“You can never be overdressed or overeducated”; so said the 19th Century Irish playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde. While I will address the latter half of the renowned bard’s proclamation in a future post, I am in full agreement with him regarding the importance of one dressing for success. Now, this is not to say I have always embraced the certainty of this decree with the same level of enthusiasm I do today, but in the words of ancient Syrian-Latin writer, Publilius Syrus, “It is better to learn late than never.”
For most of my adult life – 31 years of it to be exact – attire was a fait accompli for me. Wearing a uniform to work had many advantages not the least of which, eliminating the burden of having to match colors, coordinate patterns and allowing me the freedom of turning a blind eye to cultus trends and style changes. All good things must end, however, and in 2010 when I retired from the U.S. Army and entered the private work force, I was struck by the harsh reality that my paucity of these insights had me at a real disadvantage.
When I left the Army I did not even own tie much less a suit. Wardrobe shopping proved to be a daunting task. One especially benumbing to a fashion tenderfoot like me; a neophyte totally lacking the moxie and finesse to identify trendy attire or build a functional, much less, swank wardrobe. That I could craft a sporty tie knot – a perk borne from eight years of Catholic school – and despite the aforesaid Mr. Wilde once proclaiming “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life”, I felt no less the failure. Truth known, my collection of mufti was quite pathetic.
As anyone in my family can attest, for years I envisioned driving one of the park buses at Disney World as the ultimate retirement gig (seriously, I did.) Ironically, had I followed this calling, the acquisition of rakish toggery and genteel raiment would have not been a thought much less a priority. Alas, however, as American journalist, Allen Saunders noted, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” and life, for me, did not include rocking a bus driver lid and humming “It’s a Small World After All” to my heart’s content.
Instead, fate, along with the retirement gods, conspired to send me into the corporate workforce. While my Army career provided me with the acumen, experience and leadership qualities necessary to make the transition and act the part, I was woefully unprepared to dress the part. Enter my wife, Kate, who threw me a lifeline just as I was on the precipice of fashion abyss, and with some help from a timely sale at Jos. A. Bank (admittedly this is redundant as Bank is a synonym for “sale”) saved me the mental anguish of being out of vogue and utterly void of chic sophistication.
While I exited that initial foray into the world of business attire shopping in decent standing – five tailored suits, a handful of button downs, a bundle of colorful and stylish cravats, wing tips and loafers (one of each color than you very much) – it was by no means an easy slough. Stealing a phrase from psychologist, Barry Schwartz’s book, I had a real “Paradox of Choices” on my hands and was inundated and in some ways, immobilized, by a plethora of colors, hues, patterns, styles, fabrics and opinions.
Again, Kate answered my silent plea for help and I somehow navigated thru the complexities of selection. I emerged from the store in estimable standing but my respectability came at a very steep cost; $5,000 to be exact! Author, Charles Hix, wrote that “Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect.” To that I would add it’s also damn expensive!
That was then, this is now. With seven years of style shopping now under my hat – thanks to my daughter, Jenna, a very bohemian fedora – I consider myself quite the natty dresser and accessorizer. Rolling Stone legend, Keith Richards, once noted “You don’t find a style. A style finds you.” Words I have taken to heart.
While true my mug will never appear on any “Best Dressed Lists” and my wardrobe would be considered eclectic, idiosyncratic or even ill-conceived by some, it is a style I have come to embrace as uniquely me. In this regard, I embrace the movie legend, Orson Welles, screed, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
Along the way I have discovered that in some strange way, paying attention to the way I dress and investing time in the way I look makes me feel younger; or at the least, more relevant. Embracing current trends and voguish genres has a cathartic effect on my mindset and in some quaint way, inspires me.
From that modest investment of five suits less than a decade ago, my ever expanding boudoir now claims among its inhabitants, over 100 ties – mostly silk – forty or so dress shirts – mostly French cuff to accommodate my vast collection of symbolic and fun cuff links, mind you – and a dozen pair of quality footwear (Cole Haan of course.) I have over 50 pair of socks in a multitude of colors and patterns and an assortment of hued shoe laces that would make a Vincent van Gogh’s pallet green with envy. That they are all on hand to match my shirt and the primary shades of my tie should go without saying.
People have commented that my style of dress is hip and as such makes me look younger. While flattering, appearing less than my 58 years is not my ultimate objective. For me, feeling younger and better about myself is the essential goal and one that can only enhance my quality of life. My favorite poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once opined “Being perfectly well-dressed gives one a tranquility that no religion can bestow.” To that I can only add, amen Mr. Emerson and pass the Johnston & Murphy catalog.
Dress the part, find your style and rock it with pride because “Life does not end at the Half Century mark. It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”