A friend invited me to be his plus-one for a concert of Brahms at Carnegie Hall this past weekend, with a supper in a fancy restaurant immediately following. Though I certainly appreciate classical music and often listen to it while working, the classical music scene is not my world at all. I basically feel like Tom Ripley in these situations. The music, however, is always gorgeous, and my friend is smart, funny and fantastic company.
The combination of classical music and Carnegie Hall says suit and tie to me (and my friend, thankfully). As I looked around the audience before the performance started and at intermission, it was obvious that the combination of fine musical art and an iconic Manhattan venue inspires something quite different in other people’s sartorial inclinations. Of all the men in attendance that evening, I’d say about 40% were in a suit or jacket, with even less wearing a tie. For a classical music performance. At Carnegie Hall.
The seismic shift away from dressing up for any occasion depresses me. At weddings, funerals, Broadway shows, nice restaurants and even the Metropolitan Opera House, fewer and fewer men find it necessary to wear a suit or jacket, let alone a tie. And if it’s black tie or black tie optional? Don’t get me started. It’s all about the unironed casual shirt (which is apparently the new dress shirt), the sweater, the jeans or even the hoodie, and sometimes sneakers. Nowadays, personal comfort trumps all else in the relentless pursuit to have the super-cozy, fleecy, snuggy-on-the-sofa-at-home feeling wherever we go, no matter what it looks like. And athleisure dressing like one is living in a perpetual yoga class is almost worse.
Don’t get me wrong: I love being comfortable. Sitting on the sofa at home in a t-shirt and sweats with a nice blanket and a new season of House of Cards in front of me is one of my favorite ways to be. The only time I’ve ever been more comfortable was in my mother’s womb, but, as an adult, I don’t feel the urge to reproduce that experience with clothes. That’s what sleeping in my bed is for. At some point, you’d think one might be interested in growing up, particularly when stepping out of one’s home. Instead, we’re at a soft, frumpy, dumpy time in our culture where many grown men go about their day dressed like they’re on their way to baseball practice after school.
Though they’re not necessarily as comfortable as a hoodie and basketball shorts, my suits are tailored to be very comfortable. I often wear them all day, and then into the evening, quite comfortably. But the way men avoid wearing suits and jackets at all cost these days, you’d think jackets were lined with thumb tacks. It’s as if anything that doesn’t entail denim and sneakers is a fancy foreign language.
I can only speculate why so many men have moved away from “dressy” clothes. Maybe it’s a rebellion/anti-establishment thing. (Though wearing a suit these days feels more like the rebellious move.) Maybe it’s a Silicon Valley thing. (Ever seen a picture of the “Fairchild Eight,” the guys who founded Silicon Valley?) Maybe it’s an “I don’t want to be my father” or “I don’t want to look like my grandfather” thing. (But doesn’t gramps look kinda cool in those old pictures?) Maybe it’s an “I don’t want to dress outside my station in life” thing. (It worked wonders for Tom Ripley and certainly opened doors for me.) As I said, I can only speculate. What I do know is that all men – regardless of age, height, size, shape, whatever – look their best in a nice tailored suit. Find me any man who doesn’t look at James Bond, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra or vintage Michael Caine and say “I’d love to be that.” For some reason, a lot of men seem to be afraid of it.
What are the occasions that get men to actually dress up beyond a sweater anymore? What are men saving the suit or jacket for? It’s like the sartorial equivalent of covering the nice living room furniture in plastic, saving it for that truly super special occasion that never comes. What is that occasion?? Invitation to the White House? The Queen’s funeral?
This isn’t exclusively a phenomenon among younger generations, either. The other night at Carnegie Hall, I saw many older men who clearly weren’t interested in looking good for their wives anymore. It’s as if they’ve told themselves “Well, we’re here, bound together for life. What’s the point anymore? Let’s let it all go. Fuck it.” Thrilling. If that’s what marriages or long-term relationships look like, I’ll pass.
And this isn’t about money, either. I have less money than almost anyone I know. It’s about making do with the best you can afford and giving a damn.
It’s no news to anyone who knows me or reads this blog that I often wear suits, even though there’s nothing about my professional life that technically requires it. It’s a choice that makes me look nice and feel good. Whenever I step out for the evening for theatre, fine performing arts or a nice dinner in a suit or jacket (or anything that isn’t denim or a sneaker, basically), I invariably get: “Wow, you’re so dressed up.” That’s a bummer. And when people follow up with “I feel so underdressed,” I feel badly for them. Between being overdressed and underdressed, I’ll take the former any day.
So sport a suit or jacket and a nice pair of shoes. Jazz it up however you wish with a fabulous tie, a crisp shirt with a terrific pattern, interesting pocket linen or those funny socks if you like. Give life a renewed sense of occasion, dress up and enjoy. It won’t hurt you. In fact, you might even get some nice compliments, get a meeting with a new client or get a better table. Hell, you might even get laid.