Writing this blog is largely a labor of love, but can be a richly rewarding experience. This is especially true when I find that I have in some way managed to have a positive influence on a young person. Cal it my fatherly instinct talking, but few things are as meaningful as teaching someone something they found to be important. Reader Brandon, a 21 year old college student in the South, recently wrote me a downright humbling email. It is with his permission that I present an excerpted version of it here. We curmudgeons do like to grouse about the current state of things, but there may be hope for the future yet. For that I am thankful.
This past summer, I had a sartorial awakening. It started when I got a summer job that required me to "dress up." I was required to wear slacks, a button down shirt, and a tie every weekday this summer…. At first I dreaded it due to the extreme heat here in Louisiana, but after the first couple of weeks, I grew to love it. People were always complimenting me and I always got pleasant looks from attractive ladies when I ran errands after work. On top of that, I just felt more professional and I took more pride in everything I did. I liked the intoxicating effect it had on me.
From middle school through the first couple of years of college, I was into the punk/ska scene and skateboarded. I was a regular at the skate park and the local punk venue. Thus, my usual attire consisted of old skate or band shirts, Dickie's pants, tight jeans with holes and patches, skate shoes, and the other usual adornments of such a scene. I loved it.
During college, my mindset had changed. I had grown up and matured past my punk ideals. Though I had changed on the inside, my clothing failed to reflect that. So I decided that I no longer wanted to be looked at as a childish, rebellious punk, but rather as a professional young adult. I decided that when I returned to college for my senior year, I would dress like a stylish adult. I would not wear another tshirt, but rather always wear button up shirts or polos to class and social functions.
I quickly realized that I didn't have enough money to expand my wardrobe much. College doesn't leave much extra money for you. I knew that the best thing to do would be to save up for quality pieces rather than getting the disposable junk I had worn so much of my life. I started saving but was torn when I couldn't buy the things I wanted to wear. Then, one fateful day about a month ago, I came across your blog. I was overjoyed at the various clothing items you bought for so little at thrift shops… Using the knowledge I gained from your blog, I have already started shopping at thrift shops and have had some success. I don't usually see the labels you tend to see (unfortunately, there aren't many fine clothing shops where I live and thus, not much fine discarded clothing), but I have learned to look for other things such as the feel of the material, the quality of the construction, where it was made, and pattern matching. Honestly, pattern matching is something I had never even thought of before, but once you had pointed it out to me, it is something I could never overlook again.
Just so you know, my progress so far is amazing. Apparently, it's pretty easy to impress people on a college campus. I am always turning heads. And though I figure probably half of those are to poke fun at the kid wearing a collared shirt and penny loafers, the other half more than make up for it. Besides, if there is one thing that the punk culture taught me, it's to do what you want. It's actually kind of funny that dressing well is almost an act of rebellion today. Anyway, all of my friends love my new sartorial change and whole-heartedly support it. It has even got some of them considering dressing better… I started out wearing a button down shirt with chinos and nicer shoes. I then moved on to adding a tie and cardigan in the cooler weather. And now, I am proud to say that I am planning to buy my first bow tie. A year ago, I would have never thought such a thing was possible.
Though my self-confidence is certainly not based upon the clothes I wear, I feel more confident with how I present myself now. I think that is one thing that people miss when they dress so slovenly all of the time. As silly as it sounds, I feel more comfortable with speaking up in class and sharing my ideas. Even if I am wrong, at least I look damn good being wrong. I have never been one to be quiet or shy so that isn't really the difference; it just seems like people listen more attentively and take me more seriously now that I'm the guy in the tie and not the guy in the band shirt.
Thank you Brandon. For someone barely out of his teen years, you have stricken an early and decisive blow against the dread Eternal Teenager Syndrome.