25 November 2011

Letter to the Editor (Hope Yet for the Future)

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.

Brandon writes:

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. 

27 comments:

GP said...

Very nice. He's far ahead of the pack.

J, said...

Nice! Interesting, how many of us, "classic menswear" afficionados, started in a punk scene. In my case: hardcore/punk/youth crew. ;-)

Tank said...

"struck" homie

Anonymous said...

^ Very true in the UK. In my case Punk and over into rockabilly in the early/mid '80's.

Adam said...

@ J-

It is interesting to think that those of us who were the rowdy punk kids who were cutting sleeves off of our shirts and pegging our pants in High School have come to something like 'classic menswear' later on.

Incidentally, the Eternal Teenager™ critique is funny to me mainly because I blame the baby boomers for creating those conditions… Now I sound like Vice…

Cody V said...

It is a bit strange isn't it? I started in the metal and psychobilly scenes.

GJB said...

Great letter and nice to see younger men, particularly those still in education who have no real need to, investing in their wardrobe and their style. The joys of being well presented only came to me when I was older (23) and had started my first "real" job.

A said...

Sorry to jump on the hardcore/punk love session, but I dress "trad", because that's how my parents dressed, and I like it. Feel free to continue.
-Boston WASP

Gregorius Mercator said...

My case wasn't so dramatic as I was the kid wearing a bow tie and suspenders in kindergarten until I got made fun of by some rather cruel older children, but I had mainly been rocking the t-shirt and jeans/olive green khakis through high school and made the upgrade to untucked button ups and nicer jeans by the end of my Freshman year of college. It's amazing what that little difference made in a sea of gym shorts, sweat pants, pajamas (gasp), and hoodies. I remember getting asked to do a couple of photo shoots for the school because I "dressed nice."

Always feeling that where my style was headed was too expensive and assuming I'd have to put it off, I started reading this blog my senior year and now, a couple years out, I rarely go out in less than a blazer and chinos, with some help from the AAW Shop. I finally found a tailor I love and trust, and my latest purchase (that great '60s vintage tweed coat with the 2/3 roll) is currently having the sleeves let out an inch or so (I love that classic clothing actually has enough fabric to be altered properly), along with having a bunch of shirts taken in since so much affordable clothing these days is designed for men with much more paunch than I. My tailor was so happy to have, in her words, real clothing that actually has structure to work with.

Thank you, Mr. Timore!

Prinz Ulrich von Boffke said...

What a wonderful letter!

Best Regards,

Ulrich von B.

Giuseppe said...

A,

To be fair, I dressed "Trad" first. Uniforms in Catholic school, and a jacket and tie by choice troughout most of high school. It wasn't until I turned about 19 that I discovered punk stuff, and it stuck with me through my late 20s, when I began to feel the need to be an adult. The beauty in all this lies in the discovery that the two schools of thought aren't as mutually exclusive as one might think.

Tank,
I thought we already had this quibble over minor grammatical and typographical infractions after the last post, homie.

Everyone else, thank you. I'm truly flattered.

Anonymous said...

No matter what anyone says, you dress like a punk to get attention. You demand attention by the actual clothing or by the attitude conveyed by the wearing clothing that screams "FU society".

Now a lot of you dress "Trad" for the same exact reason, I'm not sure why you would find that surprising.

Roger said...

Brilliant letter, and nice composition in itself.

Like A and Giuseppe I also dressed traditionally at first. Neither of my parents did (at least by the time I arrived).
When my mother was in and out of hospital I went to live with my grandparents for a while and was fascinated by my grandad's wardrobe and dressing room and I watched how he dressed. He gave me a paisley silk scarf and a felt trilby.

I'm guessing that, like me, a few here always wanted to look get that slick '30s look, but feared looking theatrical. I did for a long time and never felt at home in either sportswear or 'trendy' clothes.
At about 18 grandad gave me a double-breasted grey suit for a wedding and an Chesterfield overcoat. From there I kept interpolating the odd suit into my clothes until now, where I'm older (35), slight;y better off and it looks less theatrical for me to wear a waistcoat and tie.

A strong example or experience is usually the spark for this sort of thing.

Philip said...

I will also admit to having been the kid who wore clip-on bow ties to church and always thought polos were informal. I never went through the punk phase---just tees (and even then it was always plain-colored ones).

I discovered dressing well when I went to college and became interested in impressing girls I didn't know very well (never really a problem growing up). Then I picked up a BB herringbone jacket for three bucks at a rummage sale one summer and the rest is history. I'm currently a senior and have a better wardrobe than my dad---who's an attorney. This blog has been an inspiration to me in many ways, and is currently to blame for my recent penchant for waistcoats.

Yeah, I have to admit that there's a bit of attention-getting involved in my style of dress, but I also try to inspire others to dress well too.

oxford cloth button down said...

I love this post. I too participated in many subcultures and have always incorporated some aspect of "classic menswear" into my style.I believe that traditional American menswear will allow you to feel comfortable and appropriate in more settings that any other style of dress.

The Red Velvet Shoe said...

Wow...that he took the time to write it and that he's made the shift...if that's not "Thanks Giving" I don't know what is! Tell him there are lots of girls out here who LOVE that he's not wearing Punk anymore! ;)
~M.

Young Fogey said...

Anonymous 12:18 has an interesting thought: some people dress "Trad" in order to get attention.

For some, I'm sure that's correct. Looking at the big picture, I think it's a sad commentary on how debased our society has become that it's attention-getting to wear a jacket and tie.

