Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

More Than One Man’s Opinion

Some years ago a member of the Editorial staff served as a guest teacher for a class in a suburban middle school. Many of the female employes wore flip-flops and outfits not quite as dressy as casual. He saw only one adult male in a tie. A proposed dress code for Henrico school personnel strikes him as civilized indeed.

It also strikes him as an exercise in futility. A code could prove difficult to implement, in part because defining appropriate apparel could become as complex as the instructions for a “some assembly required” Christmas present. Much would fall to the discretion of principals. Even with a countrywide code, enforcement could vary by school. Ideally, dress codes should not be needed. Vulgarity’s triumph is absolute. (See editorial above.) Satire is the only antidote.
From the Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial pages, 18 July 2009.

Over the weekend, Mrs. E. and I attended a farewell cocktail party given in honour of our Associate Rector, Dana (who, I am convinced is a rising star in the Episcopal Church) and her husband, the multi-talented Andrew (he plays piano, organ, sings in the choir and writes for GQ.) Having come from Tuxedo Park, they are now embarking for Nob Hill. California will be the richer for their presence.

I bring up the party in light of the quotation from the paper that begins this post. The party was given at the house of my friend The Architect and his partner. It is a very grand affair and a delightful place for a party, especially when the weather is as coöperative as it was Saturday. The silver julip cups sparkled and the crystal glinted at the poolside bar table. Inside, on the polished table an enormous bowl of pears, apples and grapes that served as a centerpiece and was flanked by the pork tenderloins and the cream cheese/onion-pepper compote (at least that’s what I think it was — delicious!) Everywhere, there was the happy buzz of cocktail conversation. The guests were a mixed bunch of parishioners and civilians. The women looked marvelous in cocktail dresses or high summer resort wear. Those men over thirty all wore sport coats; most over forty, ties. Under thirty, they were, to a man, dressed in khakis, jeans or cords with long sleeved shirts rolled up. The J. Crew crew. We eyed one another like the Jets and the Sharks, circling, but rarely interacting.

Andrew bridged the gap, as he always does. An award winning journalist who still works out of New York, he makes his own rules. But his summer sport coat was enviable. A sort of gingham number… or was it checked seersucker? It looked comfortable and packable. (Dana is always stylish and opted for a very swingy linen and cotton, zippered and laced jacket and tiered skirt instead of her vintage togs.)


I’ve included this photo, as awful of me as it is, to illustrate a point or two. My joke of the evening was that this was as close to being a real writer as I will ever get — standing next to one and dressing like the other guy from town. (Unseen, black and white spectators by Peal & Co/Brooks Bros.) Wear white linen and you will meet far more people at the party. It’s a conversation piece and universally puts people in a good mood.

It’s a cheap suit (look at the collar and the line of the trouser) that cost, on sale, as much as two pairs of designer jeans. I was cool enough (despite the martinis.) Even Andrew was in a sportcoat. Our hosts expect a certain level of decorum. Would it have killed the under-thirty crowd to rise to the occasion? Or does no one actually own a blue blazer anymore? Do people only dress in the big cities? As a young man, I used to haunt the thrift stores for tweed jackets, blazers, 60’s era suits and overcoats. All affordable enough to have tailored to fit a little better. I wore them to school, clubbing, on dates… they took a lot of abuse and held up, getting more comfortable as they became more mine.

Do the under thirties, as the nascent teachers referred to above, require better role models or actual dress codes? What would you consul them to wear? How do you define cocktail attire? Maybe I am hopelessly outdated and the rules have not been changed so much as completely abandoned.

If I could, I would give one and all a gift subscription to “The Rake” that newly birthed magazine that makes me want to hang up the blogging spurs, because someone’s doing it much better. New issue out now. Subscribe. You’ll love every page. And you, like I, might learn a thing or two.

29 thoughts on “More Than One Man’s Opinion

  1. I am completely and firmly with you on this. I’m (barely) under 30, and I work in what is technically a “business casual” office. This means every single guy wears khakis and a polo shirt (sometimes a button-down) every. Single. Day.

    The women, of course, dress differently each day, and most of them dress significantly more stylishly and interestingly than the men.

    My brother and cousins, also under 30, are doing their part – they tend to err on the more formal side of things, and their navy blazers get frequent airings.

