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Sometimes We Have to Dress the Part
A reader came up after a speech the other day and seemed disappointed in the way I looked. This is nothing new for me. I feel that way every time I glance in a mirror.
Her complaint, however, took me completely surprise.
"You're too clean," she said. "I expected you to come here in a T-shirt and jeans and boots with a do-rag on your head."
Well. That was a new one on me. I've been called lots of things in my life but to my recollection, this was the first time "too clean" ever entered the picture.
I guess I should explain that I was wearing what Jethro Bodine might have called his “Fancy Speakin' Suit.” That is, I had on a charcoal suit with a nice crisp shirt and a perfectly knotted necktie. On my head was a Panama hat and my shoes were my all-time favorites, black and white spectators.
I was clean. I was too clean.
Now, this reader's expectations were not without reason. I ride motorcycles - in fact, that's my main form of transportation in all but the foulest weather. And when I do, I am dressed in jeans, boots, a t-shirt and a do-rag (or, as I prefer to call it, a headwrap; my friend Papaw, who has never approved of my headgear, refers to it instead as "that stupid red bandana"). And a lot of people seem to remember when that was how I looked much of the time, with a mop of long hair to go with it. But I don't wear that outfit when I'm giving a speech, for pity's sake.
I was raised in the time when we had Good Clothes and Play Clothes, and you didn't dare substitute one for the other. Good Clothes were for school, church and special occasions, such as going downtown. And I am not alone in this. Everyone my age remembers how we always had to take baths and put on good clothes when our mothers took us downtown. Heaven forbid someone should see us in less-than-immaculate condition, and think bad things about our mothers.
Play Clothes were exactly as the name implied. They were intended to get grubby. Which I was quite good at.
Now, over the years, casual fashions took a prominent role in American fashion. Casual Friday was only the tip of the iceberg. Now lots of workplaces have Casual Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, too. Some have Casual Summers. Some have Casual Decades.
And it isn't just for work. Dressing up was optional at the last couple of funerals I attended. Seems like nobody gets dressed up to travel anymore. Remind me to tell you about the time I flew back from Hawaii with a surfer dude who traveled in his swimming trunks, flip-flops, and a T-shirt so rank it probably should have been classified as hazardous cargo.
Look, I am by nature a casual guy. In fact, with the right combination of ridiculous shirt, ill-fitting pants and unusual footwear, I can stretch casual to the breaking point. But I still believe there are times when we're supposed to make ourselves presentable - shoes shined, suit pressed, tie in place - not for ourselves, but to show respect to the people around us. Such as when giving speeches.
Too clean? Nah. I was just tryin' to look spiffy. And afterward, I went downtown.
© 2008 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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