Fig­ure 2: “Arrow col­lars & shirts. Sat­ur­day evening post, April 12, 1913.” The New York Pub­lic Library Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions. 1895 - 1917. The Miri­am and Ira D. Wal­lach Divi­sion of Art, Prints and Pho­tographs: Art & Archi­tec­ture Col­lec­tion, The New York Pub­lic Library. http://​dig​i​tal​col​lec​tions​.nypl​.org/​i​t​e​m​s​/​5​1​0​d​4​7​e​2​-​9​0​e​6​-​a​3​d​9​-​e​0​4​0​-​e​0​0​a​1​8​0​6​4​a99

Fig­ure 3: Menswear 1930s - Amer­i­can, Plate 020. Gift of Wood­man Thomp­son. Cos­tume Insti­tute, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. http://​lib​m​ma​.con​tent​dm​.oclc​.org/​c​d​m​/​r​e​f​/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​/​p​1​5​3​2​4​c​o​l​l​1​2​/​i​d​/​9​072

Fig­ure 4: Screen­cap from “Mak­ing a suit with Don Cher­ry.” YouTube, uploaded by Rick Mer­cer Report, 18 Nov. 2008, https://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​E​F​P​u​M​z​z​a​9hk.

Fig­ure 5: Alfred Con­ca­nen, Music sheet cov­er for ‘I like to be a swell’, writ­ten by Gas­ton Mur­ray, sung by Arthur Lloyd, 19th cen­tu­ry, lith­o­graph, 33.5 x 23.5 cm, Gabrielle Enthoven Col­lec­tion, Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um. https://​col​lec​tions​.vam​.ac​.uk/​i​t​e​m​/​O​1​2​4​9​9​2​0​/​i​-​l​i​k​e​-​t​o​-​b​e​-​a​-​s​h​e​e​t​-​m​u​s​i​c​-​m​u​r​r​a​y​-​g​a​s​t​on/

Fig­ure 6: Tiller fam­i­ly mar­i­onette com­pa­ny, mar­i­onette rep­re­sent­ing a young ‘mash­er’ bran­dish­ing a beer bot­tle, 1870 to 1890, carved wood with paint and fab­ric, 71 cm, Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um. https://​col​lec​tions​.vam​.ac​.uk/​i​t​e​m​/​O​5​7​5​5​8​/​m​a​r​i​o​n​e​t​t​e​-​t​i​l​l​e​r​-​f​a​m​i​l​y​-​m​a​r​i​o​n​e​t​te/

Fig­ure 7: “Cock­ney” and “Bow­ery” from World’s Dudes series (N31) for Allen & Gin­ter Cig­a­rettes, 1888, Com­mer­cial col­or lith­o­graphs, 7 x 3.8 cm each, The Jef­fer­son R. Bur­dick Col­lec­tion, Gift of Jef­fer­son R. Bur­dick, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. http://​www​.met​mu​se​um​.org/​a​r​t​/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​/​4​1​1​306, http://​www​.met​mu​se​um​.org/​a​r​t​/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​/​s​e​a​r​c​h​/​4​1​1​240