A couple weekends ago a dear friend of mine celebrated his call to the bar with friends and family at a local watering hole. We’re privileged in Vancouver to enjoy a tightly-knit legal community, especially amongst the junior ranks, and this becomes especially apparent at call parties.
It was obvious though, from the moment I stepped into the room, that my friend was celebrating his admission to our noble profession by doing more than throwing a mere party; that very day he also decided to purchase his first sport coat – his admission into the slightly less exclusive, but no less sophisticated, brotherhood of #menswear.
Wearing a suit for work everyday and dressing well are not equivalents. For most, the suits they drag themselves to the office in every morning are no more than uniforms; mandatory articles of clothing that they have no great affinity for, and will be haphazardly thrown back on the hanger from whence they came as soon as 5:00 rolls around. #menswear though is something more.
So much has been written elsewhere on the blogosphere about the significance of dressing well that I need not repeat it here, save for a few thoughts.
It’s a trite observation to note that there is more to clothing than simple function and aesthetics. Clothing is probably the most obvious, immediate and accessible way that we represent ourselves to others. As Jesse Thorn wrote on Put This On, “when you dress, you are making a statement; not a fashion statement, but a statement of identity.” When you choose to put on a jacket and tie, you are signifying to others that you take the occasion seriously, whatever that occasion may be. If you choose to make sure that your jacket fits properly, that your tie is tied properly, and your shirt matches all of the above – the message you send is that much stronger.
When people observe the way we dress, whether they are friends, co-workers, or complete strangers they are going to interpret what they see. They are interpreting the signals our wardrobe’s emit. Those signals may read “I am to be respected, I am successful, I take myself seriously” alternatively they can read “I don’t give a fuck, I don’t know any better, I’m lazy.” In some demographics, and in some professions maybe none of this matters. But I suggest that if you’re an upwardly mobile young man you’d rather come across as the former, rather than the latter.
Thorn observes that “the language of clothing is as complex as the spoken word, but ignorance of it is no excuse.” Are ironic t-shirts and board shorts easier? Sure. Can the respect of your peers be earned in other ways? Of course. But why not afford yourself every opportunity to make a better first impression, and a better lasting impression?
No one leaves a cocktail party (certainly not women) remarking to their friend about the guy “with the really clever slogan on his t-shirt” or the “really original Canucks logo on his baseball cap.” What does stick with people, men and women alike, is the gentleman who looked really sharp. People attribute positive characteristics to well dressed people, it’s human nature.
Dressing well is in many respects a lot like observing good manners or being a good host: it doesn’t have to cost you very much, but it will bring you considerable returns.
Ultimately dressing well comes down to effort. So many people hide behind “cost” or “not knowing what to buy” or a misplaced resistance to “conformity” as excuses for dressing poorly. Dressing well is not prohibitively expensive, and there is considerably less “conformity” in wearing a logo-less blazer than a t-shirt emblazoned with a trademark.
So long as one is willing to put in the effort to seek out sales, utilize ebay, or shop second hand, good clothing can be had at any budget. The price of a few graphic t-shirts, baseball caps, and high-street jeans (the crutches of the poorly dressed) is not that different than an oxford shirt and pair of chinos. The difference is that t-shirts don’t have to be ironed, and baggy jeans don’t need to fit well.
The moral of this story is that my friend’s new sport coat genuinely looked good on him, and our friends took notice.
Men’s suit jackets, sport coats, and blazers are designed to flatter men by broadening the shoulders, squaring the chest, and narrowing the silhouette. By throwing a sport coat over his button-up shirt and jeans, and ditching the sneakers for a pair of boots, my friend was saying “I’m a lawyer now”. Welcome to the brotherhood Bill.