Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Given the overwhelming informality characteristic of our times, and the resolute nonjudgemental attitude that most people have towards dress, it is a legitimate question to ask why one should bother getting dressed up. One reason is work, i.e. at a bank or other occupations, where appearance and decorum are important, although they are declining in number. Another is the reality that dress is the most important way one presents oneself. Another is connoted by the very term "dressing up," which implies some sense of moving towards a more rarified environment. 

Then there are times and situations where one simply does not care how one is dressed. This might be the case at home without visitors, or in the high heat of summer, or dead cold of winter, where comfort and protection against the elements trumps everything else. Obviously one is more interested in being warm than fashionable. Then there is advancing age, to the point where many people don't think much about how they are dressed and could care less. But for everyone else there are times when it is necessary and/or appropriate to get dressed up, or at least be wearing attire appropriate for the occasion. 

But in an age when goofy silicon valley billionaires give corporate presentations in casual dress, why should it matter? The first thing to note is that this casual attire is not something haphazard or accidental. It is a deliberate choice and a conscious attempt to make a statement of sorts, whether it be that they are just regular guys (they're not), or they don't care how they appear (they do, having presented themselves deliberately in this way), or they don't care about style  (which is negated by the fact that they have chosen this particular mode of dress).  Thus the feigned indifference to appropriate attire is simply a juvenile way of saying "I can do whatever I want and no one can do anything about it." But it also says “don’t take me too seriously.”

Why does it still matter then? When you get dressed you are not only presenting yourself for yourself alone, nor is it just a matter of making a good impression. It is, in fact, a signal of how you regard the people you are addressing or interacting with as well.  Being properly dressed for an occasion is also a sign of high regard for others. It is a way of communicating that you take them seriously, hold them in some degree of esteem, and that you care enough about them to want to elicit a favorable impression. It means, in the case of addressing an audience, that you respect them. 

There is a reason that people like newscasters, politicians and lawyers are dressed up. They must convey sufficient gravitas to be taken seriously by their audience. For the fact remains that the man in a suit is perceived differently from one who is casually dressed under many different circumstances. Look at the classic film actors on our masthead. They are men, and look like men in a way that today’s boyish actors, fond of dressing down, do not remotely resemble. They convey a certain authority that is impossible for today’s stars. 

Apart from questionable taste on the wrong occasions, all of this conscientious dressing down simply sets another standard, albeit far more casual. The result is casual wear that escalates in price, beyond all reason, according to fashionability. So even though the man in the suit has, in many circumstances, been replaced by more casual dress, the latter simply becomes another mode of dress with all the considerations that go into wearing a suit. We’ll explore this further next time. 

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