Friday, May 27, 2011

Lost in the Eighties, For Instance.

(Part Seven of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 17
Welcome back, Average Guys! It's been awhile since we left off our series about clothing basics in Part Six. I haven't forgotten about you, though! I hope the intervening weeks have been informative, and served to inform your continued sartorial growth. You've come so far in such a short time -- from nothing, mere naked mewling babes in the woods, and now, why, look at you! I hardly recognized you standing there. Well-scrubbed and groomed, and what a nice jacket you've paired with those trousers! Where'd you find that, an estate sale? Classic. Nice crisp shirt, too; that's a good color, and that collar shape really suits you. No, no, you're right: not wearing a tie was a good choice -- wearing one would have just tipped the outfit over the formal edge -- with such a nice jacket, an open collar is just casual enough to work. Good shoes, too. First pair? You're on the right track.

What's that, you say? You feel like there's something missing, like the broad strokes are right, but there's some subtle detail missing, like you're wearing someone else's clothes? I'm so glad to hear you say that -- it tells me you are now prepared for the next stage of your tutelage: the details that will make your newfound sense of Classic Style uniquely yours, and not quite so generic.

There's a nefarious habit out there, the results of which have strait-jacketed many a man into a never-ending cycle of horrible style choices. Left unchecked, this habit will guarantee you will be a social pariah and the butt of many jokes, most of which you will not be aware of. Used properly and wisely, however, this habit can be studied, crafted, pruned, and used to improve your mode of dressing and personalize your attire without being, well, quite as generic as it might otherwise be.

This habit to which I refer is so ingrained, so much a part of the Jungian collective unconscious, so inextricably tied to the hardwiring of the brains of Homo sapiens sapiens, and yet is so misunderstood and ignored, that it deserves mention as the Second Great Secret of Dressing Well.

(The First Great Secret, you may recall, started off our little literary excursions 'way back in Part One, on 13 Feb: viz., The purpose of clothing -- the very reason for the existence of raiment itself -- is to make you look better than you really do.)

The Second Secret runs thusly:
Left to himself, a man will always dress back to the era when he was happiest.

You've actually been surrounded by the collateral damage caused by this habit throughout your entire life, possibly without even realizing it consciously:

The grey hippy, grizzled and overweight, who still wears tie-dye shirts, jean jackets, long hair, round sunglasses, and sandals. He may still drive a Volkswagen microbus, but most likely has graduated to a feel-good Prius, or an old Renault diesel running on homebrewed biofuel. His heyday peaked around 1965, when he was in his early 20s, free of parents and responsibility, and is forever trying to recapture that long-lost feeling.

[We interrupt this post for a legal note: Dress Like A Grownup! has been notified on April 30, 2013, that a photograph illustrating the above paragraph (of an old man in a tye-dyed tee shirt, flashing the peace sign,) is considered to be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA.) was not amused, and demanded immediate removal of the offending image. It has always been the position of This Here Blog that any images I post are used pursuant to the Fair Use clause of U.S. Copyright law: Title 17, Section 107 of the United States Code. It reads, in part, "The fair use of a copyrighted work...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching..., scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." Although I believe myself completely justified in using the image according to the Code, I also don't want to throw pebbles at lions out of spite. So away the image goes. Sorry about that. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog installment, already in progress.]

It wasn't for nothing that Mike Peters
sang of the "Spirit of '76." That's okay,
the awesomeness that was The Alarm
makes up for the clothing. And hair.
The wrinkled rocker, who sports a feathered mullet, aviator sunglasses, denim jackets, and cowboy boots, worn with a faded black concert tee. He was in his prime in high school, around 1978. Cruising in his Camaro while listening to Boston was his personal Camelot.

The breakfast clubber, who still favors a polo-shirt worn under a buttondown Oxford, tucked into a pair of Dockers with a braided-leather belt and penny loafers, a sweater tied around his neck. He's sometimes mistaken for a preppy, but his hair's a little long and he likes it that way, and his bright pastels and popped collars are the same as when he graduated high school, in 1984.

The boomtime MBA who got his first big break during the Reagan administration, and finally got the big paychecks that let him travel, see the world, and get the things he always wanted, has in his closet more than a few broad-shouldered, silk, low-buttoning Armani power suits with bagged trousers and florid ties. Wearing one of those suits makes him feel young, free, powerful, and in control again.

The aging grunger never lived in Seattle, but you'd never know it from his collection of ratty flannel shirts and knit caps. He may have an IRA and secure employment now, but he was happier when he was an angry disenfranchised alt.youth commiserating with Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains, or Nine Inch Nails in 1995, and his clothes (and lank greasy hair) gives him away.

When were you happiest, at your prime, at peace with the world and in love with life? When were your horizons limitless, the options infinite, the future open? Chances are, it was before reality started crashing in around you and closing the options down, forcing you into an ever-narrowing corridor of endless work-until-retirement.

For a fortunate few, the happiest point in your life may be after college and in the workforce; but for the majority, your personal Camelot was when you were a youth, when the most stress in your life was a final exam, and the summers were endless. And you will always be trying to get back there, for the rest of your life. Nothing wrong with that; it's human nature. The side-effect just happens to be that you took the fashions of the era and tied them subconsciously to that happy ideal. You are most at ease and feel best about yourself when you tie yourself in a physical sense to that time with what you wear. And fear not: we can use that.

For the next couple of installments, we'll continue to look at this phenomenon; at a more historically-based permutation first, then we'll figure out how to use this to our ultimate benefit when dressing well. We can use your natural impulses and "clothing comfort zone" to build a personal style that will reflect your happiest time, and still be in keeping with the grownup, mature fashion that you have learned about and honed over these last months. Stay tuned!

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

Click here to go back to the previous essay chronologically.

Click here to go back to Part Six of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go back to Part One of Dressing the Average Guy.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

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