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An Eye-Opening Lesson in Men's Style. Or Lack Thereof. . .

Part of the cast from the sadly concluded TV program Boston Legal, looking extremely spiffy, confident, and capable.

This particular blog post was to have been about pants alone, but after an experience I had this week, it made better sense to make a slight detour and discuss some common style gaffs that we see again and again, though I was surprised to observe them given the environment in which I found myself, and the situation of which I was a part two days ago.

On Wednesday, I endured my civil duty for the day and reported for potential jury service here in my small-to-medium-sized Midwestern city.  While I won't go into the details of the case (extremely distasteful), or why I was, ultimately, excused from service, the experience was eye opening with regard to men's style.  There wasn't much in evidence, and if the the men discussed below were striving for a well-groomed, sophisticated professional appearance, they fell far short of the mark.  

Given the gravity of the situation, I was surprised that no one seemed to make the effort to dress more seriously in view of the task potential jurors would be asked to perform if selected to sit on the jury.  Of the 31 people present that morning, about a third of whom were men, I was the only one wearing a jacket and tie besides the judge, four attorneys, and the bailiff.

On that note, the lawyers and bailiff, who ranged in age from approximately 30-60 years old, exhibited a number of style gaffs that average guys who want to kick up their own look a notch or two should do their best to avoid.  So, I'll briefly enumerate the problems I noticed right off the bat as we sat in the courtroom, waiting for the judge and attorneys to start their interviews of potential jurors and the weeding-out process:

1) Pants that were too long
Much of appearing stylish has to do with fit.  And ill-fitting pants are probably one of the first things most people will notice.  Three of the four attorneys in question had on pants that were far too long, exceeding even 'full break' length.  They might have been wearing $5000 suits for all I know, but they still looked sloppy, and like they were wearing castoffs from a dead great uncle or someone else.  Make sure to opt for a medium break when you have your own pants altered.  It's classic, timeless, and your pants will look like they fit you. . .  not some former college basketball player who didn't make the pros.

2) Pants that were too short
The fourth attorney wore pants that were too short, almost highwaters, and he looked like a dweeb.  Sure, this is a really trendy look right now, but unless you're trying to channel your inner Pee Wee Herman (and you know what he was arrested for), don't go there.

3) Suit coats that were too big
All four attorneys and the bailiff had on coats that were far too big in the chest and/or shoulders.  The unfortunate result was that their respective garments hung from their frames like winter coats tossed carelessly on a coat rack in the front hall.  Again, it made them appear as if they were dressed in someone else's clothes, and they all looked somewhat less than pulled together.

4) Suits or sports jackets that were too shiny
One of the four attorneys in the courtroom wore what was clearly a summer-weight, casual suit in some kind of shiny sage color.  Now, I'm a fan of silk and silk blend sports jackets in many colors and color combinations.  As long as they don't exhibit a visible shine that is.  But this guy's suit was S-H-I-N-Y.   Shiny!  It probably cost him a pretty penny too, but it looked cheap and screamed slimy, small-town lawyer.  There is, after all, a reason why we have this particular stereotype, and this individual fit it well.  Make sure to avoid a similar situation when you add items to your own wardrobe.

5) Neckties that were tied too loose or tied too long/short
When a necktie is tied properly, you should still be able to slide a finger or two between your collar/tie and you neck.  The knot should be cinched up to meet the top edge of your buttoned shirt (the top button should not show), and the large end of your tie should hang to the center of your belt, assuming your pants are sitting on your natural waist (not sagging down around your hips).  Oh, and tuck the small end of your tie into the label or special loop for this purpose on the rear of the large end.  Keep in mind, neckties need to be checked two or three times during the day (in the men's room mirror) to tighten the knot and make sure your tie is hanging straight.  Make that a habit whenever you don a necktie.

6) Necktie and dress shirt worn without a sports jacket or suitcoat
The defendant wore a decent looking light blue dress shirt and solid color dark tie, presumably instructed to do so by his defense attorney in an attempt to appear less threatening and more credible.  A real stand-up guy.  What was missing, though, was a suit coat or subdued sports jacket.   Sorry, but someone who puts on a tie without adding the requisite suit coat (or sports jacket) just succeeds in looking like a high school-aged greeter at The Olive Garden.  To be fair, the defendant clearly has bigger problems than how he was dressed for his trial the other day.  

