Ties and dressing for the inner you


James LeVan, Staff

I do not regard myself as a particularly fashionable person. I do not read GQ or follow any specific fashion blogs on the Internet. Despite that, I do like to put in the effort in the morning to dress nicely. So much so that I will get up at 5 a.m. so that I can put some minimal effort in. I like to wear a tie, a nice pair of pants and a button-down shirt. Sometimes I wear a belt, other times I put on suspenders (which I prefer to be honest). It really depends on my mood in the morning. Before I moved to Philly, I used to put on a tie and would go to my local Barnes and Noble and sit in the café reading political magazines and books I purchased. My parents always wondered why I got dressed to sit in a bookstore and my reasoning was simple: after a year of only wearing work clothes or pajamas, I wanted to look nice and dress like a human being.

When I was a young man, I did not have a lot of confidence in myself or my ability to do anything. I was angry, uninterested, unmotivated, and all I wanted to do was get through the school days and go home and hide in my room. My wardrobe was mostly blue jeans and dark shirts with a camo hoodie. Things were not particularly better as I grew older. In my first two years of community college, I would work as a dishwasher and was forced to wear these ugly wool shirts and blue jeans. They were uncomfortable to wear and they developed a strange smell. I hated that job for several reasons. The one that comes to mind now is that every time I would come home from my shift, it was because I would look at myself in the mirror and feel exhausted and disgusted. Insecurity is a strong feeling and not one a person can overcome easily, and my work did not help. The restaurant I worked at was toxic and not exactly a healthy work environment (in every sense of the word).

The one advantage about it was that it was located right across from my bank and Marshalls. One day after my check was cashed, I decided to march over there and start looking through the clothing racks. Going to Marshalls to try and make myself presentable was a new experience. Determining what to wear and purchase was like trying to figure out a new language with minimal experience in speaking it. I am a proud product of public schools; uniforms were never required. My family were not church-goers and the churches we did attend were not big on fancy dress. My experience in fashion was not minimal, it was nonexistent, and I was starting from nothing. So, I did what any 20-year-old would do in this situation, I looked up pictures of James Bond and worked from there. I bought myself a solid white shirt and a red tie and when I got home and tried them on a transformation had occurred. For the first time, I felt like a man and was confident and proud of myself. It was though I was looking at someone I could aspire to, an ideal version of myself made real that had existed in my head but was now present in the physical world. I walked around my house that day playing “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees and “You Know my Name” by Chris Cornell. The only thing I did not do was buy dress shoes, relying instead on a nice pair of sneakers since I walked and took public transportation everywhere. Even now, I struggle with dress shoes and prefer to pull a Gary Johnson.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Former 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (center) prefers to wear sneakers with his suits.

Over time, I began to piece together a wardrobe that I can customize depending on the day of the week. The tie became a banner representing my mood and frame of mind for the day. The pants and shirt are a stylish way to present myself and occasionally turn heads. Fashion is about confidence, finding the style of dress that suits you and appeals to your confidence. For me, it was not just that I was dressing nicely, I was dressing towards an idea, a version of myself that I could be proud of and aspire to. That is what fashion is more about me — attempting to bring out the inner version of you that you are most proud of and comfortable in.

Do I think everyone on campus (undergraduate, graduate, staff, faculty, etc.) should dress like me? Should we have a dress code? Hell no — I dress the way I want to because it is how I want to and it appeals to my personal aesthetic. This is my style, and I do not want to force others to dress my way and have them risk losing their own sense of self-confidence no more than I would want someone else to try and tell me how to dress and destroy my own sense of self-esteem.

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