For me, it's not so much about getting attention as it is getting the right kind of attention. When I started working again after grad school, I traded in my "grad school casual" look for suits and ties. I found that dressing professionally meant being treated professionally, in spite of my relative youth.

Now, I am more or less invisible to the "counter-culture" and gangsta types (which I like) and continue to be treated professionally by most everyone else (which I also like).

Win-win.

But here's the kicker: dressing appropriately isn't about the person wearing the clothes. It's about others. Dressing appropriately/professionally conveys a message, and that message is this: I care enough about you and the situation to dress nicely.

In other words, dressing well makes others feel good.

Perhaps that's why the well-dressed are also the well-treated.

JoshWearsTies said...

I'm very much in the same boat as Brandon, except a few years behind. At 27, I finally realized that my dress reflected more than just my 5 minutes staring at the closet in the morning.

My office is dress-casual (sometimes dress-lazy is a more appropriate designation) and the first question you confront upon entering the space with a tie is "Interview or funeral?". Over the last few months, I decided to dress like a gentleman, even when it's not necessary or expected. The first few days I was confronted with questions like "Are you trying to make the rest of us look bad?" and "Why are you so dressed up?". Over time, it's just become who I am.

I've learned that embracing gentlemanly dress does wonders for your outlook on the world. I think it all goes back to focusing on being your best in all aspects, including dress. If anyone reading this is trapped in a business casual world and afraid to snap the trend, remember, it just takes one person to make it okay!

Good on ya, Brandon!

JKG said...

No matter the dress, it's about what you want to say and who you want to hear it.

Young Fogey said...

Yes, JKG, and like it or not, people do judge other people based on their dress.

If you want people to hear what you have to say, you have to dress the part.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps that's why the well-dressed are also the well-treated."

That stinks of the "Well she did have a short skirt on, so she asked for it." mentality. Or he has baggy pants on with his underwear hanging out so he must be some low grade gun toting drug dealer.

I personally find that appalling.

The problem is with people who are judging. We live in a free country where we can wear whatever we want. If everyone just opened there minds and their hearts they could learn to cross clothing barriers and get to know someone for their mind.

signed...an inteligent person who has gone out of the house with pajamas on and not given a funk, nor has been treated horribly when out and about in such attire.

Philip said...

"Anonymous"

The point you make cuts both ways: people do judge you by your appearance and therefore we need to consider what message we are sending when we dress. I decided a while ago that I was simply going to communicate the same respect and gentility in my dress that I try to display in the rest of my demeanour.

The argument about getting to know people for their mind could also be used as an argument against good manners---yet I doubt very much that you want us to do away with common courtesy (indeed, I think most of us here would like to have a bit more of that).

~A Southern Gentleman

Duncan said...

Always interesting to hear about similar people. I can certainly relate, being in my early 20's now and often alternating between doc martens and a patched up jean jacket (that I inherited from my father)to cords, sack jackets, and a casual tie (that I initially hated because of my Catholic elementary school).

It is always funny running into people who only see me in one outfit or the other and how confusing it is for people to not understand the fluidity of those two interests.

For as much as I love hardcore and punk, I don't always feel the need to assert myself as such. (insert Urban Waste's Public Opinion). All comes down to understanding that liking and being a part of something doesn't mean mutual exclusivity with other likes and interests.

brendenvalksisblogging said...

Cheers my friend, you have done yourself a service by learning this now. I am in the same boat in college and working and I "dress up" everyday and either get compliments or sneers about why I drew so nice all the time.
Keep it up good sir.

Anonymous said...

"Philip"....

"The point you make cuts both ways: people do judge you by your appearance and therefore we need to consider what message we are sending when we dress".

Why does one need to "send a message" with the way they dress? IS it wrong to dress out of pure self satisfaction?

"I decided a while ago that I was simply going to communicate the same respect and gentility in my dress that I try to display in the rest of my demeanour".

According to you. Gentlemen come in all shapes and styles.

"The argument about getting to know people for their mind could also be used as an argument against good manners---yet I doubt very much that you want us to do away with common courtesy (indeed, I think most of us here would like to have a bit more of that)".

That just doesn't make sense. Get off your high horse.

Giuseppe said...

You don't find it all disrespectful to approach a person in your bedclothes? You really don't think that it tells some one that you can hardly be bothered to speak to them, let alone put your clothes on?

I'm not on a high horse, but a gentleman would not walk around with his underwear showing. Its vulgar and its rude, no matter who does it or how smart they are.

Brandon said...

It's naive to think that people do not have some preconceived notion of you based on the way you present yourself. I used to think the same thing, but it just isn't true. If you present yourself as a slob that couldn't take the time to groom himself or change out of your bed clothes, people are going to notice it and think that you don't put much effort into other aspects of life either. To me, it is just a sign of respect to look like you thought about what clothes you were going to wear. It's not just about respecting yourself enough to look nice; it's about respecting others as well. You wouldn't go to an interview or a date wearing pajama pants and a tshirt, would you? Dressing up shows you took the time to consider the people you might encounter that day. I definitely do dress up because I enjoy it, but I also do it out of respect for my peers. Besides, I have had such wonderful responses from women ;).

It would be like saying that the tone with which you say something does not affect how it is perceived. I'm sure many of us know from experience that that is not true.

Also, I think that the manner in which you dress is kind of an extension of your personality. I think most people reveal at least a little about themselves in the way they dress (assuming they aren't trying to fit some specific style or look that isn't them). Giuseppe is a prime example. He enjoys older, classic things, yet still has quite a bit of flair (and courage) and it is evident in his dress.