On Monday, June 1st, I went back to work. Having spent the previous three months quarantined in a 350 square foot apartment with two dogs, my feelings about going back in the middle of the pandemic were mixed. On the down side, I was nervous about the idea of going back onto the subway and returning to a workspace shared with others in a somewhat close proximity. On the up side, I was really looking forward to breaking out of the five-block radius of my apartment and being around other people, albeit in a mask and at a safe personal distance.
One thing I was really looking forward to was getting dressed again. With one whimsical exception, I hadn’t put on a suit since the middle of March and was feeling a bit off the rails about it. The day before work, I made sure my suits were brushed and steamed, my shirts were clean and pressed, and my shoes were shined and well tended. I’ve learned over the years to take good care of the clothes I’ve invested in if I want them to last. And I do.
Monday morning, I did my usual rituals, which include lots of coffee, NPR, a bit of Twitter, The New York Times, a nice weather-permitting dog walk in Central Park, 100 pushups, a good shave, a shower, and a light breakfast. Then I dress.
As anyone reading this surely knows, suits are where I live, sartorially. I love wearing them. Though no job I’ve ever had technically requires one (including my current gig), I made suits my uniform years ago. I love their look, their feel and their affect on others. Since only some men look genuinely good in a t-shirt or jeans while every man looks fantastic in a well-tailored suit, I’ve always considered the suit to be the great equalizer. When I started wearing tailored suits, there was a palpable shift in my life. People treated me differently, and I liked it. And I also liked myself in them. So I’ve kept doing it.
Stepping onto the street and heading toward the subway in full kit felt really good, I must say. Heading to the office, fully dressed, with a sense of purpose put a spring in my step that I hadn’t felt in a long time. Pounding the pavement in my trusty Alden wingtips again was something I never thought I’d miss this much.
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Another thing I never thought I’d miss was the subway. When I got into my local station, I actually felt a little emotional as I stood on the platform waiting for the C train for the first time since March. Strange. Or maybe not. Even though the train was pitifully attended with no more than three other people on the platform and four other passengers in my car, it was so good to ride it again.
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As I mentioned, no job I’ve ever had required a suit. My current work as a patient experience concierge for New York’s top-shelf cosmetic dermatologist is no exception. Prior to shutdown, the uniform was technically a black shirt, black pants and black shoes. Not a bad look, but it never really hit that Four Seasons luxury hotel vibe we like. Knowing how much the doctor appreciated my tailored presentation on this blog and on social media, I took a gamble and showed up fully suited on our first day back to work. He loved it. What’s more, others at the office took notice with comments like, “Wow, you look so nice!” “Look at you!” “I love your suit!” I graciously thanked them for their kind words, remarking that I wanted to sort-of ‘celebrate’ being back to work, which was true. I’ve been wearing a suit to work every day since.
Most important, I think, has been the reception by patients, as one of my roles entails playing the front-of-house face for the doctor’s “brand,” as it were. The difference in their reaction to me now as opposed to my all black pre-shutdown look is palpable, with compliments coming directly from patients or second hand from the boss. “So-and-so loves the look and thinks the whole presentation is a great addition to the practice.” Things like that. It’s really nice to hear. But what means most to me is that it adds another layer, something nice to the patients’ experience. They’re spending a lot of money for our services, and the importance of going that extra mile to make the experience feel even more special is not lost on me. Details… presentation… appearances… they all matter, and it gives me tremendous pleasure to add to it.
A word about the suit and the whole kit… As much as I enjoy wearing custom tailored fare, some words I’d use to describe my aesthetic are efficient and restrained. My suits are mostly solid in color. Where there are patterns, they’re very muted. My ties and pocket squares are pretty tame, too. Socks? Solid black or navy. Shoes? You’ve read about those. I’m a big fan of the endangered arts of subtlety and nuance, preferring the finer, more interesting sartorial details to whisper rather than scream. What’s more, I don’t dress to distract or steal focus. I’m not the star of the show at work. If there’s anything to notice, it’s in the tailoring, the clean, well-tended dark shoes, the quarter-inch of exposed shirt cuff, the balance of lapel/shirt collar/tie width, the break of the pants onto the foot… all of which register at least subconsciously to the observer. The devil is, indeed, in the details.
In summary, I’ll reiterate that it is really nice to be back at work again. I’m very lucky that department. And it’s doubly good to be going to work in clothes that make me feel good and give other people pleasure. As I’ve always said: We all make a contribution to the visual landscape. Why not make a positive contribution? Our horrible pandemic situation has taken so much from our lives, especially here in New York City. The idea of wearing masks, keeping distant and not being able to experience human touch for what looks like another year or so really brings me down. The simple joy of putting on nice clothes takes away some of the sting.