Thursday, February 24, 2011

It Is What It Is

(Part Three of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 3
Welcome back, mon petit protégés! If you've been paying attention (and I hope you have,) you might have noticed that the focus here is on clothes. It may also have crossed your mind that for all the alleged focus, there has so far been precious little actual talk about the subject.

Sure, we've started out by making you face a good hard look in the mirror, and after that embarrassment, given you a swift kick where it will do the most good, and told you to pay more attention to impressing That Person who is softer, curvier, and a great deal better-looking than you are. You may even, as a result, have picked up an iron or combed through that rats' nest perched on your scalp. But, after all that, all you have is still just a well-ironed tee-shirt to go with your freshly-laundered ratty Levis.

And then you get philosophy thrown at you! 'Insouciance' and 'dressing well' and all that is fine and good, but you're still left with the sticky problem of your wardrobe. (Yeah, right; like you have a wardrobe. I know the truth -- your clothes are crammed in a drawer or lying on your closet floor. You can't fool me.) Well, I'm glad you're saying these things to yourself. I am. I did it on purpose, you see -- letting you live with what you've got for awhile. You've been chewing on crusty bread, and I've just cracked the lid on my big ol' stewpot, giving you a tantalizing whiff of a Bigger World. After a while, those old things don't feel right, do they? Like you need something else, another piece of the puzzle? You need better clothes, different clothes, something that fits the little buzzing in the back of your brain every time you look in the mirror now. Ha! All is going to plan. I'm devious like that.

Well, resist the temptation to run to the nearest store and melt your credit card right away. I want to cultivate that desire a bit first. A starving man might stuff his face with the first morsel that looks edible -- but there are unscrupulous types out there that will feed you deep-fried plaster of Paris: it may fill your belly, but it won't be what's best for you, and you'll probably overpay for it.

When most men who have never learned to dress themselves "go shopping" (read: have things bought for them,) they merely buy newer or more expensive versions of that which they already have. For the love of all that is good and decent in this world, DON'T.

Stay with me on this -- you will end up not only dressed better, but you will feel more comfortable, and look more attractive. You will feel better about yourself, others will feel better about you, and you will be able to effortlessly integrate with any group of people, anywhere, at any time. In several further installments, I'm going to whet your appetite a bit more, and shatter some of your preconceptions, before sending you out to augment your (ahem) "wardrobe."

This next bit may come as a shock to you. You may never have heard this meaty morsel of information before -- Many articles of clothing are named according to their function! These names are not chosen at random, and you would do well to understand them.

For example, baseball caps are worn when you are playing baseball. If you are not playing baseball, please do not wear a baseball cap. (If you wear a baseball cap now, so much the better -- it will ease your future transition to a proper hat. More on that later.)

Belt loops are for belts.

Trousers have a waistband because they sit at your waist. It's not called a hipband for a reason. Similarly, they have a crotch. So do you -- and I'm willing to wager it's nowhere near your knees.

Shirts that have shirttails do so for the express purpose of tucking into the aforementioned trousers.

That flap at the top of your shirt is called a collar. There is a button there to fasten it. It folds over to hold a tie, which is, well, tied.

If this train of logic seems like it is going in a direction that will end with you bound up from stem to stern, don't worry, it won't. It seems frightening now, but so did doing many things that adults do, at first. Trust me. I'll just give you two more examples for now.

Athletic shoes are for the performance of athletic activities. Tennis shoes are for tennis, running shoes are for running, gym shoes are for gym, basketball shoes are for playing basketball. Most people wouldn't wear their football cleats to a restaurant. So, if you're not actually playing basketball, leave your Chuck Taylors at home. Now, to some of you, I understand I may as well be speaking Swahili right now. You live your life in sneakers, flip-flops, Crocs, or Sketchers. You believe they are comfortable, well-fitting, attractive, and proper. Your only memory of "dress" shoes, is being forced to wear stiff, cheap, ill-fitting foot clamps to church when you were six. Your feet poured sweat, they itched, they pinched, and your toes hurt. It felt oh-so-good to take them off when you got home. Now, forget everything you think you know. A real pair of (what you would call "dress") shoes is supportive, comfortable, will fit the shape of your foot better than any sneaker ever could, and will never wear out. Honestly -- a real shoe will last for decades. But I don't want you to suffer from information overload on this point, so we'll talk shoes later.

