Way I see it, you can’t have ice cream without broccoli.
O.K.; maybe that’s a little extreme. But you get the idea: a thing isn’t special unless it has something to be special against, something to be better than. Generations of kids have gutted it out with the vegetable portion of their plates to get to the fudge ripple promised land on the other side. Kids? Heck, generations of adults. Part o’ life.
Which is why I can’t understand our national preoccupation with slovenliness in the name of comfort. Feeling good in your clothes is one thing; showing up at the grocery looking like a frayed dust rag is another. I’m well aware of the “casualization” of America, and I understand that complete formality in all things isn’t really necessary. This is not the socially rigid 1950s, where June Cleaver and her Emily Posted contemporaries felt compelled to be dressed perfectly before going out — or they’d simply stay home.
But if you never take a step toward the more formal end of the spectrum — well, then what are you relaxing from?
Like good manners, dressing well — or at least better — is a favor you do for those around you. And make no mistake, it benefits you. Who doesn’t feel better, cleaned up and in reasonably nice clothes? Nonetheless, I see pajamas in airports; disgustingly revealing cutoffs on bodies that are 20 years past the very idea of such things; denim-and-t-shirt ensembles, unfit even for mowing the lawn, “rocked” in church (please…respect).
It doesn’t have to be this way. Some ideas for doing that crucial favor for others, and for yourself:
- Suit & Tie? Not Every Guy. I happen to like suits; I’m one of those men who can wear them well. A well-fitting suit is a thing of joy to wear, and a tie paired with a shirt whose neck fits right is perfectly comfortable. Not everyone agrees — and that’s fine. But it doesn’t give you a pass to show up at a nice restaurant in jeans and a Von Dutch t-shirt. When in doubt, wear a blazer over a collared shirt (ironed) and casual pants (with a crease). Not that hard.
- Would You Answer the Door In It? If not, don’t step outside in it. If slouchy clothes meant for home comfort would embarrass you in the event that someone you wanted to impress rang the doorbell, do not go to Wal-Mart, the airport, the post office, or anywhere else in them.
- There Are Exceptions. Coming home from a workout and need to stock up on groceries? O.K.; no worries. You may meet a friend in a tennis dress or another in golf clothes. Just…make an effort to neaten up a bit between sweat manufacture and reentry into society. Same for people whose work leaves them kinda grimy.
- Yes, It’s a Long Flight, But… There are other ways. For overnight flights, I have put pajamas in my carry-on and changed in the bathroom, then changed back an hour before landing. That way you don’t look like an overgrown toddler in the gate area.
On top of all this, you’ll find that when you are dressed carefully (as opposed to carelessly) in public, people tend to treat you better. That works wonders with customer service, where your credibility in making the request sets the tone for what follows.
Overall, dressing well isn’t hard work, just a little extra effort. But like hard work, it’s nothing to be afraid of. It pays benefits. And when you let yourself think about taking some more adventurous steps, about the possible magic of a night out wearing a snappily tailored tuxedo or ravishing evening gown — that’s when living in sweats all the time loses a great deal of whatever charm you thought it had.
Looking sharp, and feeling it. It’s even better than ice cream. I promise.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr