There is a lot I have to learn about the sartorial life, and this blog is a medium by which I am attempting to engage in that endeavor. The truth is that I have always been interested in dressing well. When I was a very young boy in Tijuana, my Tía Norma bought my brother and me our first respective suit. I remember it vaguely, and probably more so because I have seen several pictures. I do remember that I loved wearing the shiny black shoes, the jacket, and the tie, even if it was a clip-on. Tía Norma played an integral role in developing my sartorial interests: she bought me several suits after that one and it seemed like she was buying me shoes every time that I saw her.
During the 80s, my uncle worked at Florsheim and would on occasion take me to the store and help pick a nice pair of Imperials. By the time I was a teenager and filled with all the angst and insecurities of puberty, dressing well helped me cope. Granted I wasn’t wearing suits in high school, I was, however, fashionable, even if dressing up meant looking like an extra on Miami Vice. On game days, Coach made us all wear ties to school, which is where my older brother played a role. I was a year behind my brother and since I didn’t attend our high school until sophomore year, he was in his third year of football as I was getting started. Skinny ties, I’m embarrassed to say, were all the rage then and that’s what we wore.
Then in the grunge-infested early 90s, while I was at UCLA, I wore Bad Religion shirts and cargo shorts to school and double-breasted suits with suspenders (braces if you are British, apparently) to work; one of my job evaluations at the law office where I worked flatteringly and very incorrectly compared my sartorial style to Laker legend Pat Riley (I’m sure Riley has never bought a suit at C&R Clothiers, like I was doing then).
What should probably seem more obvious, and yet is much less overt, was my dad’s influence. I know what you are thinking, “Duh, Chuy! Why didn’t you start there?” Well, the truth is I don’t remember seeing my dad dressed up. I know he did for two reasons: first, I’ve seen pictures. The second is that I wore his clothes after I graduated high school. He was, it seems, a snappy dresser, and perhaps I was just too young to remember. I remember my dad going to work, strong and smart in a short-sleeve blue-collar shirt and Dickies. I also remember very clearly that he always had a suit and tie to wear when the occasion called for it. In fact, that is true to this day.
I noticed over the years that people treated me differently depending on how I was dressed, so I understood that it mattered. I have been at least attempting to dress up for most of my life and I always find it interesting how surprised people are about it. Inevitably, someone will ask, “Why are you so dressed up?”
To be perfectly frank, I find that question extremely annoying. Let’s suppose I would walk around and ask people the same thing, how might they respond, or better yet, what would be the appropriate question?
“Could you wear something better?”
Both questions are loaded: dressed up necessarily requires the opposite, dressed down. Years ago, a friend of mine headed to Camacho’s, a nightclub in the San Gabriel Valley (no longer there), to meet other friends. He dressed the way he dresses, some type of button-down shirt, a pair of pants and closed-toe shoes, of course. As he approached the entrance he was stopped by the bouncer who initiated the typical safety inspection and as the inspection concluded the bouncer felt compelled to say something:
“Next time, wear a better shirt.”
The bouncer had an expectation of decorum that my friend obviously did not meet, which begs the question of why the bouncer allowed my friend to enter. Let him and don’t say anything, or don’t let him and tell him it is because he is not dressed appropriately.
My contention here is that why are you dressed up is akin to why are you not dressed better in that they both make a judgment on the propriety of the way you dress.
The truth is that there is no good answer to Why are you so dressed up? I don’t “dress up,” I just dress the way I dress for what I am doing and sometimes that involves a jacket and tie, and sometimes it involves jeans and a t-shirt.
I like to pay attention to what I am wearing, that’s it, and I like to do that without going bankrupt. I do my best to buy wool suits, silk ties, and silk or linen pocket squares. I try to never spend more than $200 on a suit (jacket and pants), and I get everything tailored to fit me.
Why do I dress up? No good reason.