11 April 2011

All Due Respect

There's a funeral home not far from my house. I pass by it frequently, and being the clothing snob that I am I constantly find myself sizing up the outfits people see fit to wear to the moment of final respect these days. Recently, I saw a skinny young fellow, perhaps 18 years old, heading into the home dressed something like this:
photo knicked from the internet

The kid I saw was skinny, and tall, and lanky. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie. His suit was at least four sizes too big. The shoulders of the jacket over hung his own shoulders by several inches, and the sleeves all but covered his hands. The pants were at least six inches too long, puddling at the ankles in large folds. His shirt collar hung far enough away from his neck too fit your whole hand in the gap. Of course, my gut reaction was one of abject disdain and criticism...until I gave it a moments thought.

The internet in general and sites like mine in particular have a way of bringing together the wide diaspora of men out there who still give a damn about dressing well, for better or worse. The fortunate side effect of this is that we find an accidental community of like minded people to discuss our mutual interest with. The unfortunate side effect is that this can lead to a tendency to be overly cantankerous and curmudgeonly. Traits like this can be quaint and endearing in small doses, but they easily get out of hand. Unchecked, they are qualities attractive to no one.

I'm going to go ahead and not only cut our skinny young friend some slack, but outright applaud his efforts. He did, after all, wear a black suit and tie to a funeral, a rare enough thing and a clear sign of respect for the gravity of the occasion at hand. Most of his older couterparts who I observed that day afforded the deceased enough respect to tuck thier shirt (neck open, sleeves rolled back) into their "good" khakis. I'd venture to guess that if it weren't for their wives, many of these men's clothes wouldn't even have been pressed. And here's this kid in a black suit, you know, like he's going to a funeral or something. Bravo, I say. Let's just hope someone comes into his life to help guide him down the right path, one he may have taken a tenative step down, someone to help him tune things up a bit. Maybe his dad can step in, maybe he'll find advice on the internet. Either way, take it how you can get it these days.

The old crumbs, myself included, like to go on ad nauseam about the things we've lost in our culture, yet we can be very reluctant to look for glimmers of hope. You should see the way the old dudes scare a young guy out of the J. Press store in Harvard Square, all the while complaining about how they're not selling anything these days, how the old customers are dropping one by one. We simply can't have it both ways. Guys like our young friend ought to be encouraged, not chastised.The same goes for twenty something "preppies" who shop at J. Crew and kids who are way into Polo. They want to do it, it turns them on, but like all kids, they just don't really know what they're talking about. Until someone tells them , that is. They've already partaken of the gateway drug. It's up to the rest of us to show them clean, uncut, snow white good stuff.

36 comments:

Main Line Sportsman said...

Very well said Sir....

The Enthusiast said...

This is very well put. While being a grump is fun, I will have to remember not to mutter under my breath as much.

Fletcher said...

You raise a very good point. It serves not only the stubborn oldies in J.Press and Andover, but it should also serve the endless echo chamber that is men's "style blogging." The very same chamber that slays someone for not wearig a blazer that looks like it was stolen from an eighth grader going to his graduation ceremony.

As an aside, let's not forget that many young people wear hand-me-downs or stuff their mothers found at Goodwill because that is all they can afford. A forty dollar trip to a decent tailor may be a deal to some, but not to all.

ms. mindless said...

Great post. Sometimes, I liken the snobbishness of the men's fashion/style blogging world to plain old mean girls. Men often like to pretend that they are so far above women and catty behaviors, but the writing is on the wall (or blog).

Young Fogey said...

Bravo. I would love to see more men, not fewer, giving it a shot.

I have a co-worker who sometimes wears ties. He always wears pants and shirts I consider unsuitable for a professional environment, but even so, when he wears a tie, I give him some sort of an "atta boy!" to encourage him.

How I wish someone would say something like, "gee, you always looks so nice--would you give me a few pointers?" I'll probably have to wait until my boy gets older, and hope that he'll be willing to listen to his old man.

Until then, I'll just have to provide the best example I can.

David M. said...

Yes, very well said. We don't have to be snobs about dressing well. And as much as I hate J. Crew for using other brands, like Barbour and Alden, and having high prices, they're at least selling the 'right clothes'. I still want to tell the guy in the picture to unbutton the bottom button on the suit jacket. When I walk through stores with jackets on display with the bottom button buttoned I unbutton it so hopefully some guy who doesn't know better gets the hint.

Ford said...

Bravo friend.

