A mom and her son in my kids' school have sported colorful matching outfits nearly every day for two years. Years!
Some days they are clothed head to toe in canary yellow. Other days it is Taylor Swift red. Or Santa's Elves green. Or Prince purple. They are vibrant, walking works of art in a staid sea of suburbia, turning the heads of neighbors and strangers. It's joyful, surprising and delightfully weird. Every day can turn into a Minnesota version of "Where's Waldo."
Some of my friends have regularly spotted the pair on Glenwood Avenue, as mother and son walked more than a mile to school in their identical colors, all the way down to the kid's backpack. But I had never laid eyes on them until I parked my car in front of their Golden Valley home. They grinned and waved from their front door, of course bedecked in matching blaze orange tees, bottoms and socks.
I couldn't help but smile back. I guess it was Orange Day.
The duo is Claire and Harold DeBerg, who is 11. They welcomed me into their minimalist-furnished house — its walls, kitchen and even a grand piano awash in a modern white, all the better to make their colors pop. We were joined by Claire's husband, Darren, who naturally was sporting a tangerine-hued tee and pants.
Could they explain how they became the Color Family?
"It started one Christmas when Darren really wanted a V-neck yellow T-shirt," Claire began. "I was like, 'Easy. I got this.' "
Turns out, that simple item on Darren's wish list was challenging to find. Claire searched menswear at department stores, which she likened to "the funeral shop," given that the racks were brimming with shirts and slacks in dour shades of gray, brown, black and sometimes navy.
It struck Darren that men's apparel in particular needed to get back to the color basics. "In kindergarten, you have your little eight-pack of crayons," he said. "These are the colors we all started with. Why don't we see these colors?"
Darren began designing apparel that fit his aesthetic: square pockets, no splashy logos or patterns, no skinny jeans. As a side gig to their day jobs, he and Claire started a company called Monochrome, partnering with factories in China to make the clothing in the primary and secondary colors they loved. Today, Monochrome.shop sells not only tees, pants and backpacks, but women's blazers, belts, totes and pencil skirts. The DeBergs are hoping to one day branch into baby clothing, swimwear, skateboarding apparel (a nod to Harold's passion), and — yes — underwear.
While busing was always an option for Harold, by the fifth grade, he and his mom started walking to school every day in Monochrome. The family had visited Harold's older sister, who studies at Columbia University, and it dawned on them that New Yorkers walk everywhere. Claire googled the route to Harold's school. It was just 1.25 miles from home. She wondered: Why aren't we walking?
Another motivation for the daily strolls was limiting exposure to COVID-19. Claire's father died right before the pandemic after battling dementia, and the family was determined to protect Claire's mom from the virus. Embracing the open air, rather than sending Harold to school on a crowded school bus, seemed like the safest bet.
But as time passed, they kept walking. The routine helped Claire and Harold slow down the schoolyear and deepen their bond.
"Harold and I get all this time together that we would not have otherwise," Claire said. "It takes 25 minutes to walk to school. When Harold is in nature, he talk-talk-talks. We got so much closer."
Even before Darren requested the yellow V-neck for Christmas, Harold's parents started clothing Harold in solid colors — mostly finds from thrift stores — when he was about 4, simply because they liked the look. Monochrome doesn't carry children's sizes just yet, so Harold's outfits are the work of Darren, who dyes the boy's clothing by hand in the backyard. A South Dakota native, Darren has no background in fashion design. His day job is selling industrial air compressors.
Claire is a model and writer — and a Mennonite. Drawn by the denomination's work for peace and social justice, she joined the church more than 20 years ago.
"We're like cousins of the Amish, but there are many different sects. There are some that are called Old Order Mennonites, or plainclothes Mennonites," Claire explained. "That would obviously not be us."
The level of coordination and commitment to dressing in single colors may seem like a lot of work, but the DeBergs say having fewer options makes mornings simpler. Harold and his mom dress according to the order of colors in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple — on repeat. (Monochrome does not come in indigo.)
Some days, when Harold shows up in the cafeteria, the kindergartners shout: "It's the Color Kid!" Or: "It's Purple Day!" Once a group of fourth-graders even asked for his autograph.
"It's fun to wear all the same color," Harold said. "It's bright. It makes me happy."
As journalists do, I pondered if the DeBergs were onto an emerging trend. Were there entire communities that dress this way?
"This is the community," Harold replied, pointing to the three of them seated around their table.
Harold graduated from Meadowbrook Elementary School this spring. For seventh grade, he's decided to participate in his district's blended learning option (a mix of in-person and virtual instruction) to make more time for skateboarding. The in-person classes, to be held twice a week, will take place in a building right next to his old grade school.
Which means come fall, you can still spot Harold and Claire, striding down Glenwood in their coordinating hues, holding onto childhood and their special bond.
And you'll know what day it is.