Dressing For Effect

No, not THAT bad.

No, not THAT bad.

The Curmudgeon isn’t much of a dresser. To see him is to suspect that he’s somewhere between sloppy and indifferent in his manner of dress, but that’s not true at all. Actually, he’s usually pretty fussy about what he wears and how he dresses – but it still has that effect of indifference because in many respects, he just doesn’t dress like many other males of his age. It’s been that way, moreover, at pretty much all his ages going back to high school, when the school eased its dress code to permit students to wear blue jeans just three weeks into his five years there but his parents – a much higher authority – didn’t ease that particular restriction for another four years so he stood out from the crowd for a long, long time.

The Curmudgeon's first car. Yes, it was a 1980 Ford Pinto. And yes, he sees you smirking.

The Curmudgeon’s first car. Yes, it was a 1980 Ford Pinto. And yes, he sees you smirking.

The first time The Curmudgeon tried to buy a new car he was dressed rather slovenly and the sales people on the car lot pretty much ignored him. When he finally got someone’s attention and showed interest in a particular model and suggested that the next step should be a test drive, the salesman looked at him and said that wasn’t going to happen.

You know what else didn’t happen? The Curmudgeon didn’t buy his first new car there.

When The Curmudgeon went to buy his next car he went – coincidentally – directly to a dealership from the office, dressed in a sport coat and tie. The sales people were all over him.

He noticed.

Fifteen years later The Curmudgeon had a job interview with a health insurance company for a position for which he was, if he can say so himself, exceptionally well-qualified. He wore his best suit, and fairly early in the interview the person interviewing him, who ran the department in which the position was situated, started talking about some of the changes he’d brought to his department in his time on the job. He spoke of creating databases, of making better use of technology, and a few other things.

And then he talked – at length – about how he had badgered his employees into dressing better.

And that’s where he lost The Curmudgeon. This guy, wearing a very nice Italian suit and with the kind of slender build that could make anything look good, was talking about using his leadership skills to coerce his employees to dress better – people whose job never, ever required them to leave the building to work with customers, vendors, or anyone else. As the head of a department, that, of all things, was one of his priorities. He was fooled by The Curmudgeon’s good suit, but the interview was over. There was no way The Curmudgeon was going to work for this preening peacock and he spent the final half-hour of the interview just toying with the guy for his own amusement.

About eight years ago The Curmudgeon was searching for some new carpets for his home. There’s a large flooring store just a few minutes from his home and he took a ride there one cool fall Saturday afternoon reasonably well-dressed and found the sales people very attentive. A few weeks later he was not very well-dressed, in shorts and a polo shirt and sneakers, and happened to be driving past that same store and decided to stop in to look at a few of the items that interested him.

He might as well have been a leper for all of the attention he received from the sales people. He spent 15 minutes in the store and not a single sales person came anywhere near him.

He ended up spending a good deal of money for new flooring for nearly his entire home – and not a dime of it at that store.

Over the last decade or so – okay, a little more – until his recent nuptials, The Curmudgeon participated in the crapshoot that’s known as internet dating. This is not to be confused with Tinder, which is really just an online bar without the pick-up lines or even a need for pick-up lines: from what The Curmudgeon understands, you don’t need a pick-up line with Tinder because if you make a date and take a shower beforehand and don’t make a complete fool of yourself you apparently know exactly how the evening is going to end before it even begins.

To which The Curmudgeon’s reaction is “Yuck.”

Over the years The Curmudgeon came to prefer first internet dates to be over lunch. A lot of people prefer coffee but he feels like an idiot taking up a table in a coffee shop for an hour or two so he usually suggested lunch and almost always found the other party agreeable to that suggestion.

But oh, what to wear?

On his very first internet date he wore khakis and a nice button-down sports shirt. He recalls standing outside the restaurant waiting for his date and while waiting he watched a woman struggle to park her car even though she wasn’t even putting it between two parked cars. When she got out she had very blonde hair (clearly out of a bottle) and very ripped blue jeans and was obviously in a hurry, and The Curmudgeon guessed she was a waiter at the restaurant and late for her shift (it was five minutes past the hour).

It was his date. Actually, she was smart – a doctah! – and beautiful and accomplished and interesting but that whole thing was over after a few dates of nice-but-no-chemistry, and the one lesson The Curmudgeon took from the experience was that he had been seriously, seriously overdressed for that first date.

This pattern repeated itself for a few months: The Curmudgeon would dress pretty much the same way and his dates…didn’t, with many of them wearing blue jeans. So he realized he needed a wardrobe change.

But what to wear instead?

Clearly the khakis had been too much, so he decided to try just a nice pair of blue jeans. That worked for a while but then he had a few dates on which the women weren’t wearing blue jeans and he started to feel underdressed and wondered if that might be perceived as disrespectful on his part.

Yes, The Curmudgeon knows, he sometimes overthinks things.

Even they couldn't help.

Even they couldn’t help.

That overthinking notwithstanding, he again needed to wrestle with the question of what to wear, and after some deliberation, and because Stacy and Clinton weren’t available to advise him, he decided he should wear black jeans: dressier than blue jeans but not as dressy as khakis. Of course he didn’t own any black jeans and never had, so he had to go out and buy a pair. And while he is inclined toward VERY BRIGHT sports shirts, he decided he needed to tone it down and dress a little less like WKRP in Cincinnati’s Herb Tarlek (although The Curmudgeon would never, ever be caught dead wearing a white belt or white shoes).

Problem solved.

This is what most banks see when you show up with a withdrawal slip.

This is what most banks see when you show up with a withdrawal slip.

This past November The Curmudgeon found himself needing to withdraw from the bank what is, at least for him, a sizable amount of cash: $2000 (wedding-related expenses for which cash was most appropriate). Over the years The Curmudgeon has come to hate attempting to withdraw his own money from his own bank because while he keeps a respectable amount of money on deposit, he bristles when banks treat him like a potential thief for attempting to withdraw just a little bit of that money. Twice he has gotten so angry over that treatment that he ended up changing banks but he likes his current bank and didn’t want to end up angry and have to start searching for a new one so he had pretty much decided just to go to an ATM for several days and take out money every day until he had accumulated the desired $2000.

Coincidentally, The Curmudgeon, who works at home, needed to go into Philadelphia for a business meeting one day, so he took the commuter train into the city. When he returned home he was thinking about taking a chance with the bank as he prepared to change back into his everyday attire of sneakers, blue jeans and t-shirt, so instead of changing everything decided to keep the white dress shirt, replace his dress black shoes with soft-soled casual black shoes rather than sneakers, and skipped the blue jeans in favor of his old first-date black jeans, which were sitting in his closet wondering what they did wrong because their owner never wore them anymore.

It was about 5:30 when he entered the bank. There was one customer service representative, who was occupied, and one teller, so The Curmudgeon took a seat to wait for the customer service representative (he also needed to order new checks). He sat no more than a minute when the teller, who had no customers, asked if she could help him. He rose from his seat, explained what he needed, and she said she could do everything he wanted. And she did – including handing over the $2000 as if it was $20.

And The Curmudgeon is absolutely, positively convinced that had he taken that seat in blue jeans, sneakers, and a sweat shirt he would have been forced to wait until the occupied customer service representative was finished with her customer.

So what’s the lesson? The Curmudgeon isn’t really sure there is one, but if there is, it’s that if you want something from someone you’re probably better off playing by other people’s rules.

But at some point you also may want to consider how much you want to interact with people who play by rules like that.

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