Clothes and the man

There are a couple of style blogs that I really like. Put This On is great in terms of editorializing style. And The Sartorialist is equally great at visually curating style. Love ’em both. There are a few others that I follow (you can see the full list at the bottom of this post), but those two are my favorites.

PTO posted an interesting dialogue between bloggers about the importance of aesthetics. I’ll weigh in on it because it’s something I’ve thought about a bit on my own. My default setting has always been similar to what Jason wrote about. Even then, I understood at some level that there is an element of context that requires understanding in order to achieve desired effects. For example, you don’t talk to your grandmother the same way you talk to your friends from school. You (hopefully) use different language and take a more respectful tone with grandma. School friends and grandma are two wildly different contexts requiring two different ways of relating. I always felt the same about clothes–if jacket and tie were de rigueur for a workplace, then it’d be out of context, not to mention dumb, to wear jeans and a tshirt. Black tie dinners require, you guessed it, black tie clothes. Anything else would be disrespectful to the event and to others in attendance. If you don’t buy the idea that black tie is legit, then don’t attend the event. If you can’t get out of it, then man up, shut up, and dress right. It’s easy. It’s not about conformity, it’s about respect.

So that’s the utilitarian view that I’ve always had; pretty similar to what Jesse at PTO writes when he says, “The language of clothing is as complex as the spoken word, but ignorance of it is no excuse.” We part ways, though, when he says, “If you put on a jacket and tie, for example, you are signifying to others that you take the occasion seriously, whatever that occasion may be.” Here’s a simple example that anyone can understand: if you’re in the habit of wearing jacket and tie to the beach and you’re expecting to be respected because you’re “commanding respect,” then there’s something wrong with you. That’s obviously simplistic, but the idea extends elsewhere. I’ve read what Jesse says to guys asking what to wear in an IT environment where everyone is wearing birkenstocks and jeans, and I think it’s well intentioned, but misguided to tell them to sport the coat and tie every day. The first step is to evaluate the style spectrum of the environment. The second step is to aim for the dressier side of center. There is a spectrum of style at any workplace, and moving too far to either end is ill advised. I love french cuffed shirts, for example. But it is very, very rare that I can wear them at my job (and I’m working as a director of finance). It’s just too far outside the norm, I’d look like a pompous goofball, and it’d be a distraction for other folks. So the french cuffs stay in the closet.

Finally, I’ll say that I wholly agree with Jesse of PTO when he notes that, “I would never dream of suggesting that aesthetic choices are superficial, whether they be in the form of art, architecture, design, clothing or even language. Beauty is important.” If you think that’s a stretch and can’t really understand why anyone would think aesthetics has a singular value of it’s own (as opposed to being a “value-added” commodity), then let me recommend reading The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel. It’s an excellent little book that details the how and why of the intrinsic value of aesthetics. I don’t agree with every word, but reading it was definitely an inflection point for me in terms of how I view and value beauty.

2 thoughts on “Clothes and the man

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.