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.

Daniel Craig in Skyfall.

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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16 Comments

  1. Barbara Lane

    Hi George, I’m commenting about your recent post suggesting that we “…start looking nice again.” I think there’s an enormous amount of body dismorphia ‘out there…(and ‘in here’) because the look you’re promoting wouldn’t look
    ‘nice’ on me or on many other people. Clothes are not being designed for old (or young) overweight, and/or oddly proportioned people. The only person who is designing wonderful, runway (and street wear) for ‘non-runway ready’ models (like you are) is Christian Siriano. I would love to see designers find ways to emphasize ‘the positive’, and downplay ‘the negative’ as he is so brilliantly capable of doing. For me, the essence is ‘presenting a line’, that is elegant – not awkward. I would love to see you find and feature designers who are elegantly dressing people who don’t fit into your physical category. Afterthought – I love RuPaul’s Drag Race for going ‘outside the box’, and for showing amazing fashion statements for ‘alternately’-shaped bodies – a lot of that kind of thinking could be applied (and maybe ‘toned-down’ to those of us who do not have ‘perfect bodies’. Thanks for providing a forum that invites input. BEL

  2. Michael Estwanik

    Hey George, I could have written that but not as well as you of course. We both went to the same high school (St. Ignatius in Cleveland) and Boston College where ties were required of all gents. I never once minded. In my longtime career as a corporate event planner, I traveled to 80 countries and 49 states, so I shopped around the world. Unique styles, colors, and accessories. You know what they say “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” But today – not so much.

    I agree totally with your assessment of the lack of style so prevalent in today’s world.

    Eight years ago I moved out of my beautiful rent-stabilized Upper West Side apartment with views of Central Park. My closets were full of tasty suits, sport coats, ties, overcoats, scarves, shoes, etc. from around the world. But I was moving to Telluride, Colorado, to continue my American Songbook Today programs and to perfect my skiing addiction so why did I need 275 ties? blah blah blah. So I did sell a lot of my treasured items of apparel, but I still have way too much. You see, to me, clothing is art. And it is hard for me to part with art. I still have about 100 ties and I keep thinking I should have them made into a couple huge peacock tails. But not enough wall space here in my cozy cottage on an estate in magical Ojai, California. Ojai is the home of Hollywood royalty galore as it is only 1 1/2 hours from LA. But they dress down for this little town. I recently wore a tie to a Celebration of Life ceremony for a friend here who died of Covid. The church was packed. Masks were not required. Oh, how I missed seeing real smiles. Or even pouts. At the end of the beautiful, moving ceremony, and elderly gent came up to me and said “I’ve lived in Ojai 42 years and that is only the fourth tie I have seen here.” I was, of course, honored that he kept count.

    Well, keep on writing and advising the world George. I almost always agree with you. But even if not, I smile and appreciate you.
    Go Wildcats and Eagles!

  3. VICTOR COOPER

    Yes and Yes—You stole what I say all the time. If it is uncomfortable then it is not the right fit. There are many “brands” out there. Find one that suits your body type best. The body you have NOW. A tailor is your friend. I am 6 feet 2. I can never buy pants off the rack. I buy on-line and go to a tailor. I am in healthcare management so I wear dress shirts and ties to work. I feel great. I have no issues wearing a tie. Half the time I forget I have one around my neck. I like cotton and wool. That is it. And I do have a couple of pair of expensive shoes-got them on sale-and let me tell you a cobbler is also your friend. I hate the leisure wear trend that has gone on too long. Don’t get me started on skinny jeans and baggy butts. A tailor once told me if me wore their pants the way they are intended I would have no problems finding pants in stores. I also say stick with me and I can buy you a pair of shoes that would rival your sneakers. Yes, there are many styles out there. One has to find theirs. If it is t-shirts and jeans so be it. But it better be nice ones and I want to see your butt in those jeans. But for god’s sake take pride in oneself. The men of the 40’s/50’s knew how to dress. I think at times I was born in that era.