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more. Thank You. Stuff like this is why I love this blog so much. Weird last line though. The way I see it, have some rules for yourself. Not for anyone else.

Elizabeth said...

I'd like to second Fletcher's comment. When I initially read this post I immediately thought of that possibility.

Certainly the internet brings together like-minded individuals with a concern for fashion, but more than this it often brings together individuals of the same socioeconomic status. This is a fact that many, including myself, often forget.

Joe K said...

Hey, I've been to more than my share of funerals where adult attendees showed up wearing sweatpants, so I agree, this kid's on the side of the angels. Also, you have to consider that it's often because of a funeral that teenagers will get their first suit. And oftentimes they won't have time to get it to the tailor, so they have to wear what they can get. Now someone just has to introduce him to the joys of a good tailor.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Fletcher, considering it was a funeral, the young man may have very well borrowed the suit in a pinch. Considering he was so well dressed I would assume he was likely very close to the deceased. Furthermore, as an uncle of growing boys, tailors and hand me downs are just not in my sister's budget for clothes they will outgrow in a season. Just my thoughts...

Frank said...

Amen! My boy loves to dress for Sunday, and so is an easy student. His friends, on the other hand, need to be encouraged, not disparaged.

Frank Feldmann
zwischen-zug.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

That's a good thought, G.

I appreciate that you cut the skinny kid a break—a few years ago, this kid's dad died, and while I wanted to dress for his funeral in a way that honored his wonderful life, I was too dumb, too poor, and, more than anything else, too fucking sad to know what the hell I was doing. So I ended up in pooling pant legs and dinner table shoulders of questionable quality (I haven't worn it since that day, so I couldn't even tell you who made it).

But the thought was there, somewhere under the shitty suit and the saddest, hardest thing that ever happened in my life.

So, you know, well done, skinny kid.

JKG said...

Just to chime in on the economic point. The whole thing that drew me to AAW in the first place was my struggle to get decent clothes that fit and don't cost me much. I simply don't have the money (I'd probably be closer to having the money if I was sized normally, but that's another story). It's an endless frustration, and I know I've got more dosh that that kid.

Giuseppe said...

Don't forget folks, I'm 100% pecent pro-skinny kid here. I'm also pro- skinny kids parents, who presumambly bought him the suit. Too many parents these days would find it acceptable to let the kids wear a tennis shirt and baggy chinos to a funeral, and therein lies the problem. I don't blame young people for this situation of abject laziness so much as my own generation, the current 30somethings, for deciding that this sort of was acceptable in the first place.

notesandbeats said...

I have to disagree on J. Press. They always seem welcoming to me. If anything, the kids I see in there are disrespectful. I am 42, but I don't remember being such a wanker when I was in college.

On the funeral, you are right. In all likelihood, the kid is wearing a $99 suit and cheap shirt that he got at a discount store sans tailoring because that's what he can afford, and the thought of wearing used clothes seems to him like something a poor person would do.

Giuseppe said...

I don't remember being that much of a wanker at that age either, but truthfully I probably was.

JKG said...

Not that the assigning of blame is a worthwhile exercise (it just happens to be entertaining), but as a 30-something, I don't know that it's really our own fault. We were raised by the generation that rebelled against ties and helped to establish the "business casual" approach to "white-collar" dress. Most of us entered the workforce after the tide of the .com boom had washed away dressing with dignity almost altogether. As has been repeatedly remarked, it's the rare workplace outside an investment house or law office that requires anything beyond khakis and a collared shirt and -- let's face it -- over-dressing is likely to get you slapped with a douche-label.

We didn't really "decide" it was acceptable -- we were told it was acceptable. De riguer, in fact. What decision seems to be being made is actually a measured re-adoption of some older standards. Blame (or credit) Mad Men if you like, but increasingly I'm seeing younger men (in their 20s) who, having opted out of the full Hipster are adopting more and more of the hallmarks of traditional menswear. I might even call it a trend, if I understood such things.

I see your sympathy and good fellow-feeling toward the skinny kid. My comment (above) is more a reflection of my own insecurity, as I find it terribly difficult to get jackets and pants that fit correctly (even with a tailor's help which I can rarely afford).

T said...

You should hand out cards, Giu. Seriously.

Joe D. said...

