Over the weekend, I was invited to a friend’s apartment for the first time here in Manhattan for an intimate gathering to hear him play some Schubert and Rachmaninov selections on the piano. It was one of those situations where my friend and host was the only person I knew in the group of people – all of whom already knew each other – which limits one’s sense of the “vibe” of the crowd. Such a situation begs the question: what to wear?
Here’s what I knew: my friend is an accomplished man of refinement, culture and taste. When we get together for lunch or dinner, we are usually in suits, at least in jackets and often in ties. Going by the birds-of-a-feather rule, one presumes his other friends are of similar refinement, culture and taste. Though the event was a casual gathering, I, a total newcomer to this crowd, decided to go with a suit and tie. Upon arrival, it was immediately apparent that I was overdressed.
I was the only one in a tie, and one of only two men wearing a jacket. Given the chance to play it over again, I would have at least killed the tie. But there I was.
The adage of it being better to overdress than underdress is an old one. In my experience, I would certainly agree. Having overdressed and underdressed on several occastions, the latter is infinitely more uncomfortable for me. And it might be worth mentioning that I’ve become quite comfortable and at-ease in a suit. It’s not like I feel that I have something to prove. Rather, it is a sense of occasion instilled in me at a very young age, especially when attending the performance of the finer arts, whether in a concert hall or an apartment.
I should make it clear that I assessed all of this – and the short-lived insecurity that came with it – within about three seconds upon my arrival. By my fourth or fifth second in the apartment, I was already over it and looking forward to meeting what turned out to be a group of truly interesting, engaging and funny people. Birds of a feather.
Everybody else there looked fantastic. They were well-presented, perfectly comfortable and completely appropriate. This was their crowd and they were among their own. But, more importantly, it was a genuine pleasure meeting them and talking with them. My friend’s friends are good friends.
The most important part of the night, however, was the music. I knew my friend was an accomplished pianist and we had attended a piano recital together once before at Carnegie Hall, but I had never heard him play. It was sublime.
The whole scene came together in this stunning corner apartment as all in attendance sat to hear (and watch) him beautifully play some of the most exquisite music ever written for piano. I keep forgetting that there is a performative side to playing the piano, and it’s a thrill to watch. As he played, the sun was setting behind the buildings in midtown, making a silhouette of rooftops outside the huge windows. Day turned into night, and lights from inside surrounding buildings clicked on, creating a gorgeous Gotham backdrop for a wonderful evening of music and mirth. To hear this music so beautifully played in such a setting among such terrific company made for the kind of New York night one reads about.
As for my sartorial miscalculation, this wasn’t the first time I showed up overdressed, and it probably won’t be the last. The worst thing that could happen by erring on the side of overdressed is that I would make a first impression as the guy in the tailored suit. I can live with that.