Although women’s fashions are seasonally “announced” and paraded through New York, Paris, Madrid, and Milan, the average men’s fashion trends are largely replications of two primary influences--the president of the United States and men in the movies and on TV.
While it is a good suggestion to loosely follow these icons, today’s executive has to be cognizant of how far to align himself with trends.
Take, for example, the Jimmy Carter era that ushered in people like John Denver and the characters of The Waltons TV series. Overalls and flannel shirts became abundantly available. Icons like Gentle Ben the bear were treated with the same respect as movies depicting men who lived off the land, like Jeremiah Johnson. It was a rugged, outdoor moment in history. The Carter White House was rumored to host people like Willie Nelson and had staff members walking around barefoot.
However, a relaxed image does not always conjure up a leader who can be trusted to attend to every detail. History has found Carter to be rather weak and unresponsive during key moments in his moment in the sun.
Not surprisingly, the anti-country boy look faded once John Travolta developed a case of Saturday Night Fever. Dacron and polyester replaced denim and flannel in a matter of days, and Tony Manero’s fever, indeed, must have been a strong case since it caused men to wear shades of pink, pale-yellow, and powder-blue “leisure suits” to every wedding, baptism, and formal affair, as well as to wear tons of hairspray. The ultimate look was dressing up the leisure suit with a necktie. Now there was a winning style that today makes looking at old movies a scream.
Fads In Fashion
Eventually, Carter left and the tux-sporting Ronald Reagan emerged. He may have influenced Alex Keaton on Family Ties and series like Dallas and Dynasty, where the lifestyles of the rich and shameless were paraded for all to see. Men began wearing tuxedo shirts and bow ties to bars and clubs, and looked more like butlers and waiters than J. R. Ewing and Blake Carrington.
Men did, thankfully, embrace suits, ties, and (after Michael Douglas taught us that “greed is good” in Wall Street) suspenders.
When all this formality proved to be too much for the American male to handle, Don Johnson zoomed in--tucked low in his Ferrari with a heavy 5 o’clock shadow--and gave us the Miami Vice look. The classic combination of suit jackets with T-shirts looked like a half-dressed man who just rolled out of bed.
This was augmented by Tom Cruise’s rebel-without-a-clue portrayal in Top Gun. Tom, too, went from disheveled to dress military “whites” several times in the film, giving guys the versatility to play both sides (proper and rowdy), and look cool either way.
As the presidents changed (Bush, then Clinton, and then more Bush), the urban-cowboy look came and went, as did the punk, techno thing, and the Australian look with Crocodile Dundee. All were imitations of what was generally accepted and approved at the moment.
Mistakes were made, though, when folks tried to wear some of that to the office. It might have been acceptable for the office “party,” but please, no leather ties at the Wednesday manager’s meeting, OK, ace?
But you can’t blame men for trying. For so many years the “right” thing to wear was whatever Mom laid out on the bed before school, but many of us were dumbfounded when we were left to our own judgment. I recall telling my college buddies more than once, “Dude, you can’t wear a Coors hat with a Budweiser T-shirt! One or the other! You must commit!”
Make A Statement
So where does that leave us today? President Obama is a younger man. He followed the George W. Bush example of a powder-blue, open-neck, button-down shirt when going “informal.” This seems acceptable to the more casual executive of this era.
The president also champions the suit jacket with an open-neck white shirt underneath (no tie) look that has been copied by America’s Funniest Videos host Tom Bergeron, as well as by Jeff Foxworthy, the host of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? I see that replication today in the office, and even at some board meetings now and then. It’s crisp, clean, and respectful.
What does the look of today say? For one, it is a statement that while the tone is somewhat serious, the slightly under-dressed executive has a grip and can handle any and all questions, but he does not treat any matter too importantly. It doesn’t deserve the tie and wingtips that signing a peace treaty or union contract might. It makes a statement of casual control.
It’s all about making a statement--one that is respected.
Ultimately, the statement you make is more about credibility than anything else. If you keep your look conservative and display credibility where you work, live, play, eat, or visit, your words will always carry weight. If you are nothing but a talking head, that look will only get you so far. You have to back it up with quality, brother, or it doesn’t mean a thing how great you appear.
If you wear a hat like Indiana Jones or a serape like Clint Eastwood, you look like some juvenile wannabe that hasn’t figured out who he is yet. But a button-down shirt or casual sweater with a nice pair of slacks on what the office calls “casual day” carries many more political chips than a pair of faded jeans and a T-shirt. That credible type of approach applies anywhere, anytime, in any era.
Save the jeans for the company picnic, where they are expected and accepted. Have you noticed how old black-and-white photos of James Dean in his khakis and sweaters never look dated or out of fashion?
Conservative dress is indeed timeless. Now take the next step and donate those leisure suits in your closet to charity. That look is NOT coming back. Thank God.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.