While Our Sense of Occasion Goes on Life Support…

I went to a Broadway show the other night. When I arrived at my seat at the Lyceum Theatre for Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s hilarious “Oh, Hello,” I took a look around the audience and quickly realized that I was the only one in a suit, let alone a tie. It looked like a crowd at a Yankees game.

This is where we are.

Jeans, sneakers, t-shirts, hoodies, shorts, flip-flops, baseball caps… at a Broadway show. I also hear that it’s not much different at the opera or the ballet. It’s no wonder why so many guys rely on anonymous nude or semi-nude profile photos on smartphone apps to get laid, because in person with clothes on, their chances are bleak. It’s a boner killer.

Our culture is awash in the relentless pursuit of super casual comfort. I look around and see a world dressed in the sartorial equivalent of mac ’n’ cheese, bringing the cozy, fleecy, stretchy, onesie, elastic waistband comfort of the couch at home with them wherever they go. If I didn’t know any better, I’d presume everyone was on his way to or from the gym. But one look at the bodies infected with the athleisure virus, and I know better. If it’s about dressing for the job you want, I’m seeing armies of aspiring camp counselors and intramural softball coaches.

I can only speculate on the reason for the seismic shift from more elegant and sophisticated dressing. For years, I’ve been tempted to blame it on the fear of growing up. When my father was my age (46), he wore a suit and tie to the office and he looked great. He looked like a smart, handsome, responsible grown-up. When we went out as a family to dinner, to a show, to church, or to the airport to get on an airplane, we were all expected to put forth an effort, look nice, and present our best to the world. But my contemporaries now – no matter what the occasion – dress like the kids from E.T. on their way to baseball practice after school. The only thing missing is a Schwinn Stingray with streamers coming out of the handlebars and a banana seat.

Growing up is scary. Look at the popularity of the Men-Who-Refuse-To-Grow-Up Bromance Comedy genre in film and television. It’s Hoodieville, U.S.A. Maybe this started in the 1970s when moms had to start going to work to put dinner on the table, leaving no one at home to teach kids how to tie their own shoes, make their own beds, fold their own clothes and wipe their own asses. Jump cut to today, where we have ostensible grownups walking around nursing bottles of water and sugary coffee drinks through straws, resembling adult extensions of baby bottles and sippy-cups. (Guilty as charged here, since I still enjoy an occasional cigarette.)

But this is where we are.

It’s not about money. I’m quite confident that I have been less financially successful than most – if not, all – of my classmates, proving that the combination of actor/writer/voiceover performer/web builder/content creator/social media manager/consultant/winning personality produces no guarantee of a remotely lucrative outcome, regardless of education. (Or maybe I just keep sleeping with the wrong people.) I made a conscious decision to invest my humble wardrobe budget in timeless, trend-proof clothes that made me look nice, that made me look like somebody. Guys who dress like that look better in pictures and movies. As I wrote in a piece last year about why I love James Bond, I submitted that every red-blooded male who ever saw Sean Connery or Daniel Craig as 007 said to himself “I’d love to be that guy.” It’s the tailored suits, the jackets, the pants, the shoes… And it looks GREAT! I’d rather be that guy.

This isn’t about “designer” clothes, either. I do not own one stitch of clothing from a major designer or luxury brand, with the exception of a Gucci “G” belt from 1995, which I very rarely wear for fun since my name begins with a G. In terms of designer cachet, there are no brag-worthy “Look who I’m wearing” labels in my wardrobe or on my wrist. None.

Aside from the comfort-or-bust movement, I do think that some men dress down and stay dressed down out of fear. We’ve all wanted to fit in ever since we became socially aware adolescents. Since everyone else is so casual, dressing up means you won’t necessarily fit in as seamlessly as you would otherwise. Once I realized I wasn’t attracted to girls, I quickly came to terms with not always fitting in and learned to be quite alright with it. We always hear: Be yourself. I’d take it a step further: Be who you want to be, and be your best.

Photo by Billy Powers.
Photo by Billy Powers.

Maybe this stupid rant makes me a snob. Maybe dressing up makes me a freak. It certainly makes me stand out like some kind of anachronism, like I did the other night at the Lyceum. But as my father taught me and as I learned further in life, I do it out of respect for myself and for the people, places and things I’m seeing. Added perks include better tables, faster service, and nice compliments, which makes me feel good. And I also do it because it’s who I want to be, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.

It would be easy to let it all go and just wear jeans and a sweater to a Broadway show, or shorts, sneakers and a hoodie to a nice restaurant. I’d fit right in and no one would notice. But as tempting, as easy, and as comfortable as it is to blend in, there’s a louder voice on the other side of my head that says, Fuck ‘em. Be who you want to be, and be your best.

