Crazy ’bout a Sharp-Dressed Man
Tomorrow morning I fly to Boston for a conference. For the first time I’ll be flying in my suit, my tailored suit that fits me so well. I’ll have a silk tie, a shirt that’s also tailored, with awesome power-key cufflinks. I’ll be wearing suspenders (saves time at TSA!) and some vintage shoes that I picked up at a thrift store a few years back.
Why the clothes horse? Partially due to Antonio Centeno, a fellow former jarhead, father, Wisconsinite, and blogger. His blog Real Men, Real Style has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a while, and it was through his urging that I got my tailored suit which, believe it or not, does actually feel better to wear than anything else I own. I move better in that suit, I feel more confident.
Why wear it on the plane? Well, I could say it’s for practical purposes – easier than trying to pack it, or so I’m ready to make a good impression on the people I’m meeting, or even because it increases my chances for an upgrade…but really it’s none of those things. Really it’s just because it’s fun to play dress up. Like my lawyer friend told me when I wore it to the symphony, when you don’t wear it that often, it can be a nice change.
He wore jeans and a hoodie.
Meanwhile, Back to Antonio…
Recently Antonio did an interview on a podcast called “The Art of Charm.” That podcast is a re-imagined version of a pickup-artist podcast, which may make you roll your eyes a bit. That’s fine, I do too, and that’s even knowing that the pickup community has taken a basically good idea (becoming better versions of yourself) and turned it into a numbers game. People like Neil Strauss (author of “The Game”) and Arden Leigh (author of “The New Rules of Attraction”) are fighting a holding action to try and keep it from getting too bad, but the reputation is there – and it’s not as cute as Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother. That’s why Antonio was almost apologetic when he announced the interview – worried that talking about sex on a style blog would “cheapen” his message.
Personally, I feel that talking about sex only cheapens things if you think sex is a cheap, tawdry, shameful subject – which I don’t. But that’s a topic for another blog. Rather, I was disturbed by something else I heard him say in the podcast.
Antonio was talking about the importance of looking professional, and used the hypothetical situation of an emergency room as an example. He speculated what it would be like to take his daughter to the ER and having a doctor who, as he put it, looked like a “skater” – sweatshirt, jeans, etc. I may be misquoting exactly, but the idea was that the hypothetical doctor didn’t fit in with his idea of what a doctor should look like. He said “How could I trust him?”
That question troubled me. That “discomfort” he imagined from the doctor who looks different is the same discomfort that came when previous generations met their first minority doctor, their first female doctor, or their first [insert whatever is not your demographic] doctor. The trust doesn’t come from how the doctor looks – the trust comes in the institution of the hospital. It comes in the “M.D.” that is on the nametag. It has nothing to do with whether the doctor is wearing sweats or slacks or shorts. If there is a problem of trust based on assumptions about how the doctor should look, the responsibility for fixing it lies within the viewer, not the viewed.
Or, as a Buddhist saying goes (sorry, can’t remember the attribution): The measure of your suffering lies precisely in the difference between the way the world is and the way you think the world should be.
Care for All, Not Just For You
There is also the question of patient comfort. The skater-punk doc may make Antonio feel uncomfortable…but the skater-punk brought in with the broken arm will feel more comfortable. Who is the Doctor actually responsible to? Who has more right to feel comfortable? The same outfit – such as a uniform – can inspire very different reactions in different people based on their experiences. At one point in the podcast he said something along the lines of “when we see a policeman with a gun, we feel safe”.
I thought “Unless you’re in a neighborhood where the police are known for harassing or even shooting the people who look like you.” It’s terribly unfortunate that such neighborhoods exist. But it’s a fact that they do.
Antonio also was asked by the hosts what he thought the most important thing a guy needed to know about style, and I loved his answer: “Ask yourself why you do it.” Whatever your reason for wearing that outfit, whatever it is, what is the actual inner motivation? That’s what’s important. I dress in my suit tomorrow because that fits the person that I am better than any other outfit.
But I need to also extend that knowledge to others – to recognize that they, also, are dressed in what they feel most themselves in, and respect their right to be that person. My style is not designed to project onto others, nor are they any less because they have a different style than I do. Instead, the differences become a catalyst for greater understanding, for furthering my knowledge of the cosmopolitan lifestyle. My style helps me keep my center, which allows me to more gracefully and openly meet others with authenticity and integrity.
Plus, I look damn good.
How does your style make you feel?