Remember when clothes made the man?
It’s midnight blue. It’s still in pretty good repair. It has done lots of duty over the years — at weddings, public appearances, business meetings.
Until early last year, it was my go-to suit.
But then came the pandemic, and all the adjustments that we have come to know so well.
For me, that meant growing a beard (I shaved after three months — I looked like a sheep). It meant haircuts only every eight weeks (half my usual). It meant vast increases in time spent exercising and time spent reading for pleasure.
And it meant that my old-reliable suit hung in my closet, ignored.
Would I ever wear it again? Possibly. Probably. But when?
Then came news that the father of an old friend had died, at 87. We needed to attend the viewing.
So out of the closet came Old Blue. It was the first time I had worn it in nearly 14 months.
He looked rested and ready, that old amigo of mine. Crisp creases in the trousers. Jacket pockets nice and flat. And not covered with dust.
I put it on. I tied my tie (also a pandemic first). Off we went.
And I felt good in a way that I hadn’t since March of last year.
So much of that feeling was born when I was — in the early middle of the last century.
If you had a mother like mine, she insisted on proper dress. Even at age less-than-ten, that meant shined shoes, firmly knotted neckties and a suit that looked snappy.
My father reinforced that policy with his own clothing choices. He wore a suit and tie to go downtown to work, every single weekday. Even on weekends, he would choose sharply pressed khakis and a dress shirt.
I once asked him why he didn’t go for blue jeans and tee-shirts, as my brother and I did.
“Because gentlemen don’t dress like that,” he said.
That lesson stuck with me over the years. At my first job, I asked the Big Boss whether there was a dress code. He said there was.
“Always dress as if you’re about to meet Queen Elizabeth,” he said.
The employees mocked him — and that policy — behind his back. But throughout all the years that I worked for him, I made sure to choose a suit, a conservative tie and a plain blue or white dress shirt.
What did wearing a suit imply? That my workplace took work seriously. That we were expected to be on our best behavior, clad in our best look. That maybe, just maybe, the queen would come sauntering through the door at any moment.
She never did. But if she had, I and my colleagues would have been ready.
So, as I unclipped the suit hanger, stepped into the pants and found the armholes of the jacket, I didn’t just feel appropriately dressed for a funeral. I felt as if I were rejoining the human race.
I’ve never made a big deal about this, but well before the pandemic, I was confused about “business casual.”
More and more, men would show up in work situations — yes, even to funerals — in slacks and a shirt. Sometimes, the shirt would be wrinkled. Sometimes (gasp!), it would not be tucked into the pants (my mother would have had a fit).
Younger people — including two who call me Dad — have explained that the old rules are being relaxed, and wasn’t that a good thing?
Instead of having to spend oodles on suits, men could now spend half-oodles on less formal ensembles. Good all the way around, the kids would argue.
I’m not so sure.
Whenever I would put on a suit during my middle years, I would feel the way a professional athlete must feel when he dons his uniform. “OK,” the clothes would say, “now you can compete. Now you can get serious. Now you’re ready to win.”
That feeling has been hibernating since March 2020. I’m sorry that it took a death to reinvigorate it, and me.
But when I looked at myself in the mirror before venturing out to the funeral home, I felt official. I felt finished. I felt whole.
If Old Blue could talk, I’m sure he’d have made fun of me.
“Old guy Bob,” he might have said, “I’m just some threads. I don’t have a soul. I don’t have any inherent value.”
And I would have said right back: “Oh, yes, you do. Lots.”
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.