A Formal Look at Dress

By Jason Menard

Looking for a way to attract attention at your workplace? Nowadays, the best way to stand apart from the crowd is to wear a suit!

Save for lawyers and a few other choice professions, formal attire has gone the way of the dinosaur. Business casual is the style of choice and most places will even allow jeans on casual Fridays – or, in some locations, all the time.

Working in a business casual environment, my workday wardrobe largely consists of Dockers pants, button-down Oxfords and shirts, the odd polo, and the even odder sweater (odd in terms of frequency of wear – not the fact that they have little bunnies or kitties knitted on them). And while I like to inject my wardrobe with a little colour – a little pink here, a touch of lavender there, a splash of burgundy to round it out – many other guys in my situation seem to prefer to alternate between shades of drab.

In the end, we’re pretty homogenous in our attire. A dress shirt, unbuttoned at the top, casual slacks, and black shoes (because, as Frank Zappa once said, brown shoes don’t make it…). Today’s business casual can be summed up as functional, more-or-less fashionable (at least nothing that will bite us in the Dockers-clad ass 20 years from now), and comfortable.

However, despite the prevalence of business casual, there are still times when we have to dust off the old suit and put it on for the more formal occasions: awards brunches, business dinners, and the like. And the person then returning to their normal work environment is greeted with, “So, you have a job interview today?” or “Wow, you’re all dressed-up today.”

Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic for a time that never truly existed, but I find it sad that the suit is such an anomaly in the business world. I may be odd, but I like wearing a tie. I enjoy getting dressed up once in a while. Far from being stuffy and rigid, I find that sometimes formality helps you feel more professional and, by extension, more important. There’s really nothing wrong with being dapper.

Now, I’m saying that as a 33-year-old man who has grown up in a world – and worked in corporate environments – where business casual has been the norm. My suits have traditionally been reserved for weddings, funerals, job interviews, and the odd business-related function. And when I’ve traded my corporate hat for the old press cap, sometimes the clothing standards have seemed to get even worse.

But I was never forced to wear a suit and tie every day. While the generations before me may have felt that the liberating advent of business casual was an emancipation from the shackles of formal wear, for me there’s still the excitement of dressing up. I enjoy tying my own tie and ensuring that the knot is correct and the length is just right. I appreciate some of the smaller details, occasionally breaking out an antique tie clip and positioning it just so. To me, due to its relative infrequency, dressing up is an event – not an imposition.

That being said, perhaps the novelty would wear off if I was mandated to wear a suit each and every day. The conversations I have with my peers where we revel in the special joy of playing dress-up, adult style, simply wouldn’t exist. Collars that seem so prim and proper would quickly become stiff, constricting, and suffocating. The liberating feeling that formality provides would rapidly be replaced by an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.

And even if I wanted to dress more formally, I couldn’t realistically do it in my environment. Even on the odd day where I’ve worn a tie to work – usually due to an after-work, media-related engagement – I’ve attracted comments and stares. But yet I still yearn for the days of yore.

I’d love to wear a fedora each and every day: tipping my hat in respect to women passing me on the street; and brushing snow off the brim as I hang it on the suddenly useful hat rack. Wearing an overcoat, a suit, and a tie – a product of a previous generation being reborn in today’s more casual confines.

But that’s the 33-year-old talking. The one who has never been forced to wear a tie. The one who looks back at old photos and imagines a time that may never have existed. And the one who is able to yearn for a periodic return to formality from the comfortable setting that business casual affords.

The good old days are never as good as we remember them. And maybe they’re not as good as we’d like to imagine them to be. But still, sometimes, I wish formality wasn’t just reserved for formal occasions.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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