Our smarter thinkers saw that the pandemic would fast-track some things that were already happening. Movie theater attendance, for example, was already in decline. The pandemic inspired more people to upgrade their homes with better TVs and sound systems, pushing the multiplex even closer to extinction. The real value of every day office attendance was already being questioned, and lockdown certainly helped many companies and their employees see the light (and the cost savings) with WFH rather quickly. And before COVID, Americans were already well on their way to dressing as casually as humanly possible. Today, we’ve officially achieved full, uncompromising sartorial mashed potatoes.
The way people dress now is really depressing. It’s all about yoga pants, sweats, hoodies, crocs, sneakers (not good ones), or anything that is devoid of any shape, structure or sex appeal. With the modern dress code falling somewhere between adult-sized toddler to pre-teen on the way to softball practice, it looks as if no one wants to get laid or even look like a grown-up anymore.
The assault on glamour was well underway with the onset of casual Fridays many years ago. Today, it is now normal for adults to step out in public and go to a restaurant or a show looking like they’ve been up all night cramming for a final exam. The attempts to make athleisure hot or sexy just make people look like they’ve been up all night cramming for finals at the High School for Hookers & Hustlers. Any sense of sophistication seems to be on life support.
Defenders of Casual Every Day invariably play the comfort card. I get it. Elastic waistbands, fabrics that stretch and shoes made out of sweaters or rubber are very comfortable and slide on and off very easily. (Handy for sex addicts on the go!) But do they look good? It’s amazing how easily we’ll abandon aesthetics to avoid any effort.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with looking like nothing. And that’s just what it is: nothing. Everyone looks the same. No identity. No mystery. No intrigue. No story. No sex appeal. No interest. Nobody looks like anything. Just bland, generic, shapeless sameness. And technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it sure is dull.
There is a solution! The solution is to give a damn, to take pride in one’s appearance and to show respect – respect for oneself and respect for the people, places and things that one encounters on a given day. It doesn’t mean spending tons of money on lots of fancy clothes. Lord knows I don’t have money, but it’s hilarious to me that people think I do because of the clothes I chose to buy (or not buy). It starts with little things, like a nicer pair of shoes, a better pair of jeans, a dress shirt, a jacket, or even… wait for it… a tie. Terrifying, I know.
And it’s not for lack of interest. Show me a man who says he’s not interested in looking like James Bond and I’ll show you a liar. I think part of the issue is fear. Looking too nice, dressing above one’s station or risking looking nicer than other people in your group is a risk that makes a lot of people really nervous. When I meet people for dinner in a nice restaurant or at the theater, I know there is a strong possibility that I’ll be the only one in a suit or a jacket. Part of me thinks I should ditch the jacket because I don’t want my companions to feel uncomfortable. But my true voice ultimately wins and says “Fuck that. You live once. Make the best of it and look nice.”
With respect to comfort, there’s a myth that nice clothes aren’t comfortable. I’m calling bullshit there. If your suit, your jacket, your nice pants or your handsome dress shirt are uncomfortable, they’re the wrong size or poorly tailored. My suits are neither too tight nor too loose. They feel like pajamas. Seriously. And a nice, 100% cotton dress shirt (and not the wrinkle-free stupidity) feels like fresh bed sheets. And there’s also a different kind of comfort that isn’t physical. Applying a higher sense of occasion to my life gives me a lot of comfort. Looking really nice feels really good.
And speaking of looking nice and feeling good… nice clothes alter our behavior, our perception of ourselves and, thus, the perception other people have of us. When I put on a suit and a pair of wingtips, my posture changes. It alters how I carry myself. I feel more dignified. And people perceive me very differently than the way they do when I’m in a t-shirt. I can sense it immediately. One of my favorite stories about the effect of dressing up came from the 1963 March on Washington. Participants were encouraged by local organizing committees to look clean and sharp, dressed as if they were in DC to “close a deal.” And that they did, looking like people of respect and dignity, people who demanded to be taken seriously, people with whom to be reckoned.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone wear a tailored suit every day. Not at all. What I am suggesting, as I said before, is that we start giving a damn about how we look. If one’s signature look is about sneakers, then let’s make them really cool sneakers. If you’re about casual unstructured jackets, then make them good ones. My main hope is that we get out of this thoughtless rut of shapeless, sexless sartorial sameness and start looking like something. With dignity.
As we emerge from the pandemic and our sartorial security blankets, let’s reconsider how we present ourselves to the outside world and bring some flair to the affair. Let’s see some sharper edges, structured shoulders, cinched waists, crisp shirt collars, creased pants, hard-soled shoes. Let’s bring sexy back. If you’re single, you might increase your chances of finding a hotter mate. If you’re already paired off, give your significant other a nice ROI boner.
And beyond all that, consider that we all make a contribution to the visual landscape. We all add to the design of the world around us. Let’s make a nicer, more glamorous, more sophisticated contribution to that design. In a way, it’s really a public service. And I thank you in advance for your service.
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