Dressed for success


My wife Toni said I could donate old clothes I no longer wear to the church garage sale or to the Carriage House.
I suppose that since I’m on the Carriage House board, and that any of my old clothes wouldn’t bring the church much profit, I think I’ll give the latter the clothes. But that’s the easy decision. The hard one is to stir myself to go sort the stuff, drawer by drawer and shelf by shelf to see what I still have use for and what can go.
I think about this nearly every time I enter my clothes closet. My pondering has taken on the ritual of my morning and evening tooth brushing. “I should sort this stuff,” I tell myself daily.
Now I don’t think of myself as a person who clings to possessions. I wouldn’t expect to find a description of my behavior in the DSM-IV, the psychiatric bible of mental illnesses.
Neither Toni nor anyone in my family has ever hinted that I may be some kind of psychopathic hoarder. I confess, though, I do seem to have a great number of shelves stuffed with books throughout the house. But I’d guess the problem has more to do with the difficulty I have finishing a book I’ve started and my habit of buying books I don’t get around to reading at all.
Much like the book shelves, the clothes in my closet do define me, my tastes, my daily need for clean socks and underwear, my preference for a certain order and logic to the placement of shirts, pants, sweaters and shorts.
But there’s a larger issue here. My clothes closet serves as a kind of history of my life in recent years. Start with the pin stripped navy suit, a blazer and a couple of sport coats. You can find those on the left side of the rack. They don’t see a lot of action since I retired from the paper after a quarter century. All those button-down Oxford cloth shirts? Don’t wear those often, either. To be sure, the other day I slipped a white one with a much frayed color on to wear under a navy cotton sweater.
The other day, in search of clean khakis on a hanger, I laid my hand on a rack full of ties, mostly of the rep variety, all silk. Who knows when I bought them, though surely it was long ago? That type of striped tie was part of my dress up outfit in college and graduate school. On choir or quartet trips or during my stint as a student minister. The rep tie also was in order at the paper, too, especially if I had an interview or meeting outside the newspaper building.
Any time I’m in New York, I make a stop at Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue, just to browse in this store with four or five stories, a business my editor referred to as “the temple.” My taste has evolved, naturally.
At home, I’ll spent half an hour looking at a new catalog that’s come in the mail. It’s mostly more casual men’s clothes. That can be LL. Bean, The Territory Ahead or Orvis. Yet rarely do I order anything. As a rule, the clothes in the catalogs look so much like the stuff in my dresser and on the shelves in my closet. I do enjoy thumbing through the catalogs, a relaxing way to window shop.
I don’t believe that “clothes make the man.” But I’ve never given up the habit of sizing up people according to what they’re wearing. I’ve even made judgments about the person on the basis of he or she is dressed.
Collar looks too stiff. Shoulders are too wide. Tie clashes with the handkerchief. Pens don’t belong in the lapel pocket. Where did I get such picky phrases? My Dad.
He was what they called a “natty dresser.” Which may seem odd thing to say because of his job. Home from the tool and die shop, he’d be wearing a loose polo shirt, wash pants and steel-toed shoes that tracked steel shavings through the house. But in the clubhouse picking up his scorecard before a round of 18, he’d be wearing dress slacks, a sporty polo shirt without a wrinkle or spot, yes, dressed like a pro at the British Open. Style mattered to him. And when I brought friends home from college, he didn’t fail to mention how important it was to keep your shoes shined. All the guys wouldn’t glance down at their usually dull-looking shoes. Dad had high standards, for everything including how you and your friends dressed.
Today, he’d sure wonder whether I ever paid attention to his tutoring to dressing for success if he could see me in my usual outfit – sweatpants, sweatshirt, moccasins, maybe a ball cap with a Polo insignia. Such staples I’ll keep. As for the rest of it, well, there’s so much personal history there, a lot of memories. And what’s the rush?

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