I started dressing like a grown up this year.
Like most of us, guys especially, I didn’t need to wear anything more than jeans and a t-shirt for most of my life. I had a couple of jobs that required button ups, but that was it. And very few jobs require suits. But I liked the more formal style, since it wasn’t required of me, I wrote it off as too expensive and difficult.
When I first started talking about it, I got similar reactions. Some made excuses that it was too expensive. Or that fashion was shallow and superficial. Or that clothing is a material possession, implying that wearing cheap clothes is a more enlightened way of living (I wonder why they weren’t aggressive nudists). Others said they couldn’t pull it off, like you need to be in shape to wear nice clothes.
Now, first off, I should say that this is about traditional fashion. And while knowing a name or a label can be helpful, this isn’t about learning about the latest “fall fashions” or knowing what the celebrities are wearing by eye. I’m talking about good old shirts, suits, and pants (although the thoughts on this post is not gender specific, my fashion research and experience is).
Good quality clothes do cost more. It’s true. But don’t let that prejudge what’s going on. There’s a difference between a $200 jacket because it has someone’s name on it, and a $200 jacket that’s made of quality materials. Sure, there’s comfort and appearance to consider, but that high price tag can end up saving you money. A good suit will last you decades if not the rest of your life. A good shirt will last at least a decade. A good shoe can, with upkeep and repairs, easily last a lifetime. And when you’re comparing them to the t-shirt fashion style, you can get by with a lot fewer clothes. Generally you go for a couple of slacks and jackets, spiced up with a rotation of shirts and ties (a vest ups your combinations even more). Some research is required so you know which labels to seek, and some big ones to avoid (there is a mix of artificially high price tags: some are because they are the new hot name, others because they were a hot, quality name in the past but haven’t kept up), but you can easily get a wardrobe that will cost you less money.
This is similar to the price problem. Except that I would add that using less clothes that last longer is less materialistic. Not to mention better for the environment. And since you’re looking for quality, you’re more likely to find yourself buying from local clothing makers, which means less fuel to get from the source to your closet and supporting your local economy.
This one I get. No one wants to be a part of shallow American culture. But caring about your appearance is a far cry from caring only about appearances. This isn’t heroin. I can’t promise you won’t gain a strong urge to set more money aside for a new suit, but I can assure you that you aren’t going to find yourself on a slippery slope to sleazetown.
The other thing is, outward appearance can have a big impact on your internal landscape. You can even try it a little. Pay attention to how your sitting. Feel how energetic you feel. Now, slouch a lot more. Feel that? It may be slight, but I bet you felt a little bit more down, a bit less energetic. Now sit up, and puff out your chest like the hero of a melodrama. Feel a bit more confident and energized, just a little? Our brains don’t work in a vacuum. External factors don’t control it all, but they control a lot more than we’re aware. Dressing well contributes to that. Good clothes will fit well and feel better wearing. Just knowing that you’re dressed spiffy will affect your attitude. And then there’s the way people react, warmth that’s directed straight on you.
You Can’t Do It
The idea that you have to be fit to dress nice is preposterous. Actually, it’s the other way around. Check out how often actors are at photo events with shirts untucked and unbuttoned. Good clothes will work with your body. Clothes can help mediate your height if you’re very tall or very short. They can add weight to the skinny and hide weight and slim the shape of the not so skinny. The modern fashion I’m talking about was honed in the early quarter of the 20th century. Fitness wasn’t like it is today. And few men had bodies that we consider great looking today. Look at a man like President Taft. Sure, you can still tell he’s a big man, but he’s also carrying it better and looking sharper than a man the same 340 pounds in a t-shirt (which is probably worn too big) and jeans or shorts. A good outfit will instead work to improve your body’s appearance.
I think sometimes there’s an underlying concern, and that’s the attention and dramatic shift. And if that’s your concern, I’ll give it to you. It’s not an easy thing to jump into. You’ll get more attention, especially to those who are used to how you used to dress. I didn’t even know that was holding me back. Several years ago was when I first had the impulse. When I started dressing up this year, I noticed how much more energy it took. But I can also tell you that almost all the attention you get is positive. I’ve gotten stopped and complimented by a complete stranger once (although by wife looking even better was probably a factor, the compliment was directed at both of us). I’ve gotten more smiles, and from people who I interact with, lots of compliments as well.
There’s also the factor that this is a costume, in many ways. I dress more confidently, which lets me pretend to be more confident, which lets me act more confident, and I end up more confident as a result. Social anxiety can make the step more intimidating, but ironically pushing yourself in that direction can help you get past the anxiety, too.
In the next part tomorrow, I’ll get into my own journey and some starting tips I’ve discovered.