I went to a Broadway show the other night. When I arrived at my seat at the Lyceum Theatre for Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s hilarious “Oh, Hello,” I took a look around the audience and quickly realized that I was the only one in a suit, let alone a tie. It looked like a crowd at a Yankees game.
This is where we are.
Jeans, sneakers, t-shirts, hoodies, shorts, flip-flops, baseball caps… at a Broadway show. I also hear that it’s not much different at the opera or the ballet. It’s no wonder why so many guys rely on anonymous nude or semi-nude profile photos on smartphone apps to get laid, because in person with clothes on, their chances are bleak. It’s a boner killer.
Our culture is awash in the relentless pursuit of super casual comfort. I look around and see a world dressed in the sartorial equivalent of mac ’n’ cheese, bringing the cozy, fleecy, stretchy, onesie, elastic waistband comfort of the couch at home with them wherever they go. If I didn’t know any better, I’d presume everyone was on his way to or from the gym. But one look at the bodies infected with the athleisure virus, and I know better. If it’s about dressing for the job you want, I’m seeing armies of aspiring camp counselors and intramural softball coaches.
I can only speculate on the reason for the seismic shift from more elegant and sophisticated dressing. For years, I’ve been tempted to blame it on the fear of growing up. When my father was my age (46), he wore a suit and tie to the office and he looked great. He looked like a smart, handsome, responsible grown-up. When we went out as a family to dinner, to a show, to church, or to the airport to get on an airplane, we were all expected to put forth an effort, look nice, and present our best to the world. But my contemporaries now – no matter what the occasion – dress like the kids from E.T. on their way to baseball practice after school. The only thing missing is a Schwinn Stingray with streamers coming out of the handlebars and a banana seat.
Growing up is scary. Look at the popularity of the Men-Who-Refuse-To-Grow-Up Bromance Comedy genre in film and television. It’s Hoodieville, U.S.A. Maybe this started in the 1970s when moms had to start going to work to put dinner on the table, leaving no one at home to teach kids how to tie their own shoes, make their own beds, fold their own clothes and wipe their own asses. Jump cut to today, where we have ostensible grownups walking around nursing bottles of water and sugary coffee drinks through straws, resembling adult extensions of baby bottles and sippy-cups. (Guilty as charged here, since I still enjoy an occasional cigarette.)
But this is where we are.
It’s not about money. I’m quite confident that I have been less financially successful than most – if not, all – of my classmates, proving that the combination of actor/writer/voiceover performer/web builder/content creator/social media manager/consultant/winning personality produces no guarantee of a remotely lucrative outcome, regardless of education. (Or maybe I just keep sleeping with the wrong people.) I made a conscious decision to invest my humble wardrobe budget in timeless, trend-proof clothes that made me look nice, that made me look like somebody. Guys who dress like that look better in pictures and movies. As I wrote in a piece last year about why I love James Bond, I submitted that every red-blooded male who ever saw Sean Connery or Daniel Craig as 007 said to himself “I’d love to be that guy.” It’s the tailored suits, the jackets, the pants, the shoes… And it looks GREAT! I’d rather be that guy.
This isn’t about “designer” clothes, either. I do not own one stitch of clothing from a major designer or luxury brand, with the exception of a Gucci “G” belt from 1995, which I very rarely wear for fun since my name begins with a G. In terms of designer cachet, there are no brag-worthy “Look who I’m wearing” labels in my wardrobe or on my wrist. None.
Aside from the comfort-or-bust movement, I do think that some men dress down and stay dressed down out of fear. We’ve all wanted to fit in ever since we became socially aware adolescents. Since everyone else is so casual, dressing up means you won’t necessarily fit in as seamlessly as you would otherwise. Once I realized I wasn’t attracted to girls, I quickly came to terms with not always fitting in and learned to be quite alright with it. We always hear: Be yourself. I’d take it a step further: Be who you want to be, and be your best.
Maybe this stupid rant makes me a snob. Maybe dressing up makes me a freak. It certainly makes me stand out like some kind of anachronism, like I did the other night at the Lyceum. But as my father taught me and as I learned further in life, I do it out of respect for myself and for the people, places and things I’m seeing. Added perks include better tables, faster service, and nice compliments, which makes me feel good. And I also do it because it’s who I want to be, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.
It would be easy to let it all go and just wear jeans and a sweater to a Broadway show, or shorts, sneakers and a hoodie to a nice restaurant. I’d fit right in and no one would notice. But as tempting, as easy, and as comfortable as it is to blend in, there’s a louder voice on the other side of my head that says, Fuck ‘em. Be who you want to be, and be your best.