7) Casual shoes that looked like workboots worn with a suit
The number of men who seem to think this is an acceptable look is astounding.   Even if you have on expensive clothing that has been properly altered to fit you well, when you add footwear like Clarke's to the ensemble, you resemble an Amish farmer gone to town to sell his harvest of turnips and potatoes from the back of his horse-drawn wagon.  Get some decent pairs of leather dress shoes guys!  One of the attorneys the other day sported what was obviously a pair of Clarke's with his black suit, and he looked ridiculous.  How can the rest of us take him seriously?  As an aside, avoid black suits like the plague and opt instead for charcoal gray.  It will impart a much more refined appearance, and you won't look like an undertaker or funeral director.

8) Dress shoes that were scuffed and/or with visible dust along the welt
The bailiff and three of the four attorneys present on Wednesday morning wore leather dress shoes that were scuffed and/or dusty.  Something that was readily apparent from quite a distance away.  Regardless of the cost of your gear, you've got to maintain it by caring for it routinely, or it will look shabby very quickly and wear out much sooner.  Have at least two pairs of dress shoes to alternate day-to-day, so that they have time to dry out and regain their shape for 24-36 hours.  Add considerable life to those same dress shoes by storing them with cedar shoe trees inside, giving them a weekly shine with leather balm and polish, and brushing them off at day's end with a horsehair brush.  Keep an eye, too, on the wear you put on soles and heels, taking your shoes to the cobbler for repairs sooner than you think you should.

9) Shoes and belts did not match 
Say it with me!  You shoes and belt must, must, must match in color and (preferably) degree of shine.  I don't think there was a man present on either of the legal teams who obeyed this particular style rule, but doing so will dress up your own look instantly.

10) Neckties and shirts that were the same or very similar in color
When your shirt and tie are the same or similar color, you look like you bought a cheap shirt-necktie combo at Target, T.J. Maxx, or Kohl's.  Worse, you also resemble a cheap thug from Tbilisi with a unibrow, who sells fake Gucci handbags, pirated CDs, and smacks around his three different girlfriends once they start asking when he's going to make honest women out of 'em.  So, it's definitely a look you want to avoid as you work to reconfigure your own wardrobe and kick up your style a notch or two.

11) Pants that weren't pulled up high enough
Ok, if you've got on a suit (or a sports jacket-odd pants combination for that matter), your pants need to be worn at your natural waist and kept in place with a belt.  The saggy prison chic look that exposes your boxers and/or buttocks to the world has no place when you're dressed for public consumption.  End of discussion.  This particular issue involved a younger (25-28 years old maybe?) clerk of some kind, who was in and out of the courtroom during the morning, not one of the attorneys.  Still, why hasn't someone taken this guy to one side and quietly provided some gentle but firm guidance?

12) Shirts that were not tucked fully/smoothly into the waistband of dress pants
Since none of the four attorneys or the bailiff were anything approaching overweight, this point, in particular, baffles me.  If you're trying to make a positive impression and hope to convince others that the case you make for your client is worthy of a jury's consideration, how hard is it to get your shirt tucked in smoothly when you dress in the morning?  It's not a look that guys interested in kicking up their style a notch or two should emulate.  So, make sure to tuck in your dress shirts NEATLY when you put on your clothes each morning.  Be aware, too, that the occasional check or 'retuck' might be necessary during the day, and that is easily accomplished in the men's room, taking you what?  Maybe 30 seconds before you zip up? 

My call for potential jury duty was eye-opening and provided 'a teachable moment.'  I've shared the experience because the popular conception of attorneys is that they know how to dress and present themselves, thanks to perceived high salaries (not always the case actually), much like the characters seen on TV shows like L.A. Law and Boston Legal.  And maybe that image holds true if a lawyer is in a large city and fortunate enough to be a junior or senior partner in a high-profile firm.

From what I've seen in my little corner of the world, however, the law schools from which these attorneys graduated need to coach their students in better dressing.  It can only help them in both their personal lives and professional careers in much the same way that dressing more nicely and with more flair can help us average guys in our own endeavors.  The main point here is that a poor appearance gets in the way of your message, whatever that might be.  So, it is vital that we men make the effort to present ourselves to the best of our abilities.  To put our best foot forward as an older generation might have phrased it.


Bloggerator said…
Is that Constable Odo on the Right? And The Captain?

It's like a Trek Con there.

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