The last one is a real shocker. It goes against everything you've ever seen, everything you've ever known, everything anyone has ever told you.

A tee-shirt is underwear. (It goes by many names: undershirt, tank top, crewneck, v-neck, scoopneck, muscle shirt, A-shirt, wifebeater, the British call it a vest... All underwear.) If you want to dress like a grownup, you must understand this basic concept. Underwear is worn under. It is not seen. It is covered by something else. A tee-shirt's function is to sop up the sweat, oils, and dead cells you are continually exuding, and in so doing, helps to keep your actual shirt clean. Keep that in your noggin when you see a fellow in a tee-shirt -- he's wearing his grimy, disgusting sweatsponge on the outside for all to see. (It pains me to even mention something so basic, but alas, I fear I must -- boxer shorts are underwear too.)

Let me arrest your pallid defense immediately, and save you the shame of speaking it aloud -- yes, women do wear tee-shirts on the outside. They are also women. You are not one. They wear something else as underwear. And let us hope that's all that needs to be said on that subject. Next time, we'll see why these seemingly-arbitrary rules exist, and why they are important.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Four of Dressing the Average Guy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How, More Than What

(Part Two of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 2
There's a technique to dressing well. It has nothing to do with what pattern, fabric, or style you wear. It doesn't have anything to do with what you see on the streets, in the media, or on the fashion runways. It has nothing to do with suits, shoes, hats, or ties. In fact, dressing well has nothing to do with what you wear at all. 

What you wear isn't nearly as important as how you wear it. Our little experiment with which I left you last week, I hope, gave some small insight into that fact. 

In literature and scholarly circles, there is a very old word for a man who realizes this, and turns the wearing of clothes well into an art form. That term is dandy. It is no coincidence, then, that the Internet's primary repository for scholarly information about the art of dressing well is Among all the websites that focus on clothes, is unique -- its focus is the intention behind those clothes. You would do well to tap this wellspring of information in its essays, reviews, insights, and articles; for in some degree lesser or greater, every man that aspires to dress like a grownup, must in some measure understand and apply the philosophy of the dandy to himself.

The word dandy is often used today (quite incorrectly, incidentally,) to describe a person who has a silly, pompous manner and meticulously overdresses in frilly, multicolored or archaic clothes. Actually, that sort of person could more accurately be characterized as a fop, macaroni, or metrosexual. A dandy in the classical, Brummelian sense is quite the opposite: a picture of modern, masculine style who eschews ostentation and ornamentation in favor of cut and fit, and who, in doing so, does not draw undue attention to himself because of his attire. It is in no sense a concept to fear or shy away from.

Perhaps you don't have a spare two or three weeks to pore through's thousands of pages? Oh, very well then...I will, in one word, summarize it all for you. (You can thank me later.)

Insouciance. An awkwardly multi-dypthongic threepenny word that embodies the essence of dressing well. It conveys an impression of effortless elegance, in apparent indifference to one's own appearance. Sounds easy, right? It's not. Many people confuse this with the I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look. It isn't. It is a delicate and precise balancing act, both an art and a science, a mix of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. And, of course, it also just happens to be a great deal of fun.

All the above insouciant factors, and more, must be weighed against each other to achieve a harmonious ideal. Just what that point is, for you, will require some introspection, for they must also be weighed against your own personality -- and this is the demarcation line between dressing, and dressing well. Too strong, and your clothes will wear you. Too weak, and your clothes are completely subsumed by your own personality.  In its perfect balance, what you wear is so much an extension of yourself, who you really are, the clothes become invisible: all that is seen is you.

What is seen, then, achieves its paramount importance, and NOW we reach the point of discussing your attire itself. It's where the tire meets the pavement, where the outworking of all your effort finally meets the eyes of the observer, and we'll talk about that in our next installment.

For now, hop on over to, and get your fill of the insouciant classics, perhaps starting with Pelham's Maxims.  I shall leave you this week with food for thought from Honoré de Balzac, who you can read more about on that site as well.

"Anything that aims at an effect is in bad taste."

"Clothes are the most tremendous modification social man has experienced. They influence all of existence."

"The boor covers himself, the rich man or the fool adorns himself, and the elegant man gets dressed."

