Right now, as I type this, I am exactly 16 minutes away from where Mr. Rogers was born and raised. We both grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. The road I take to get to Wal-Mart says, painted in block letters above the underpass, “HOME OF MR. ROGERS.” A museum with his signature cardigans and puppets is found at the local college. Everywhere I look, there is a reminder of this extraordinary man. And, for the last decade or so, it seems the rest of the world is catching on, too. More and more there is a resurgence of interest in this pop culture saint.
With films like Won’t You Be My Neighbor and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it seems that there is a national focus on the mythology of Rogers. His soft-spokenness, his inner peace, his welcoming of differences all seem to be, in a way, from a bygone kind of America. Today, with our world so inundated with bad news and hot takes, there is a need, a craving for the manifest kindness a man like Mr. Rogers exuded. And maybe we can’t fix all the problems, but we most certainly can learn a thing or two from Rogers’ approach to life.
Who Was Fred Rogers?
For nearly 900 episodes, spanning four decades, Fred Rogers shared the screen with a cast of puppets and feel-good neighbors on public access tv. Throughout the years, Rogers aged before our eyes, but his message was an unwavering love and tenderness for any and all people. This devotion to his purpose of providing emotional education for children – and their parents – was developed early in his own life.
Rogers was born in 1928 to a middle-class family in the town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Rogers was a shy child, often bed-ridden and with parents who, by some accounts, didn’t give the emotional attention to Rogers that he may have needed. He spent much of his time alone, reading and playing with his stuffed animals and a ventriloquist dummy. These early years spent alone with his own imagination would be the foundation for the world that he’d later create on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Fred Rogers would go on to get his BA in music from Rollins College, and then a seminary degree back in Pittsburgh. After college, he pursued a career in the burgeoning field of television, working for the local televisions stations in Pittsburgh and a brief stint in Canada, which laid the groundwork for his own television series.
Back in Pittsburgh in 1968 Rogers would debut his Neighborhood, which gradually gained a wide following. Rogers eschewed the idea of flashy, fast-paced cartoons and instead wanted to tone down the speed of his program and really talk to his audience instead of at them. Rogers saw his demographic not as passive children who sat in front of a TV, but as interested, emotional creatures who had complex emotions, just as adults did. It was this considered approach to his scripts which ultimately would make Rogers a household name.
For 33 years, Rogers spoke about topics which directly affected children and their lives. These topics ranged from death of a pet or loved one, divorce, transferring schools, and siblings. But larger topics were not off the table either. Rogers dedicated segments of his show to Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, nuclear war, racial justice, and September 11th. This range of topics and appreciation for the emotional depth of children ultimately gave Rogers the recognition he deserved, including an Emmy, various honorary doctorates, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Of course, Rogers’ resume is only half the story. It was his influence that still holds weight for anyone who tuned into PBS after school. He exemplified a sort of kindness that was rare 50 years ago and even more rare today. Rogers wasn’t worried about being controversial or how X topic would poll with shareholders or demographics. Instead, Rogers’ sole mission was to teach love and kindness to children and to use his platform to inspire others to do the same.
It’s easy to get lost in the noise of the world today, but if you ever need a moment to be reassured that there really are good people still out there, I encourage you to take a moment, head to YouTube, and find a few old clips of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Nothing improved one’s mood more. I promise you.
Emulating the Style of Mr. Rogers
If the old adage is true, then we can only hope that the clothes make the man when it comes to dressing like Mr. Rogers. It was something of a trope in his show that he would change out of his stuffy clothes and get into something more comfortable at the beginning of every episode. Rogers would invite us in to relax with him in his own home and his uniform of a cardigan, slacks, and comfortable shoes became a way of knowing the man himself, too.
So while I don’t expect you to buy each and every item on this list and wear it like a Halloween costume of Fred Rogers, my hope is that, by incorporating an item here or there into your wardrobe, it’ll remind you to, above all else, love your neighbor.
Wythe Oxford Button-Down
Wythe produces some of the best made Oxfords on the market today and if you’re looking for a versatile article of clothing for any occasion, this should be first on your list. Whether it’s tucked under a cardigan or paired with dark denim and some loafers, you can’t go wrong styling this Oxford.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Classics
Rogers wore both Sperry’s and Converse throughout his on-air tenure, but these classic Chuck Taylors are a little more versatile. There’s something still decidedly cool about Converse while still having the old school charm lost in the sneaker hype game these days.
Gap Modern Khakis
Gap’s khakis never really went out of style, but there has been a slow and steady resurgence in the pant that put Gap on the map in the 90’s. These have a bit of structure but still a relaxed feel, so it can easily pair with anything from business casual looks to Sunday downtime.
Alex Mill Reverse Seam Cardigan
Now, we know Rogers’ cardigan was his signature look, but I wanted to stray away from anything red to not make this feel too costumey. Instead, Alex Mill’s cardigans are a great alternative. Made of merino wool and coming in 4 neutral colors, it’ll be a staple in your wardrobe and, like Rogers, one you’ll hop into as soon as you step into your door.
Fred Rogers, even when relaxed, still wore a tie. If you’re in need of a new one yourself, Bonobos makes affordable, understated options that add just a touch of color or contrast to your outfit.