Why Are You So Dressed Up?

Taylor Penguin
(cartoon available at CartoonBank.com)
I decided to drop out of grocery store and corporate coffee buying (at least partially) and dropped into my local coffee shop/roaster today. The person helping me choose the beans asked why I was so dressed up. I had just come from my art history class and was wearing blue chalkstripes, a pink pinstripe shirt, blue and pink tie from Budd, polished black shoes and pocket square.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I said that because the teachers dressed, I thought I should too.

Cop out, I know. It was my chance to hop on my soapbox and lecture instead of trying to lead by example. The casual revolution has been televised. I have not.

But, if what I’m reading in the New York Times “T” Magazine today is any indication, we are ready for the “Casual Everyday” backlash.

And it’s not a moment too soon, if you ask me. Vive la résistance!

Take for, example, the following quote from a photo essay on Stefano Pilati called “Luxe, Calme et Volupté”
‘‘Luxury to me is that which will last forever — the things we grow old with and keep, that are expertly crafted with fine materials. We develop emotional attachments to them.” Stefano Pilati quoted in The New York Times ‘T’ Magazine.

Even better is Lynn Hirschberg’s tirade in an article called The Emperor’s New Clothes. In it she rails against multi-millionaire moguls who appear in slovenly dress.

“Thirty years ago, these men would have felt compelled to wear seersucker or linen suits, full-length pants or proper button-down shirts. They would have felt that their station in life demanded a certain decorum, a prevailing sensibility that extended to their attire. This would have had nothing to do with body type — fat, thin or in-between, a successful man dressed in a manner consistent with his status. Style was a component of the job, a way of commanding respect.”

I’m smiling at the moment. I only wish I’d written it first. When it comes to working your wardrobe like a job, Ms. Hirschberg hits the nail on the head. (As does the author of

    The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style

.) And when that job takes you out of the office, you should still do your level best to be well-dressed. I would argue that even in our leisure time, barring activities that actually call for specialized clothing, we should attempt to rise above the mundane. Try a pair of good loafers instead of running shoes with those khakis. Or even better, take after my friend the architect and build a wardrobe of Belgian slippers. Like starched khakis, they develop character over time. Sure, have some fun. That’s what you’re supposed to do in your off hours. But look good doing it.

Which brings up the point…. what is “looking good?”

To those who look like underwear models, I imagine fewer clothes seems better. Why? My guess is that there is another agenda there. To put it politely, “sex appeal” is the ultimate goal. In my book, sex appeal and being well-dressed aren’t mutually exclusive. Wearing clothes that are carefully chosen and appropriately tailored will achieve the same result.

Take Cary Grant. His whole later look of grey suit, white shirt and silver tie was carefully calculated to form a unbroken line that pointed right to his beautifully tanned, smiling, well-groomed head. If looks could kill…

Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn didn’t resort to midriff baring spandex wear to heighten their presences. Each developed a relationship with a grand courtier who dressed his muse in clothing that was specifically designed to flatter her. If only we could all be so lucky. But with the high quality of today’s ready-to-wear garments, finding a great tailor and taking the time to learn to work with him/her is an investment that will pay big dividends in your personal appeal. Banish “tight” from your style vocabulary — opt instead for fitted. “Tight” even sounds uncomfortable.

And speaking of comfort, the single most-often voiced complaint that I hear from those who wear ties to work is that the tie is constricting….. Check the size of your shirt collar, please, and lay off the heavy starch… you won’t even know you’re wearing a tie. Soft, turned down, attached collars became the rage precisely because they were more comfortable than the stiff, high, heavily starched detachable things that men used to wear all the time.

To those who are “forced to wear a suit” to the office, “comfort” is also the rallying cry. I am rarely more comfortable than I am when I’m wearing a cashmere sweater, old oxford shirt, ancient Harris Tweed sportcoat, or grey flannel trousers with their wonderful lofty feel. In summer, loose linen, really lightweight wool and open weave shirts keep me air-conditioned by the slightest breeze. Are those items, worn together or separately, as comfortable as jeans and a sweatshirt? Or shorts and a t-shirt? Yes. They all fit me and are made with high-quality materials that can deal with the temperate weather here in Virginia.

When I’m even out in it… air-conditioned car, house and office.

“So,” you’re thinking. “He must jog in a suit.” Of course not. But I might play golf in a knit tie and cardigan if the weather is right. Besides, it distracts people from my duffer-dom.

Strike a blow for elegance today! Organize an evening out among friends and have them dress formally. Or host a happy hour at a coat and tie kind of place. Throw a dinner party and stipulate the dress be casually elegant. Wear a sportcoat when you walk the dog. And then count the number of times that you’re asked “why are you so dressed up?”

To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie: if three people do it, then friends, it’s a movement.

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2 Responses to Why Are You So Dressed Up?

  1. Coming from you, Will, that is high praise indeed. Thank you. Your blog continues to inspire me, as I hope it has my readers.
    Chris

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