"Clothing does not consist so much in clothes, as in a certain manner of wearing them."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The First Great Secret

(Part One of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 1
My Valentine's Day present for all of you, my newest, bestest Average Guy friends, is to share with you a Great Secret, the first of many such secrets you will learn. This "insider intel" (shh--don't tell anyone,) known to a select few, will among other things, unlock the secrets of male/female relationships to you forever, the intricacies of which are completely lost on the, well, average Average Guy. Here it is -- lean in close and I shall whisper it to you.

The purpose of clothing -- the very reason for the existence of raiment itself -- is to make you look better than you really do. 

It's not just to cover you up and make you warm. Imagine that! Short men can look taller -- Skinny men can look athletic -- Fat men can look thinner. Girls understand this concept inherently, and use it to their benefit.

It is important to know something, before we continue: Women do not dress to impress you. Women dress to impress each other, and could not care one whit what you think about the matter. This is because women know their dog has more fashion sense than you do. How do they come to this conclusion? By simple observation. Want proof? Take the opportunity to look around you this Valentine's Day, and pay close attention to the couples walking around, going about their business. (Don't be too obvious about this -- if you end up getting arrested, I'll deny everything.)

Notice that the womanly half of the equation is pretty well put together, by men's standards. Her hair is combed, for instance, and probably cut into a pleasing style. She wears clothes that are clean, pressed, match in color and pattern, fit without unsightly bags and wrinkles, and are appropriate to wherever she happens to be. She accessorizes with various shiny bits and baubles that add to the elegant effect of the ensemble. Her shoes, (even though they may look like medieval torture devices, with buckles, straps, and spikes,) are made with art and quality. Notice, too, that the total effect is to make the gal look somewhat attractive. That is, the overall goal of the exercise is not to make herself look short and dumpy and shapeless.

Now, (if you can pull yourself away from your ogling -- shame on you,) direct your gaze to a man that accompanies one of these beautiful visions. By comparison, he looks as if he just crawled out of a bog after a nap following a rugby tournament. His hair is unkempt, too long, disheveled, even greasy looking. Several days of stubble sprout from his chin. The extent of his upper attire is a tee-shirt, usually in black or grey, with a corporate logo or pithy witticism thereupon, unwashed, untucked. A baseball cap may sit upon his head, apparently serving no function other than to inadvertently spare the general public from having to see too much of his hair. Below the waist, he wears jeans of some shade of blue, or chinos, or shorts, tatty and ragged. His pants sit somewhere about his lower hips, the excess length pooling around his ankles, as if his trousers are trying desperately to somehow escape from the service it has been forced to do by hurling itself to the ground. His pants drag behind him on the floor, dirty and threadbare. And under the pants, some form of athletic shoe.

Notice, too, that this couple, side-by-side, look completely out of balance. The gal looks more mature, more put together, and older. The guy, despite his actual age, why, he looks like a child tagging along behind his mother, shuffling his feet in obstinance.

Now look at yourself in the mirror.

The problem starts in childhood: attention isn't
properly paid to boys' attire.

Boys don't learn proper dress, so as they grow,
they perpetuate the errors of their youth.
Everything a man wears, without correction,
becomes an extension of his childhood dress.
Even the most formalized event
becomes variation on a slovenly theme.
Girls, of course, know that left to yourself, you'd dress like this all the time, so they dress for their friends -- and when your presence would embarrass them in front of their friends, they try to dress you.

But now -- well, now, you know the Great Secret, don't you? Starting today, (and what better time than Valentine's Day,) start dressing for the opposite sex. You're not a slave to the unflattering tee-shirt, that emphasizes your skinny biceps and beer gut! You're not beholden to loose, flappy jeans that make you stubby legs and all torso!

But how do you start? I understand this may be all too much at first. The room spins, the world turns upside down, nothing is as it was! Sit down, breathe into a paper bag, and relax. I'm here for you.

Start out slow. For starters, get a haircut. Trust me on this. Cut it, wash it, comb it. Shave, shower, use a deodorant. Get your own body clean and in order.

Now, mimic the same techniques that women use to care for their own clothes. Don't worry about changing your wardrobe yet -- just use what you have. Wash it, press it, hang it. Wait -- press it? You got it, Sparky, learn to use an iron. Clean your shoes, really scrub 'em down. Now, take what you have, and the next time you get dressed, instead of just throwing it on, take some thought to pick out what goes together.

