Clothes Mark the Man

When I was managing hospitals and medical centers, I became conscious of styles of dress worn by young male accountants from what were then the “big eight” (now the huge four) auditing firms, and by other outside consultants. These styles were emulated by some people in my organization, primarily in the finance division.

Such styles varied over the years, and emphasis on specific items of clothing changed from time-to-time, but they seemed to center mostly on shoes, shirts and ties.

Penny loafers, with or without pennies, seemed the rage for a while, even if they (maybe because they) didn’t match the rest of the ensemble. Later, scuffed-up, unpolished but expensive brown shoes were ubiquitous among these chaps, no matter that brown shoes and non-brown clothing don’t go well together. Then penny loafers without the pennies came back.

Much earlier, in the 60s and 70s, skinny ties, usually by “Ernst” of San Francisco, became a distinguishing mark, especially if they were knotted and worn with studied carelessness.

The one shirt style that amused me was the very large, unfitted white shirt, lightly starched and not hampered by an obscuring jacket after the wearer arrived at work. The shirt would begin the morning rather well ironed, but at day’s end was quite wrinkled and tent-like in appearance, anchored at the neck and drooping over one’s belt line. This seemed to show how hard the wearer worked during the day.

I had my own style of dress too (one could call it my uniform): dark suit, white or light-colored shirt, modest striped tie with muted dark colors, no jewelry except for a slim wristwatch, and discreetly expensive black shoes with knee-length black socks. There were a few years where a three-piece suit was called for.

Sometimes a blue blazer and gray slacks were de rigueur.

Away from work, I became myself again: Levi’s (the preferred brand of jeans since my early youth), tee-shirt and sandals. Additional clothing depended on the temperature and venue.

At home, the main distinguishing characteristic in clothing from when I was a teenager is that the Levi’s are now clean. The ideal state for jeans, back then, was that they should be able to stand in a corner by themselves, structurally supported by layers of grease deposited through intimate contact with a motor vehicle. When worn, the jeans barely hung onto one’s skinny hips, much as with the current fashion of young people. But it was then déclassé to show underwear or bare skin as is the fashion now.

Now that I am no longer an employee of anyone or -thing, I have reverted to my natural state: ancient Levi’s, now soft and frayed (but not holey) with something on top and on the feet to suit the ambient temperature.

The boy and the old man have merged. Or, the boy has re-emerged.