Dress Smartly

“It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I had the rare and exciting opportunity to attend a “black tie” birthday party for a friend of mine last evening. Rarely do I give much thought to tuxedos, but wearing mine last evening caused me to look up the history of the tuxedo. Here is one interesting summary of its history I found on The Black Tie Guide, a gentleman’s guide to evening dress:

While white tie has remained essentially frozen in time since its inception, the history of black tie has been one of continual evolution. So how do we establish which phase in the tuxedo’s timeline can best be described as quintessential? By determining the period when black tie’s purpose converged most effectively with its attire.

As elucidated in the History section, the original purpose of black tie was to create a comfortable alternative to the tailcoat while retaining its level of stature and class. Prior to the late 1920s the heavy wool fabric and stiff shirts that accompanied the dinner jacket did not provide much relief from the discomfort of traditional full dress. Conversely, while black-tie attire did become considerably more comfortable in the following decades, by the 1950s subsequent stylistic innovations began to erode the tuxedo’s inherent formality.

This places the apex of the dinner jacket’s evolution squarely in the 1930s and ’40s. A look at the expert definition of proper black tie confirms this fact: the contemporary descriptions provided by fashion and etiquette authorities all draw from the protocols established during this specific period. “No other era could have produced such a sartorial success,” is how esteemed haberdasher Alan Flusser describes this sublime confluence of the practical and the aesthetic. “Since the culmination of the dinner jacket’s design in the late 1930s, men’s fashion has yet to improve upon the genius of its original design or the unimpeachable refinement of its accoutrements.”

So, for those who lived in the early part of the last century, “black tie” was a relief from the more formal requirements of daily dress! Can you imagine? We now live in an era where casual attire is taken to new heights. In fact, unless you choose a morning flight primarily filled with businessmen and women on their way to morning meetings at their destination, you will have to look hard to find a suit on a man or a dress on a woman. Instead, you typically find yourself adrift in a sea of jeans, t-shirts and sweats.

My own preference is for clothing that is both functional and fashionable. One of the articles in “Elegance: A Quality Guide to Menswear” notes that: “The interesting irony of formal attire is that almost without exception, every aspect of the masculine evening costume derives from the sport of horseback riding.” An interesting thought given the ubiquitous and unavoidable dirt, sweat and dust that accompany every ride!

Your clothing choices should enhance your figure, your color and your personality, not detract or camouflage it. Whether dressing casually or formally or somewhere in between, don’t curse your figure or dread getting dressed, look instead to maximize your assets. Don’t be fooled or tricked into despair. Every single person has aesthetic attributes worth highlighting. They may be physical or simply an “air about you” but you do have starting points available to you. The trick is discovering what those are and being creative in complementing them while downplaying your less noteworthy assets.

When it comes to clothing I am of the opinion that you are better off owning a few nice things that really suit you than a closetful of things you bought just because they were on sale or kind of fit. It is generally a more economical approach and it saves a ton of heartache. Moreover, it saves a lot of agony when it comes time to decide what you are going to wear.

Make sure that you learn about and stock up on a few classics. The simple yet elegant black dress for women. A dark navy suit for men. The latest fads are fun and modern is great, but if you do not have a core of classics you’ll forever be subject to the cruel and shifting winds of trendy fashion.

There is much more to say on this topic, but I’ll spare you the details for now… Wouldn’t it be nice if this topic was touched on in school? It would save so much trouble!

Dress for Success

“Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire.” – Charles Dickens

One thing should be clear: clothes do not make a man a gentleman or a woman a lady; and, by the same token, a real gentleman or a true lady is always a gentleman or a lady, no matter what he or she wears. The clothes you wear either magnify or cloak your personality and what you wear is in many ways less important than how you wear it.

I relaxed my company’s dress code today in hopes that there might be room for greater creative freedom, not just in apparel choices but in thought and deed. We’ve been heavily engaged in breaking down assumptions we’ve held that have prevented us in any way from making it easy for our clients to do business with us and this fashion statement was freshly pressed to that end.

The fashion choices we make are deeply personal. Like our food choices, they are based part on preference, part on need, part on availability and part on custom. Your clothing is a calling card to your personality, to your mood and to your outlook and your ability to dress appropriately can have a significant impact on how successful you are in any department of life.

It is possible to overdress. It is possible to underdress. At times it makes sense to overdress while it is less commonly advisable to underdress. The key is to dress in such a way that you do not hinder your effectiveness in life. Neutral or helpful is good. Hindrance is bad.

I’ve found that first impressions are important to people but at the same time I’ve always enjoyed the times when I’ve been surprised to learn that my initial impressions were incorrectly formed. Appearances can be deceiving and its worth remembering that fact lest you be caught in a web of prejudice.

In relaxing the dress code at my company I hope that everyone will rise to the occasion and take care to determine what is appropriate. We don’t live in a time like the Elizabethan era where what was worn when was formalized and rigid. That said, the art of appropriateness lives on.

There are those (often men) who say that they don’t really care about what they wear, but then when you look at them from one situation to the next they somehow end up not just fitting in but often matching what others around them wear. I was recently in a small town where every guy had a baseball cap on with sunglasses perched atop the cap. I was convinced of a fashion conspiracy, but were I to ask about it I’m sure that every one of them would have said that they put no thought to the ensemble.

There is no harm done in caring about what you wear, neither is there any problem in my book with not caring much about what you wear, unless your lack of concern gets in the way of you delivering the greatness that is yours to give. Clothing fitly chosen, like words fitly spoken are an aspect of your aesthetic and there is no reason to decrease the odds of someone receiving you due to a poorly composed aesthetic.

At the end of the day, it’s not so much what you wear but the goods you deliver that tell the tale. If you don’t have the resources to wear what you would like to wear, don’t be ashamed. Do the best you can with what you have and you can’t go wrong. As Albert Einstein said “If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”