So what's the point of this exercise? Simply, before you can improve yourself, you have to have the positive intention to do so. In point of fact, how you wear your clothes is more important than what clothes you wear -- a theory to which we will give some attention next time. So give it a try, wear what you have with care and attention, and see if you don't notice an immediate difference between now and the next time we see each other.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Two of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Chapter 0
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I'm happy you found your way here, to my little alley on the information superhighway. Since you're reading this now, several years after I first wrote it, it's fairly safe to assume you've recently discovered this blog, perhaps through a websearch, read a few posts -- and then decided to read the whole thing from end to end, so you've jumped to the very beginning to get a proper start.

This tells me a couple of things about you. First, that you are already a fan of Dress Like A Grownup!, so much so that you want the Whole Experience. For that, I thank you, and you will not be disappointed. Second, you probably have a touch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and have a drive to "do it right," by reading the blog in its entirety, and in chronological order. There's certainly nothing wrong with that -- I'm the same way, and if you have a mind for detail and history, you will be rewarded with as much sartorial goodness as you can cram in your noggin, and will come out the other side as a much better-dressed and better-informed man.

As a reward for your diligence, I shall be completely self-aggrandizing for this first post, and tell you about something which I am guaranteed to care a good deal more about than you are; namely, myself. Introductory statements are usually similarly egocentric, you know -- future installations will spare you such humdrummery.

Assumed armorial
achievement of The Author.
I was born in West Virginia, with ancestral pre-colonial family roots in the UK: Eskdale, York, and Wales. My youth was spent moving with my family around the U.S., as my chemical engineer father's job transfers dictated. My education was centered more or less in the graphic design and art history fields. I'm currently settled in the Piedmont of North Carolina, and have done many entertaining things that usually combine an odd mix of a love of art, history, and engineering -- and there are very few vocations that mix these three disciplines as well as tailoring does. In addition to this blog, I have guest-written posts on other blogs, and authored several books.

My Web-based business venture, Mr Thompson's Ties & Squares, is a creative outlet that lets me put my theories into practice, in the form of bow ties of distinctive design, and various accessories like my Razor Square™ pocket squares. They are unique, well-made, and quite frankly really cool, (and you should spend lots of your money on them.) But honestly, this blog isn't about that, and you won't see it mentioned too awfully much, other than a banner ad on the left sidebar, or tootle my own horn about it here. After all, I'm not here to sell you stuff; I'm here to educate and entertain you.

Every blog needs a raison d'être, and certainly, this particular blog casts a critical eye on what men are wearing, on the street, in public, in private, and at formal functions. But, unlike many Men's Fashion Blogs out there, (of which the number are legion,) I'm not going to focus solely on the high-end, money-be-damned options for the sartorially adventurous.

Oh, no, my friends -- the focus here is on the Average Guy: the man who knows the value of a penny because he works for it. The student, who is just starting out saddled with tremendous debt, in a job-market saturated with his peers. The businessman, who diligently doles his paycheck out for those necessary things that help him get by in the world. And the down-on-his-luck man, beaten by the economy and fallen on hard times, for whom every dollar is hard-won and precious.

In short, the sort of man who, given his druthers, would dress in a tee-shirt, ratty blue jeans and sneakers every day of his life. The guy who, if he has to wear a jacket to the office, wears one only begrudgingly -- and one his wife picks out and buys for him. The guy who needs to have his wife tie his tie for him. The guy who would get married in a rental tux, or worse, whose dizzying heights of formality were reached at his prom.

Our primary goal -- to take the Everyday Guy, who has gone from being dressed by his mother to being dressed by his wife, whose limit of sartorial creativity was arrested at about ten years of age, and by the end of the series, to make him into a fully-functioning man who, of his own volition, can dress himself like a grownup, and can do it by spending no more money than he did previously to his transformation. We'll start right in with Part One of our series on Dressing The Average Guy, and start construction of our New Man by ripping down the old edifice to the foundations, beginning with the next installment.

Above all, Dress Like A Grownup! is an entertaining read, light-hearted yet knowledgeable, in the vein of the classic Esquire and Man About Town magazines of the 1950s. Casually witty, caustically cutting, brim-full of educational insights and brilliant suggestions; all wrapped up in a glossy package of run-on sentences, complex phrasing, choppy paragraphs, and punctuation that eschews periods like the plague.

So settle yourself in your favorite armchair with a glass of your favorite beverage, and stop in often for my pointless ramblings insightful views. As far as blogs go, you're guaranteed to always get your money's worth here!

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part One of Dressing the Average Guy.