Tao of Dress
It’s all legendary, maybe even apocryphal, that the media bigshot David Geffen is said to have proclaimed, at the time he came to be the head of his mega-successful empire, “Now I can wear whatever I want;” meaning he didn’t have to do the kiss-ass bit, with the suit, or the tie, or the shined shoes. He had achieved Freedom, self-actualization: he could just dress like he couldn’t care less. So he legendarily wore ratty tee shirts and funky chinos all the time. He was comfortable.
I don’t always wear clothing that is as comfortable as that, but I am always totally comfortable in my clothes. I mostly dress in conventional business attire, but I am never consciously bothered by the fit or feel of it. I don’t wear ratty tee shirts; my shirts are all made of 140s or better two-ply cotton yarn and the collars are constructed without that raspy fusing inside. (How this came to be is a story for another day.) But they are customarily buttoned at the neck, and I wear neckties, a practice some find painful. My pants are made of similarly fine stuff; suits and sport jackets too.
My clothing is soft. It is lightweight. The seams and stress points are reinforced by strong hand stitches. The jackets and trousers are fitted to my body so that they are flattering in their line, yet they move with me when I move. What makes them so easy to wear, apart from the fabric, is the workmanship. So why didn’t Geffen and others like him celebrate their capitalistic triumphs by buying clothing that was comfortable but still, shall we say, elegant? They could have, heaven knows. This is a paradox of egotism. Let’s call it Beau Brummel in Reverse.
Once in a while, when I’m tired and I’m going to sit at home, build a fire in the fireplace, watch a movie, I go to my closet for one of my truly prized possessions: an ancient denim shirt (I’m talking 1980s Wilger & Co., by the UCLA campus in Westwood) with the Indian-head nickel buttons and the huge fit and the unbelievably soft feel and put that baby on and I am just, like, this is nice. But I had a three-piece suit on the other day. Made of a fine worsted fabric Guy Milinazzo gave me, 150s quality, English, and tailored by Adrian Jules of Rochester and – while it’s not sit-by-the-fire kit – I am just like, this is nice. Greeting customers, working in the shop, walking in Palmer Square or through FitzRandolph Gate, I am comfortable. Even with my collar buttoned and necktie on; relaxed.
Why the reference to Georgie-boy Brummel? The dude spent hours tying his cravat; he was apparently obsessed with appearance, flamboyantly “well-dressed.” So his clothes proclaimed him. He was purposefully noticeable. My three-piece suit is not a costume; it is not worn to be noticed. I believe it is appropriate to the place and occasion, that’s all. And if I went to a client’s office or a board meeting or dinner at Bedens Brook Club in my untucked Wilger workshirt and five-pocket pants it would be unquestionably as noticeable as a three-piece suit in a ski lodge; it would have been done for effect.
The middle way is best. Be appropriate to the occasion. Because of fabric and tailoring available today we can make a slight change in Polonius’s maxim, thus: “Comfortable thy habit as thy purse can buy.” Realize that the cheaper the price, the less valuable the material and the more utilitarian the workmanship. Sacrifice any of these, the result is inferior. This is only logical. Of course there are overpriced, uncomfortable, unwise things to buy out there, but not in my shop. I promise.
You can be at ease and look your best simultaneously. Be respectful of the venue and the people around you. This is The Way. Then it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be uncomfortable.