JKG:

the comment on hipsters shifting towards traditional menswear is definitely a growing trend, and it will be full force within 6 months. In a few cities that I have visited in the last few months I've been seeing tons of early 20's/late teens in oxfords or wingtips, dress shirts and blazers, (they're still hanging onto the hipster glasses though)

with regards to the original post, I also feel the kid deserves respect for the effort, like everyone else has seen, we've all been to funerals with people that looked much worse. I believe that in this case, it's the idea of showing respect that is what really counts, not whether or not his suit fit.

Glen said...

Well said.

I have nothing more useful to add than what's already been said. So, this comment is somewhat selfish in that I hope to become a better man by admitting that I all too often criticize others (to myself) about what they wear.

You're right. The kid was most likely trying his hardest, with what he knew and what he could afford.

NCJack said...

First thing I thought of was "Dad's old suit", and no time or money to do better.

And JKG made a too good point, unfortunately, about "adult" guidance. Some years ago, an aunt died, I wore a dark suit/tie to the summer funeral, and a cousin-in-law in sport shirt kept suggesting we all doff our coats. At the time, I was 52, and he was almost 60.

Anonymous said...

It is "nicked" not "knicked". "Half-inched" is even better. Best get yourself the dvd set of "only Fools and Horses".

Sum

Cox said...

First, I want to applaud the slack(no pun intended) that you're all willing to cut the skinny kid. A funeral is never a good place to hand out recriminations. And funerals do lend themselves to slapdash ensembles, as most of us don't get the kind of announcement and RSVP notice that we are used to when attending true Black Tie events.

Second, as a Goodwill gourmand, I've come to truly appreciate what quality menswear means: finding a shirt that someone wore for several years, tired of, and donated so that I could wear a BBros shirt-Countess Maria tie- bespoke Italian suit- and Allen Edmunds shoes to work for a whopping $35 acquisition cost. Our job is not to mock or chastise, but to evangelize.

Because we have found the secret of Quality: it can be passed on through thrifting, second hand shops, and garage sales. It does not need a huge sacrifice of cash at a retail store, it can be bartered for time, discretion, and a handful of dollars. That is the secret we must impart to those who show promise, even if it is ill-fitting promise.

Anonymous said...

You know, if it was a young person he probably wasn't wearing his own suit. He probably wanted to wear a suit but couldn't afford one of his own or couldn't justify the expense at such a young age.

He borrowed his dad's or something and he knew he didn't look great. It was, however, the best he could find on short notice.

I think this situation has less to do with knowing how to dress well and being a person who is doing the best he can with limited resources and on short notice.

Anonymous said...

Best post I've seen on this blog. Amongst a slew of great posts. Well said.

Joe schmo said...

Though I have been reading this blog (as well as over a dozen other menswear blogs) for about a month, this is the first time I have commented, as I feel I can offer up some decent perspective. I am actually in age range which most of you are discussing, as a lower middle class highschool junior who's father... Does not really possess a high sartorial standard. ( he is a pastor, and most sundays doesnt even wear a jqcket to preach in. And some of his colleagues will seriously preach in jeans and a polo shirt.) And I just want to say, without sounding whiny, that for most of us it's actually harder then you think, at least from a blending in standpoint as well as from a knowledge standpoint. In a public high school, for example, you really cannot wear any sort of formal trouser or you will literally stand out more so then if you were naked. And a blazer would be even worse. (Jeans and a t shirt are standard, and I've even observed a classmate wear the same sweatshirt for a week straight.in spring, however, it's worse, as tons of them will wear shorts with ankle high socks. Or socks with flip-flops. ) Heck, I have seriously been hassled for wearing an argyle sweater over a button up. And believe me, I am not afraid to stand out a bit, but its high school, and I'm sure you remember the struggle to fit in there. ( I should mention it's a lucky thing I attend a school with a fairly high tolerance for homosexuals. I am not, but I'm sure I am percieved as one, because highschoolers love to stereo type.) so there is the whole cultural thing, as well as the fact that we have few people to teach us HOW to dress well. ( for which I am insanely grateful to the menswear blogging community, but still, it's a giant wealth of information, and I can rarely afford any actual items. Still great inspiration. ) anyways, I apologize for the long treatise, but I figured as I appear to be the only highschoolers here my input might be appreciated. ( I should mention that I eagerly await the days when dressing well is somewhat more culturally acceptable,
And I will also have more money.)

Ed said...

