On Dressing Like a Grown Up

Ten years out of undergrad, I’ve only recently given any serious thought to dressing like an adult.

In a perfect world, people would judge others solely on their intellect, talent, ability, and charm, without consideration for appearance and presentation. If that were the case, I would have been president by now! Just kidding.

Having had some time now to observe graduate schools (three of them), the workplace, and social life in general, I realize that people use a combination of all these factors in generating an impression of someone. But presentation is the resume that gets you the interview. It is the gateway which people use to let you in, and prove your intellect and all that other good stuff, or to shut you out, at which point you will have no one to share your charm with except your cat and Netflix.

(I’m speaking from a perspective of the realization that this is simply the way the world is. Of course there are wonderful people worth getting to know regardless of how they look. But the majority of people will not care and that is just a fact of life we must accept. You can always choose to use this to your advantage, or to rebel and give the finger to The Man. You get respect points from me either way.)

Young men (I can’t speak for women, unfortunately) strive for the image of effortless cool, looking like they don’t give a hoot about anything, which they often don’t, other than about looking like they don’t give a hoot about anything. They also value comfort. A lot. This manifests itself in an abundance of sneakers, T-shirts, and extremes — clothes that are too big (or, more recently, for some reason, too small).

It is truly a rough transition for the young man to enter adulthood </sarcasm>. In retaliation, he refuses to conform to grown-up norms: he doesn’t want to tuck in his dress shirt (“it looks too dorky!”), he wants to wear crappy square-toe slip-ons instead of wingtips (“those shoes look old!”), he tries to justify wearing pants that are too loose (“cuz they’re comfortable that way!”) or too tight (“cuz they’re comfortable that way!”) instead of ones that actually fit (actually most comfortable that way).

It’s normal to cling to boyhood. But the rest of the world (read: employers and women) are looking for men. And they use your presentation as an indicator for whether you are responsible and worthwhile, just as a company uses your PowerPoint slides to determine whether they should sign off on your project. It might not be completely fair, but how else are they supposed to evaluate everyone they meet without launching a full-blown survey and personality test each time?

Women, though statistically less superficial than men (a claim I find dubious), would still prefer not to show up at the club accompanied by some scrub in ratty jeans and an Affliction T-shirt. From my observations, they almost universally prefer guys who look sharp and deliberate, but not obsessively so. Sloppiness indicates apathy and a lack of purpose — both are unattractive to most women. Obsessively meticulous hyper-styling suggests conceit, self-absorption, and a daintiness that most women find off-putting. Women don’t like their men to look prettier than them.

Sharpness indicates maturity and a relaxed confidence, which women hate… Yeah right, you know they love it. Again, by no means do I think that I am “right” and everyone else is “wrong” on this issue. Feel free to challenge this norm if you wish. Good luck.

All this is to say that it is a good idea, if you are a young man, to put some thought into dressing like a grown up, at least on a semi-regular basis. Some SUPER easy tips are:

  • If you are wearing a dress shirt, tuck it in. And into slacks, not jeans.
  • Speaking of pants, get some that fit you properly. Not too loose, not too tight. Not too long, not too short.
  • Sneakers are OK, but unless you are under 21, don’t wear them when you’re supposed to be dressed up.
  • Take the James Bond test.
  • In other words, AVOID EXTREMES.

More on this later. Any feedback or comments?

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