Cutting a figure

The Baltimore Sun

A few years back, a copy editor from The Sun who was attending a conference of the American Copy Editors Society was approached at the bar by an editor from another paper who asked, "Does McIntyre really wear a bow tie to the office?" 

The answer was yes. 

Wearing a suit and tie, particularly a bow tie, to work is increasingly anomalous in our studiedly informal workplaces, where men either dress like adolescent boys or adopt the neither-fish-nor-fowl "business casual." But I am used to anomaly.

Growing up in rural Kentucky in the 1950s and 1960s, a nearsighted bookworm whose interest in sports was nil, I understood there were three choices: adopt jockery (which was not going to happen), wilt under scorn and ridicule, or be defiantly myself. The third choice was reaffirmed when, as an undergraduate, I was told by the young woman I was in love with at the time, "John, you are not a denim person; you are a tweeds and woolens person." 

Still, it's a little eccentric. I justify it for these reasons.

I'm not a snob. Judging people on the basis of their clothing is shallow. There are people I work with at The Sun's news/copy desk whose abilities I esteem and whose work I rely on, who do not dress formally, and I do not think the less of them for it.

I was brought up that way. We're all influenced by early experiences and attitudes, and I grew up in the understanding that my parents and grandparents expected me to behave like a gentleman, and dress was one of the marks of a gentleman. I haven't shaken off that view, and don't really want to.  

I'm comfortable. I don't feel strangled by a tie, and I like having all those pockets. (The lack of pockets is my wife's most frequent complaint about women's clothing.) 

I'm vain. Let's face it: I'm sixty-two years old, gray-haired and paunchy. Wearing a suit makes me look as good as I am ever going to look.

And it's agreeable when, as I walk down the street, strangers occasionally say, "Lookin' good."  

I believe in free choice. People should dress as it suits them, within a broad range of conventions, both formal and informal. The old-style business dress code, the IBM white-shirt-only pattern, is oppressive. 

All dress is costume. Let's not pretend that informality is not a conformist convention. Aaron Brager, one of my son's classmates at the determinedly progressive and informal Park School in Baltimore, figured out how to be a nonconformist there. He rented a cap and gown for graduation, the only student so garbed. Dress for the role you want to play, and make no apologies. 

A request: Lest you imagine that I posted this to fish for compliments, please honor this request: Comment at will on affectation and foppery; but if you approve of the sentiments here, the next time you see a well-dressed gentleman on the street, say to him,"Lookin' good." 

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