It's been nine years since I took anything to the dry cleaners, which gives you a hint about what type of job I have. My job doesn't require me to dress up. In fact, not having to dress up was one of my key prerequisites when I was job hunting. It has always been my belief that any situation that requires you to wear a suit is a situation to be avoided. Take funerals for example. When a man dies they dress him up in a suit for his funeral. Why is that? There are many men who never wore a suit until they were dead. I want to be cremated so no one will see me in a suit. If they wish to dress me in a suit for the cremation, they are in luck, because I have just one suit -- which I purchased for someone else's funeral about 10 years ago. That was my last trip to the dry cleaners. I might as well burn that suit for all the good it's done me.
Besides dressing up to be buried, people always wear suits for job interviews -- even when the job for which they are interviewing doesn't require dressing up. I don't suppose truck drivers and cotton pickers wear suits for their job interviews, but for virtually all white-collar job interviews, suits are expected. The theory is that when a person wears a nice suit, it makes a good first impression. This makes sense only if you are hiring a suit.
My theory is that the more money people spend on a suit, the more they are trying to hide something. As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear: "Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear; Robes and furr'd gowns hide all." I think it's the person you should notice, not the clothes. I once had a job selling men's suits at Orbach's Department Store on 34th street in Manhattan, and most of the people to whom I sold suits looked like they had something to hide. But I sold cheap suits that wouldn't hide very much.
During the life of the World Trade Center, thousands of commuters took the daily Path trains and/or subways in and out of its station. The morning rush hour looked like lemmings headed for the sea. Thousands of suits all flowing in a dark pinstriped rush for business locations where homogeneity of dress was demanded while creativity was not. It's no wonder that our youth have rebelled with regard to dress. A trip to any mall on the weekend will reveal the opposite extreme of the lemmings -- pierced parrots making creative attempts to deal with self identity crises.
My record for not wearing suits was threatened recently when I was invited to a wedding where I knew no one except the groom. Weddings have a certain culture about them that shuns casualness of dress, so I compromised. I wore black dress pants (with a Wrangler patch on the back pocket), a formal, ribbed, white shirt (no tie) and a black leather vest. I fit the culture without giving in to the pressures for wearing a suit. At least I thought so. During the reception people who didn't know me kept asking me for directions and wanting drinks. Wrong culture. I took off the vest and the questions stopped. But had I worn a suit, no one would have talked to me at all.
So, after a 10-year hiatus, I had reason to go to the dry cleaners -- my Wrangler dress pants and shirt were soiled. Not badly, but I had worn them once before, and they had reached their limit of acceptability. One more wearing and I'd have looked like a well-dressed wino. The dry cleaner charged me $7.50 to clean the two items. This seemed rather expensive to me considering that they were washable items that I only took to the dry cleaners in order to avoid ironing them. You can buy shirts for not much more than that at Sam's Club. Except for my suit, I own no clothes for which dry cleaning is required. I figure I've saved thousands of dollars on dry cleaning.
Recently I started noticing that Fridays were becoming casual days at work. I felt left out since every day is a casual day for me. So on rare occasions I shock my coworkers by wearing a tie. My favorite ties have pictures on them. One has Wal-Mart trucks on it. I also own a cow tie and a Wallace and Grommit tie. If you are going to dress up, don't take yourself too seriously. We have all seen people who, when you put them in suits, look as out of place as meat loaf on a salad bar. Most farmers fall into this category. So do cowboys. Baxter Black wrote a poem about this called dressing up:
up for certain good folks
Might mean a suit and tie.
Designer socks, a diamond ring,
Or hair like the Fourth of July.
out where we make our living
Tennis shoes don't fit the bill.
They don't set too good in a sturrup
And I reckon they never will.
more into jeans, hats and leggin's,
'cause punching cows ain't all romance.
But cowboys clean up on occasion
For weddings, funerals or dance.
the dress code for everyday cowboys
Ain't changed since grandpa got wise.
Your Sunday hat, a clean pair of boots,
And your newest pair of Levis.
decking out a cowboy
In street shoes, a suit and a tie,
Would be as good an improvement
As croutons on a cow pie.
The obvious conclusion from this is that cowboys rarely wear suits, and wisely so. The less obvious conclusion is that, when we dress up, we are trying to be what we are not, and in doing so, we feel different about ourselves. We tend to act in accordance with the roles that we have put ourselves into by dressing a certain way. If people dressed more honestly, perhaps they would act more honestly. Let's face it. How many of you have been cheated by a naked man?