Have you seen the well-to-do
Up on Lenox Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare
With their noses in the air
High hats and arrowed collars
White spats and fifteen dollars
Spending every dime
On a wonderful time
~Robbie Williams, Puttin’ on the Ritz
My grandpa wore a hat on his head and rubbers on his feet. The gray fedora he wore whenever he left his home. The rubbers he wore during inclement weather to protect his leather shoes. There was a different fashion sense in his day, one that simultaneously showed pride in being well groomed and respect for others. It was as if they were not just puttin’ on the ritz but living the ritz on a daily basis despite not have the income of the ritz.
I was born in 1961. My formative years hit during the heart of a global rebellion against all things held sacred by my parents and their parents before them. Rebellions against the status quo are a normal component of teens breaking away from their parents in an attempt to differentiate their identities. The 60s, however, was unlike any other era in modern history.
The 60s bleeding into the early 70s was an era of great social upheaval where closely cropped hair grew shaggy and long as an act of protest, an era in which institutionally denied freedoms were beginning to be won by the marginalized through brave acts of civil disobedience, an era during which the hypocrisy of the government was exposed like never before with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, an era in which music was said to corrupt the morals of god fearing youth transforming them into defiant, drug addled hippies.
With all rebellions comes collateral damage. Collateral damage during those times were the elegant and dapper fashions sported by our elders in every day life. Where suits, sport coats, slacks, dresses and hats were the norm, came faded, ripped jeans, super wide bell bottoms, a staple of my wardrobe through college, mini skirts, pant suits, bright hues, and tie-dye everywhere. Clothes designed more than anything to challenge norms held sacred by the elders.
When watching vintage movies or seeing vintage photographs, I am struck by the sartorial class exuded by the Frank Sinatra’s, the Cary Grants, the everyday person stylishly dressed when they hit the town, went to church, visited others, or protested discrimination during the MLK led freedom marches in the South. The clothing of that bygone era was a statement in self-respect and, more importantly, in respect for others.
My business career started with a daily tie and no jeans allowed eventually moving to business casual on Fridays to business casual everyday to casual as a norm and, at times, to clothing more situated to the beach. At my current place of employment, it’s not unusual for my colleagues to wear shorts to the office in the summer. Jeans and gym shoes are more common than slacks and dress shoes all the way up to the president, ties are an anomaly turning heads in wonder everywhere but in the direct customer sales crowd.
I chose to dress closer to those of the bygone days than to modern norms at the office. I wear a tie on Monday, a bowtie on Tuesday, a sport coat as weather permits, a general state of dressiness the remainder of the week. Blue jeans never. Unlike what I perceive to be style in those days (it’s hard to tell because the movies and photos from the day are all monochrome) I add a healthy shot of color. I like the way colors draw my eye toward them. Where they wore white shirts, I lean toward pastel dress shirts. My ties and pocket squares are mostly bright hues, my socks the works of the great artists. I like to make style my own rather than duplicate anyone else.
As a last tip of the hat to my grandfather and his generation, I recently obtained a grey fedora with a black hatband and an accent feather, a Christmas gift from one of my children. Come next work day, a Tuesday, I will be wearing the new hat and one of the new bowties my wife gifted me. If the weather is dry, I will wear a pair of clickety shoes. If inclement, a pair of boots because I don’t like wearing rubbers on my feet.