The work I do can be very isolating. With the exception of taking the dogs out for a walk, I can conceivably go days without interacting with very many people, which isn’t healthy. As an exercise to get out of the house for a bit and engage more with polite society, I took a job as a host at a Downtown Cleveland restaurant called Marble Room.
In the landscape of the city’s restaurant scene, Marble Room is like Studio 54: everybody wants to get in, and not everyone can. When it opened in September of 2017, it gave Cleveland a much needed injection of glamour and sophistication. On a Friday afternoonin Cleveland, you can fire up the OpenTable app and get an 8:00 p.m.reservation almost anywhere except Marble Room, which is a prospect that hasn’t happened in the Forest City in a very long time. Situated in a stunning, respectfully preserved bank space originally constructed in 1886, Marble Room is a hot canteen with incredible food and outstanding service in an exquisite setting.
As beautiful as it is, Marble Room has no official dress code except the prohibition of baseball caps, which I really appreciate. Malisse Sinito, the proprietor and my boss, wisely decided that, in this hyper-casualized day and age, a dress code just puts people unnecessarily ill at ease. And she’s right.
In terms of sartorial turnout during my tenure as a host on weekend nights, I observed the gamut. Women typically looked nicer, which is true not just at Marble Room but pretty much everywhere else. Some people theorize that a lot of women dress for each other out of some sense of competition. Maybe it’s true, but at the end of the day, women seem to fuss a bit more with a chic cocktail dress and a nice heel, and they generally look better than their male counterparts.
Now about those male counterparts…
This may sound harsh, but it’s true: Cleveland will not win any men’s style awards anytime soon. This is Frumpytown. Untuckitville. Hoodies, zip-up sweaters and corporate-branded fleece vests are the uniform, and tailored fare is a foreign language. In Cleveland, suits are in intensive care, the necktie is in hospice, and dark dress shoes with a leather sole are in the cemetery. ’Twas not always thus, as Cleveland was once a hub of refined American haberdashery and men’s garment craft. (Observe Walter Halle, president of Halle’s, one of Cleveland’s premier department stores in the 20th century. Mr. Halle was considered a style icon among American men in-the-know.)
As I said, I observed the gamut in how people were turned out in Cleveland’s hottest eatery, particularly with the men. There were men in nice suits and jackets, and men in dad jeans, hoodies, and, on one occasion, shorts and flip-flops (I’m not kidding), and everything in between. Some men looked great, but the overall sense of occasion here is on death row. (And the unnervingly popular hyper-stitched designer jeans and untucked ‘dress’ shirts with contrasting cuff and collar linings belong in a unique category I like to call ‘Las Vegas Dad Casual.’)
Working as a host in the space, I spent much of my time at the door, greeting people and taking their coats before bringing them to their table. In my usual uniform of a simple tailored suit, white or light blue dress shirt and understated tie, I was often the first person many guests would see when they came in. One of my favorite things to do at work was to look at guests’ faces when they first entered the space. People were always dazzled, and it was fun to watch. With many of the men dressed in a decidedly casual mode, the expression was also mixed with an uncomfortable twist of “Holy shit, I’m underdressed.” Some of them even said as much out loud, and I would assure them that they were perfectly fine. But the wonder they may have felt at the jaw-dropping appearance of such an awe-inspiring room was somewhat tainted by a flash of self-consciousness about their own appearance.
Again, there is technically no dress code there. Everyone is welcome. And though it’s an expensive restaurant, the clientele isn’t just fancy rich folks. Many of the guests have saved up for this very special experience, often to celebrate something. And I can honestly say that it was a genuine pleasure to see these people have such a good time, dazzled by the food, the room, the service, the whole kit. But the biggest unexpected observation I made during my time there was that people who did dress up, put forth some effort, and brought a sense of occasion to their evening truly seemed to have a better time. Without question. You could see it in their faces.
I hold a firm belief that is hardly original. It’s an old adage that suggests that I’d rather be overdressed than underdressed. Neither “overdressed” nor “underdressed” is particularly comfortable, but in my experience, being underdressed is infinitely more uncomfortable.
Another element at play for me is one of respect. When I dress to go out, I do it out of respect for myself, respect for the people I’m meeting, and respect for the place I’m entering.
So… When you go out for a nice dinner, whether it’s a date, a birthday, an anniversary or even just dinner, make it nice. Put forth a little effort with a suit or a handsome jacket and a good pair of shoes. And for good measure, throw in a little of that respect for self, others, and place. The added bonus? When you look good, you feel good. And you have a better time.
My last shift at Marble Room was on December 29th. Two nights later, on New Year’s Eve, I joined my friends and neighbors Heidi and Heidi (no relation) for cocktails and a light dinner at the bar. Our plan was to get there around 8:00 p.m. and get out by 10:30 p.m., well before the countdown anticipation and any booze-fueled revelry began. Though the evening wasn’t formal, I went black tie. I had a great time. And the ladies dressed up, too. We all had a great time. We had a blast, actually.
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A note about pro athletes…
Cleveland is a sports town, and its athletes are local celebrities around here. Many of them frequent Marble Room. When it comes to modes of dress that color far outside the lines, athletes get somewhat of a pass. They do an unusual thing with their lives that puts them in a special cultural category, like rock stars. With clothing, they can get away with things that other people can’t. Civilians try again and again to adopt certain celebrity/athlete/rock star flourishes, but they can never seem to pull it off with any real conviction or believability. On a non-athlete/rock star, the effect looks more like costume. There are exceptions to this – notable people who have honed a reputation for creating a particular look – but it’s rare. Thrilling to see when it’s done well, but, again, rare. If you’re inclined to go streetwear, ultra bold, or color way outside the lines with your fashion, commit fully, go with confidence, and don’t half-ass it. Otherwise it looks silly.