Being a young person myself, I definitely feel you hit the nail on the head. I recently began exploring the world of dress and admit to not knowing much, or even enough, to look polished and well kept day in and day out. The internet is a wonderful place, but it may sometimes bring out the worst in us. Also, I have to agree with the remark on older customers and store owners intimidating us younger folk I can't count the amount of times I've stepped out of a store because I felt the clerk was suspecting me of being a shoplifter or the like.I hope for the best for this "kid" as well as the friends and family of the deceased.

Anonymous said...

I find myself at times struggling between the unfortunate choice of wearing clothes that fit (and hence look good) and wearing clothes that are labeled "nice clothes" but don't really fit, and so don't actually look very good (most common with dress shirts before I discovered slimfit and fitted).

I'm slowly coming out of that (the "slowly" part can be infuriating), but as a poor graduate student, slow is the keyword there.

usually if the occasion calls for a level of formality shown through the clothes one wears, going with the right clothes, even if they don't fit right, is really the only choice.

Such is the case with our skinny kid.

Also, noting that a black suit is not something worn for much other than a funeral, not getting a hand-me-down suit tailored in a time of grief is very much understandable.

Pigtown-Design said...

I attended a funeral on Monday, and the son of the woman who died wore a open-necked striped button-down shirt and khaki pants. I thought it was wholly inappropriate. (and he's in his 50's)

Zach said...

@Pigtown: As wholly inappropriate as rendering sartorial judgement on the son of the deceased at his mother's funeral? Perhaps you should offer to school him in the finer points of bereavement.

Roger said...

The sense of sartorial superiority is something that has always bothered me on menswear blogs and forums. It's not as acute here because you're dealing with sensible thrifting.

But I do find myself closing browser tabs when a tirade starts up against "the ill-dressed masses". It's not that I think many aren't ill-dressed, but that I don't believe that the complainers really want the entire world to become well dressed at all, because it would abolish the unique position of being a sartorialist.

Outside professional business dressing really well is more like a hobby than a necessity for most people; not many live an aristocratic, 3 wardrobe-changes-a-day lifestyle.
And the fact of the matter is that clothing choices have expanded and changed. It's not even realistic to complain that people in the 50s wore flannels and leather shoes, what else would they have worn? There was nothing else. So not everyone was actively "choosing" them.

Giuseppe said...

Well put, Roger. Especially that bit about the old days. If I woke up tomorrow to a world full of men in suits and ladies in sensible skirts, I'd probably stay in with the bins shut all day wondering what the hell happened.

Still, I do wish people generally would respect serious occasions like funerals more than they do.
The fact that we've generally lost the notion that "dressing up" is an outward sign of respect in certain situations is a great loss, but the skinny kid gives me hope.

francis jones said...

I'm a youngster in the UK, some of you might even see me as one of those hipsters everyone enjoys hating. I moved to London in the Autumn to study and over the last year before that I started making more of an effort in my appearence and looking especially for 50s and 70s smart clothes. I do my shopping mostly in charity shops and second hand shops just like yourself. I'm growing past the hipster thing and feel I stand out amongst them as dressing much more old fashioned. I don't need the encouragement of my elders in dressing this way, I dont expect it either.

When I was a teenager I was really into punk rock and that sort of fashion, and I felt that making too much of an effort in how you dress was bourgeoise, all the while ignorantly doing al the work of having a big mohican and wearing my leather jacket and often a mohair in all heats.

I still like to stand out, but its more fun standing out for the right reasons, rather than decorating yourself in affectations.

the area I live in is of mostly Carribean heritage, these men and women mostly know how to dress well and its in thier culture to make an effort (and they fill the charity shops with great stuff). I find it more fun with competition than to look down on anyone in a tracksuit, after all, on a good day these other guys might out dress me.

Anonymous said...

I taught for over 20 years in a low-income high school. For graduation and baccalaureate ceremonies, I always brought a dozen extra ties since some kids did not have one. Neither did anyone else in the household.

It only makes sense, if you have little money, to spend your clothing budget on getting things you'll wear often, not on formal gear that doesn't come out often. To high school students like those I taught, nice sneakers are far dressier than polished "lace-up shoes" and a nice/new baseball cap is the equivalent of a tie!

I applaud the kid for showing up in a suit. He is trying.

Personally, I now own only one suit, a black funeral outfit. At my age, it falls into the "frequently worn" category! It is not a good suit, but it sufices. If I see something better at Goodwill, I may get it. But I prefer sport coats, since they cover 90% of dress-up events I attend. And I have a good collection, some from "vintage shopping" and some from new purchases.

Thanks for this blog. I read it every month!

Nick Seeber said...

Thanks For another great article!