Mark Twain said it well:
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
True enough, but what about adult males, corporate tycoons, who go to work dressed in tee shirts and jeans? Silicon Valley billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs dress like overgrown adolescents.
The same does not apply to successful women in Silicon Valley. You never see Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg or Meg Whitman dressing down, dressing casual.
Society’s leaders set an example. They provide an image that others can emulate. They set standards of good behavior, of decorum and propriety. When they fail to assume the responsibility, the rest of society still follows their lead.
They are not dressing like corporate leaders. At best, they are dressing like artists, like creative geniuses.
There is nothing wrong with an artist dressing like an artist, but artists do not set social standards. They are not role models. Besides, they are very likely to get their hands and their clothes dirty while doing their job.
Normally, when a grown man dresses like an adolescent we think less of him. We treat him with less respect. He commands less authority.
Unless he is Mark Zuckerberg.
Extremely successful men who dress down are exhibiting arrogance. They dress the way they do because they can get away with it. Anyone else would pay a heavy price.
When the bad habit trickles down to the rest of society, the result is anything but inspiring.
P. J. O’Rourke describes the way men dress for airplane travel:
When I board an airplane these days, all the middle-aged men are dressed like me—when I was an 8-year-old. They’re in shorts and T-shirts. And it’s not just on airplanes. It’s in business offices, teachers’ lounges, and churches.
If the Rev. John DeBonville could preach a sermon to lift the souls of churchgoers across America, his message would be simple:
Stop dressing so tacky for church.
DeBonville has heard about the “come as you are” approach to dressing down for Sunday service, but he says the Sabbath is getting too sloppy.
When he scans the pews of churches, DeBonville sees rows of people dressed in their Sunday worst. They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they’re going to Starbucks.
“It’s like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church,” says DeBonville, rector at the Church of the Good Shepard in Massachusetts. “No one dresses up for church anymore.”
Unless you have attained to a celebrity status, unless your face has become iconic, dressing down will work to your detriment.
O’Rourke explains the cost of looking like an overgrown adolescent whose clothes don’t fit:
The kid-who-stayed-40-years-too-long-on-the-playground look doesn’t inspire trust. If dressing up as a third grader is your idea of how to treat yourself, what’s your idea of how to treat me?
And what’s the rest of the world’s idea of how to treat you? When I was growing up, I was told, “The way you dress is the way you’re regarded.” See Dennis the Menace in the funny pages of your local newspaper to discover how you’re regarded.
Another maxim from my youth was, “Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you’d like to get.” Checked the ad listings lately for WANTED: GRADE-SCHOOL-RECESS BULLY?
With the overgrown-brat image, we also shed our adult authority. The only advantage to being a middle-aged man is that when you put on a jacket and tie you’re the Scary Dad. Never mind that no one has had an actually scary dad since 1966. The visceral fear remains. When I set my jaw and stare over the top of my tortoiseshell half-glasses, everyone under 50—from waiter to law-firm partner—thinks, “Grounded for life.” This doesn’t work when you’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
There’s a lack of seriousness, a lack of a sense of being a responsible adult, a failure to assume the role of leader. But, there is also an abrogation of authority, a sense that you should not be taken seriously, that you do not know more than anyone else, that experience has not taught you anything that you should pass on to the next generation.
At the least, it doesn’t bode well for America’s future.