  2. I am 27 and am an attorney so it is required that I wear a suit everyday. However, when I first started, oh so long ago at the age of 25, I was appalled with the downtown dress code of Des Moines, IA. Much like Meg complained, the men who are not attorneys, wear khakis and polo shirts or button downs, every single day. Downtown Des Moines is nothing but insurance company headquarters or legal offices. Attorneys wear suits, insurance workers do not. And because we have a skywalk here, they wear short-sleeved polo’s during the winter!! Please do not get me started on their “casual Friday” dress. One is lucky to see a collar on those days. Sadly, it is not limited to the under 30 crowd. There are times when I just wish some men would take a course in what shoes go with what trousers or jeans! Is that too much to ask?

    There are a couple of occasions where I see a man not wearing a suit, actually dressed well. But it’s a rarity. I feel I should start posting pictures of what I see on here just to show that your help is still needed. Anyway, seeing these men doesn’t wane my spirit or my desire to be well-dressed. It actually has the opposite effect; seeing them makes me want to dress better.

  3. Meg, keep fighting the good fight! I find it eye-poppingly unbelievable that men don’t even try to keep up with the women. Perhaps it is a by-product of our no longer being brought up in uniform and dress uniform at that?

  4. Yes, they own them indeed – my husband has four and just turned 30(don’t ask me) – and wears them regularly. My oldest male friend seems to have tons as he wears them to work as well… a lot of this has to do with our not knowing anything else, I believe. We’re still here, not to worry.

  5. You are so Practically Perfect in Every Way. . .please don’t spoil it with a misspelling: “julep” not “julip.” Thank you!

  6. As usual, another thought provoking post! I’m about to have a similar cocktail party in a few weeks and was wondering what the cream cheese/onion-pepper compote was? Can you recommend a libations menu, as well, one that won’t wilt the crowd in August but will bring a lilt to the laughter?

  7. I have written and then deleted 3 responses to this post.

    Simply, I have decided that people simply don’t care how others perceive them – I can’t think of any reasonable excuse, other than lack of money, that justifies the lack of care that people put into their appearance.

    And, while I would like to say it’s those young kids, I find no correlation to age – people above me and below me don’t seem to know/care.

    Hmmm… Maybe I am just an old curmudgeon (@ 40).

  8. I guess I can still echo the “We’re still here!” since I’ve been 30 for a mere 7 months. Mr. M and I have always tried to err on the side of formality, as have most of our friends (I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that most of our circle includes my friends from middle and high school 🙂 😛 ). I’ve always been one to get a little upset when throwing a soiree and people don’t dress to the occasion. It seems to me that if someone puts the thought and effort required to throw a good party, people should be respectful enough to put a little time and effort into their look for the evening!

    Fantastic post!

  9. Wonderful piece; I just put up a similar article (http://offthecuffdc.blogspot.com/2009/07/style-guide-casual-is-not-sloppy.html) the other day. The whole issue is simply beyond me, I just don’t get it.

    For those closer to my just-shy-of-40-years, I think it comes downs to sartorial laziness and a fear of standing out. We still grew up in a time when suits, blazers and sport coats (let alone ties) were standard equipment. Not for every day of course, but common enough so that we all all possessed at least one of each.

    For the under 30 crowd, I think it’s a similar heading instinct – it’s better to be told whats cool than to create it yourself. I work with only one young man, by young I mean 29, who has chosen to be a sharp dresser each and every day. He puts some VPs I know to shame.

  10. I work for the Federal government, which foolishly abolished its dress codes ages ago. I am one of few men I see in my workplace who bothers to wear a tie. I wear a jacket or blazer every day–except, of course, for when I wear a suit, which is once a week or so.

    I do it out of respect for those I work with, out of twin senses of tradition and professionalism, and because I like dressing the way I do. I cringe at the chinos, jeans, polo shirts, and even occasional T-shirts that I see. I can only hope that the trend I hear about with those in their 20s–that they reject their hippy parents’ “casual above all else” dictum and actually wear suits & ties–will strengthen and grow.

    For as long as I can remember, guys have been dressing more casually than the girls they’re with, and I always thought it odd.

    Great look on you, Elegantologist, though might I suggest getting the sleeves of your jacket shortened?

    P.S.: What belt did you wear with you ensemble?