  4. Barbara Elizabeth Lane

    I just watched the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter runway show, and it was waaay beyond ‘nice’ – wonderfully adaptable fashion for plus and odd sizes. Please think about featuring fashion that is not only beyond ‘nice’, beyond ‘preppy’. I would love to see you go beyond ‘nice’. BEL

    • When I started back to work, I took my photos all week long with one per day of my outfit choice. It felt so good to “look nice again” A month later, albeit from being wayyy more active and new meds , my nice clothes needed a belt or skirts go in a pile. I don’t want to get a new wardrobe because I feel it’s temporary. I have bought a few pieces from Hudson’s Bay online as they carry what I like and have Ralph and Calvin on sale. All in all it feels great to do a facial and use product daily and nightly on my face, lay out my wardrobe, have a routine, and “look nice again”. I found you during the pandemic and you ALWAYS looked nice to me and encouraged your viewers/listeners to do the same when able. I was jealous you could as I was stuck. It’s going to take time for many as it was day time to night time pjs and snacks for 2 years for many of us. Getting there… B.

  5. James Noble

    But what if i don’t want to identify as ‘a self made thousandaire playboy’ and mostly enjoy wearing practical clothing and being outdoors?

      • Chris Ladd

        Thank you for addressing our national eyesore. People has been dumped down intellectually, spiritually, and physically. There’s little sense of ownership in one’s appearance. Sadly, many Gen Zers know no better because they mirror Millennials. (There’s little worse aesthetically than a middle age slovenly appointed man or woman,) I work in technology and have lectured staff about their appearance. First the grumble and eventually concede they feel and perform better when they take time to present the best version of themselves at work, which then extends to personal endeavors.

  6. Jeff Barnett

    I have been thinking about this subject for a few years now. It seems that especially men have “given up” when it comes to looking better/nice. I have to embarrassingly admit, that I’ve become one of those men.

  7. As a school teacher, (now retired), I always made a point of dressing professionally. No, I did not have a lot of money but I had a sense of how to put things together. At one point I realized I had not worn the same thing twice for almost an entire year! Again, I didn’t have a lot of money nor did I have a lot of clothes but mixing and matching is a bit of a skill.

    Here’s the thing, the kids that I taught were already at a disadvantage. They didn’t need their teacher to add to their problems by looking like she didn’t care about them or they weren’t worthy of her taking some extra time in the morning to look good considering they had to look at her for 5 1/2 hours a day. In contrast, a number of my colleagues looked like they’d fallen out of bed and grabbed the first thing they found on the floor.

    The way you dress definitely affects the way you carry yourself and your attitude. I was a professional and it was important to dress like one. At any time of the day I could have unannounced administrators and/or parents come to my classroom door. I always wanted to present myself as someone to whom their students/children were in good hands.

    I loved dress-down Friday’s as much as anyone but I always wore clean jeans or cords and an Oxford shirt, tucked in. Back then you flipped a buck or two into a jar for charity so you could pay for the privilege to “dress-down”.

    I commented to a principal one time about the dress code/lack of for staff and she shrugged and said if she ever commented on it, a grievance would be filed.

    Now when I drop off my grandson at school, I can’t tell the teachers from the parents from the neighbour out walking their dog after the night shift.

    In closing, as a young woman working in an office full of men, the ones I fantasized about were the good looking guys that wore….suits.

  8. Alan S. Roberts

    I so strongly agree with you but I’m losing the battle after early retirement and am frustrated how poorly I look in my clothing without youth on my side anymore- when simple clothing was flattering. My contemporaries (50-60s) often look as bad or worse than I, which is discouraging. It seems everyone here in SoCal has given up. I’ve recently purchased Levi’s that seemed ok but were miserable after one week; they just get very loose! T- shirts don’t look right anymore, either. Sweats are becoming the rule and I do hate it, but not sure where to begin anymore at this point, when we don’t feel as good about ourselves it’s hard to look sharp especially with fewer occasions to do so.

  9. Took myself to a jazz concert on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago. Dressed to the nines and felt better than I have in two years. You’re on to something.

  10. sheskisfastgmailcom

    Took myself to a jazz concert a couple of weeks ago. Dressed to the nines and felt better than I have in two years. You’re on to something.

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