21 comments

  1. I would opine that one has an obligation to contribute to the atmosphere and experience of dining in a decent restaurant or attending the theatre.

    I see slobs everywhere. (Prime example: Having dinner in a private club in Seattle… Enter the “boiler repairman guy” who had a table waiting. On another occasion, a guest wore her ‘Old Navy’ sweats.)

    If one doesn’t dress for these occasions, where the hell would they?

    I hear the phrase; “I just want to be comfortable.”
    What I’m really hearing is; “I have no fucking style, and I’m too lazy to care.”

    I want to be comfortable, too. Comfortable in my head…. So I make a small effort to throw on a few decent schmattas.

    To suggest implementation and adherence to a dress code brands one as hopelessly antediluvian and non-egalitarian.

    1. I was a speaker on a panel at Soho House here in Manhattan last year. I was later asked to remove my tie since the owner was in the building. He detests ties (and his father, probably) and enforces a strict no tie dress code. I’ll never go there again on sheer principle.

  2. Another quality article George – sadly this is not limited to theatre, airports, dining, etc – just having a collar on you can be the outsider. People just don’t seem to give a flying fuck anymore. And whats with men not dressing their age. At a certain point grown men need to move out of t-shirts (with loud designs no less). Really they should not be worn by anyone over 12 years old in the public arena !

  3. Hey George, you’d be pleased to know that there is a bit of a renaissance for guys dressing well in Melbourne. There is a good cachet of affordable, made-to-measure tailors here, and many of the younger gents are nicely suited. A few of the tailors have a savvy online/social media presence, which I think has re-educated younger men on the finer points of dressing. (Still lots of lousy suits and label sycophants, but you know… it’s better than it was!) As to your point, probably the mid-to-older crowd were never taught, but the younger crew have learned for themselves. Bravo.

  4. It’s much the same situation at Seatle theatres, too. I may not always wear a suit and tie, but wear at least a sportcoat, and am in the minority of men when I do that. I agree with what John C said about obligation, and I think it sets a good example for my son as well. This article is a good reminder to stay the course, and I will be sure to wear a jacket and tie when we go to our next show on Sunday night. Thanks for another good read, George.

  5. Well said George and I have to agree. I live in the country but always dress for work, even when working at home – as both my wife and I do much of the week. I consider it armor against the unwashed masses and I do get treated better (or feared perhaps) when in a social situation where I stand out. Stature helps a bit – I’m tall and slim – but average height men can have a commanding aura and I have known many of them – but not in a hoodie and sweatpants.

    I’ve invested enough money and time in my wardrobe to want to use the pieces and rather wear them out until threadbare versus having them hang in the closet. So I look for and welcome opportunities to dress well and cut through hoi polloi. Doing so is often its own reward. Press on sir!

  6. So sad but suits and ties have become symbols of subordination, worn by waiters, doormen, and other people who are required to look “nice” as part of their service. At work, putting on a suit and tie means you are going to funeral or a job interview and makes everyone nervous and nosy.

  7. When I get grief or questions about wearing a jacket and tie, I tell people I’m a 21st century hippie, breaking the satorial rules like the hippies did in the 60s. I’m just trying to swing the pedulum the other way. Keep up the (elegant, tailored) fight George!

  8. “Be who you want to be, and be your best.” I think that is a great quote. I lived in SF during the first tech boom and I wore a suit and tie to work everyday. I didn’t mind dressing up. I looked good and felt good. People look like slobs now. I cannot stand the whole gym fashion. thing going on. Is everyone 5 years old and needs to constantly be wearing sweatpants. Grow up.

  9. Your summary is nothing short of genius. No better way to turn a lady’s head like a well dressed man in suit…it screams man and not man child

  10. I recently stumbled upon your blog while searching for practical and timeless menswear tips. After pouring through dozens of your posts, I concluded that “this guy George gets it” – not just the aesthetics, but in the ethos surrounding it as well. After living in Silicon Valley and recently turning 30, I see that many of my peers are still stuck in Neverland. However I do believe that well-dressed gentlemen are making a comeback. Thanks for keeping the pursuit alive.

    TL;DR – You can never be too overdressed.

  11. It is Biketoberfest here in Daytona and let me tell ya, at least these leather-clad tourists have a sense of style (and occasion). Some of these outfits have to be more than a week’s pay. Having started my adult life first in uniform and later as a young-buck businessman in suit and tie, I fully appreciate where you are coming from, George. I know that when I boarded a plane in full-dress Air Force Blue back in 1973, the Captain came out of the cabin and very publicly shared a salute. We got a round of applause. THAT kind of respect (and theater) comes from self-respect and suiting up for the job.

    These days? Ah, hell, every generation complains about the one before them and the one after…

    As for me, the closest I get to style these days is reading your Blog.

    tj

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