Dress Code

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Back in the 1970s, at one of the self-congratulatory gatherings of my old law firm, I learned what a Full Cleveland was: a burgundy leisure suit, worn with white shoes and a white patent-leather belt. A Full Dayton was the same thing, but in blue.

We all chuckled smugly as the toastmaster, a bit of a dandy himself, worked the crowd with sartorial slights linking self worth to conventional good taste. The unspoken truth behind the joke, the whiff of xenophobia, was that the firm was growing so fast in those days it was losing its clubby homogeneity. Next year there might even be someone in the audience from Cleveland or Dayton.

Homo sapiens is not the only species that is self aware, but I'm pretty sure we're way ahead of dolphins in narcissism and neuroticism. And when not gazing at our reflections in the pool, what is it that most of us are obsessed with? What others think of us. Am I as wonderful as I think? Really? You too.

Pulled by cultural gravity, we are attracted to like bodies of behavior and thought. Once wrapped in a cocoon of comfortable uniformity, there can be little need to think outside the dress code.

And what then? Are we individuals, or building blocks for some edifice or another: a business, a religion, the minutemen of Arizona, an eco-terror cell?


Aware of the power of peer influence, we warn our children to be careful who they hang with. Perhaps that is a warning we should give ourselves as well. It can be pretty cozy in our self-selected tribes, among all those coordinated suits and ties or matching t-shirts and hoodies. Sometimes it's worth wearing something that isn't part of the uniform, just to see how others react. Or to see how their reaction makes us feel about who we are.

With a Perspective, I'm Mac Clayton.