  11. I have to agree with the Ex-Banker–the 20-somethings that are poorly dressed grew up that way, attended K-12 and then four years at Self-Esteem U, without anyone daring to point out to them that they looked like c—. After all, that would hurt their feelings and possibly damage that self-esteem that the schools are so busy developing! 🙂 Kids can cite all of the birds on the endangered species list but don’t know what proper dress protocol is for church attendance or a friend’s birthday party at a club or restaurant vs. a BBQ on the beach. I think it is lack of training along with a good deal of self-centeredness. As for what the excuse is for older adults looking disheveled and sloppy, the word “lazy” comes to mind. Excellence takes Effort! Great post, great landscaping in that backyard!

  12. C….It’s early and I’ve got to hit the shower and get ready for my next business casual meeting so this will be one big Faulknerian run on sentence sans spellcheck. Your post could not be more relevant to my mindset at present. I’m not an “old man” yet. At least I fancy myself not. However, my clients, some of them multibillion dollar device, diagnostics,biotech companies have flat out taken a hygiene holiday. The corporate casual thing has gone off the rails-it impacts attitude-demeanor-deportment and I’ve seen it get worse over the last ten years. The attitude of young marketers and other professionals that I interface with aligns with the slackness of the casual attire culture.( sorry…I know that there are great, dutiful,bright twenty somethings working out there…I work with you so don’t be offended….you know who you are)

    I spoke at a conference on Sunday. Really great little organization and some of the kindest, hardest working folks that I’ve been retained by in a while. Sunday afternoon was a casual business dress day for them. A guy on the front row had on rubber flip flops. The CEO had on a Bolo Tie.

    Onward…in Belgians and Linen today.


  13. I am firmly in your camp. I hate to tell you though, if you think it is bad in Richmond….you should see how bad it is in less refined places where you get stared at by men over 50 if you wear a blazer. I was keeping a running total when I am out and about of well dressed young women who allow themselves to be seen in public with men that look [as my Mom used to say] as if they had just been pulled through a knothole. I quit counting at 500 couples. There are either a LOT of wildly romantic young ladies about, or there are NO choices. Although [thankfully] there are some of the former, my total can only be accounted for by the latter.

    Do not stop posting. This was a GREAT one.


  14. ADG, the image of the shower shoes and Bolo tie had me laughing early this am. Keep fighting the good fight. Leaders lead from the front.

    Brent, I’ve thought about it… but the alts budget is being put to better use on better garments at the moment. Maybe this winter. I used to work with the Feds, too. But from the boss on down, it was a sharp bunch. But that was the Reagan administration. Sorry to hear about the change. A.J. Biddle is doing a 360º under the daisies. I chose to skip the belt as black was too severe and the trousers are that low rise new cut that would have exposed it. I used a white plaid tie instead and kept the jacket buttoned.

    DD, yes, I can. I’ll work up something for you today. Maybe The Architect will part with his recipe for this one, too.

    OTC, Good man. I will try and get over there today and read up. It’s reassuring to know that there are outposts of civilisation even in the swamps of a DC summer.
    Paula, maybe it is laziness. It is much easier for me to dress than to dress down, which requires much more thought to look acceptable. At least in my opinion.

    Meg, Shani and Blushing: HOORAH!

    Ex-banker Jon, hmmm. Around here most men older than I are found in the preppy uniform. At least blazers, flat front grey flannels, button-downs, striped repp and bow ties and tassel loafers. At least in this crowd. I wonder how long for that to change? Probably another 10 years or so when my crowd hits the AARP years.

  15. Gee you have quite a number of enthusiastic admirers, and rightly so. It would appear that you are “preaching” to the already converted, and your readers are all in favour of avoiding the lazy, casual, “life is a beach” look. I say dress in this classic, appropriate manner, demonstrating intelligence and caring. Nowadays it obviously identifies one as an individual, and someone with standards. I’ve found that dressing this way attracts others of the same ilk, and we are get along spledidly. Birds of a feather…!

  16. I think it’s coming back. My son and his friends live and work in Chicago, and while the jean-and-T shirt look is of course ubiquitous, I’ve seen them in shirts, ties and jackets often. Now it’s true they still wear jeans on the bottom and their jackets are vintage or from H&M, but still…

    Anyway, my son is saving up for a Hugo Boss suit. That’ll be fun to see.

  17. Forgot to mention…don’t feel discouraged by new writers. It is much easier to be original at first. Regular and consistent wins the race! And…PLEASE don’t ever tell anyone you’re wearing a cheap suit! It ruins the illusion because people are so used to judging value by price. As you know, some of the most expensive clothes can be hideous. Being appropriate, good fit, and a look that is becoming, are what matters, and those can be found at any price point. Think of expense in terms of time….finding the right clothes and accessories is time consuming. It means looking, searching, a lot of trying on, and most of all considering. This is more of an investment of time, not money. I’m sure that your outfits are quite expensive in terms of time. This is why people don’t dress anymore; nobody is willing to make the time commitment.

  18. When I was in my 20s, I was having brunch with several acquaintances in a restaurant and a handsomely dressed young couple walked in. I commented to no one in particular that couples almost always seem to dress alike – either in thoughtfully put together ensembles, or just thrown together. I could have bitten my tongue off as soon as the remark came out of my mouth, of course, as most of the people at our table were dressed as MLane says, as though they’d been pulled through a knothole.

    A few days later, one of the above acquaintances told me how stunned she was by my comment, and how she was now ironing all of her and her husband’s clothes, and that she was never again going to tease me about my sartorial efforts!

  19. Part of the attraction for me, are to people who know how to “rake something of quality” in life, in dress, in style, in cuisine and in words…and do it all as easy and elegant as yourself. You look smashing.

  20. I think it may be a function of general laziness as well, but not isolated to that age group. I also live in Richmond, and work for the government at the VA hospital. I am 26, but make an effort every day to dress well.

    Long story short, when I started at the VA, I wore either a suit, or at least a tie and blazer every day. After about 2 weeks of that, a few of the women that work there actually told me to STOP wearing a coat. I was shocked to say the least….

  21. I thought it might help to hear from the other side. This is a comment from the NY Times blog, The Moment, on Roetzel’s updated, Gentleman. I think it speaks for itself.

    I guess I shouldn’t criticize other people’s hobbies, but worrying about men’s fashion seems like such a waste of time and money. I know it’s big business, but seems so silly that people take it seriously. I’ve spent my entire career in high technology, and I can’t say that men’s fashion (or women’s fashion for that matter) has meant much of anything in the companies where I’ve worked. In my world, at least, it’s brains and experience that make the man, not the cut of his suit, and unless they’re doing comedy, it’s tough for me to pay attention to those who prattle on about such things. Of course, most of us out west ditched the suit and tie a long time ago, except for weddings and funerals.

    — Mike

  22. “…except for weddings and funerals.” Presumably their own.

    I, like you Tintin, am concerned not a whit with fashion. I am concerned about the slovenly state of these United States. I find with a lapse of the dress code comes a lapse of manners, work ethic and a general loosening of morals (something to which I probably didn’t object as a youngster; but courting seems less sporting these days.) Maybe that’s just me. Interesting that the comment was left on a post about a book that instructs the reader to build a suitable wardrobe.

    No, clothes don’t make the man. Intelligence and experience are invaluable. But presenting yourself in the best possible light is good sense. I guess that’s why telecommuting has caught on.

    Besides, with the current obesity problem, I’m not sure we should be parading around in shorts and t-shirts that much.

  23. Key thoughts here are:

    ‘my career in high technology’ and ‘most of us out west ditched the suit and tie.’

    It just doesn’t get any better.

  24. Mr. E, your comments on the NY Times blog are excellent and clarify the issue so well. Your points about the ripple effect of sloppy appearance are spot on. Everyone’s demeanor improves when we look the part–plus, like manners, it is something adults should be doing for others, to make life more civilized for others, to improve the office/party/worship/street/tennis court/golf course environment FOR OTHERS. The whole casual Friday thing is one big self-indulgence. It says, “I don’t feel like going out of my way for you guys.” “I want to wear what I want.” Why not just wear clean jammies on Friday?

  25. I think that most every party I attend tends to breakdown similar to your assessment. Funny you mentioned The Rake. I picked up a copy in Hong Kong for some cross-Pacific reading and found it fascinating. I had never seen it, but I love it. Along with Garden & Gun, it is a favorite.

  26. My rule? If the invitation for drinks is printed, and the card fails to state the attire (it doesn’t say casual) one must wear a jacket. In July and August, ties are optional. Perhaps. But a jacket is required after five. (Besides, a navy or black jacket can disguise ten pounds if you’ve been neglectful at the gym.)

    A mailed invitation is a special invitation; one must treat it with respect. But when an invitation is posted on the computor, with a list of who’s coming and not coming, the outfit can be found at the bottom of the dirty laundry bin for all I care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.