-- The Smiths, "This Charming Man"
I've been called a lot of things in my time, but "under-dressed" is not one of them. If anything, I've tended to err on the side of dressing too formally. "Why are you so dressed up?" If I heard it once, I heard it a trillion times when I was living in New York City.
"Let's go camping next weekend." That one I never heard. It always topped my list of sentences I never wanted to hear, but if I had, and somehow had been coerced into roughing it in the bush for a day or two, I certainly would have packed for the occasion. You never know when someone will be throwing a big dinner party in the middle of nowhere.
It's not like I used to waltz around wearing a three-piece suit and fedora and carrying a cane. Nor have I ever been the clotheshorse type to overpack for short trips. For me, dressing for success or to impress had nothing to do with excess. It generally meant wearing button-down shirts with nice trousers and shoes you didn't clean by tossing them into a washing machine. You'd never have caught me wearing trainers outside of the gym (or dating anyone who did). I don't think I even owned a pair of denim blue jeans until I was in my 30s!
It's not so much that I aspired to be some kind of dandy, and if I were straight, I'm not sure I would be the quintessential metrosexual. After all, I've never been one of those guys who indulged in facials, manicures, pedicures and tons of grooming products. In my NYC era, my tidy appearance was just an extension of my anal-retentive neat-freak streak. Jeans looked so sloppy, and t-shirts didn't belong on expensive hangers. Anyone who saw my apartment immediately understood why my clothes were always wrinkle free.
My best friend Lori used to gasp whenever she came over to my place on the weekend and caught me dressed down in track pants and a t-shirt. "Weekend Jeremy" she'd come to call the look. But by Monday morning, I was always pressed and polished to perfection again. I once dated a guy who dumped me (via email!) because he always felt under-dressed around me. "I want a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy," he wrote. It was a pretty lame excuse, but although I wouldn't admit it at the time, I kind of got it.
If he'd waited a few years, he might have gotten the Jeremy he wanted. When I moved from New York City to Buenos Aires, I threw all of my sartorial eloquence out the window. I traded in a corporate office with a view (of midtown Manhattan) for freelancing on a couch with a different view (BA's Palermo barrio), and suddenly, it was okay to be "Weekend Jeremy" 24/7. In the gym, in Pilates class, running around the lakes and parks of Palermo, in bed at night, even when I ventured out on the town -- though I'd generally swap the track pants for jeans and, of course, no trainers!
It's been more of the same these last three months in Melbourne. Since I've still got no boss to impress, no glamorous events to attend, no motivation for planning tomorrow's outfit the night before, there's no reason to play dress up. Earlier today, I talked with a friend in BA who is holding a small bag of clothes for me in his apartment. He asked if it was okay if he wore a red and white shirt he found in the bag to go out. Of course, I was cool with it, but tellingly, I had no idea what shirt he was talking about! These days, I tend to favor socializing in dive-y places, so I've lost track of most of my dressier clothes. When I venture out at night, the biggest variable is how do I get there, not what am I going to wear.
Last weekend, my friend Nick called and announced that he was taking me out for a belated birthday celebration, so I put on a long-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of hunter-green Diesel jeans, a Paul Smith belt and my favorite $600 John Varvatos boots. It wasn't my best look ever, but it was an expensive one and certainly good enough for a night out in Melbourne.
Or so I thought. The lady at the door of the Carlton Hotel, a hot spot in the CBD, begged to differ. When we showed up, she looked at Nick, looked at me, looked at Nick again, and still looking at him, said to him about me, "I'm sorry, but he's dressed too casually for tonight." It took me awhile to process what was going down because I was too busy shaking my head at all the dirty hoodies, faded jeans and scuffed trainers making their way into the bar. Apparently, my t-shirt was standing between me and the other side of the velvet rope. Or so she said -- though I'm convinced that it was something a bit more personal. Just about everyone else, including the woman denying me entry, was wearing a t-shirt, but because I was braving the slightly chilly autumn night without a jacket, mine wasn't covered up.
I looked the woman up and down, taking in her Big W ensemble that looked like it had been thrown on before she rolled out of bed en route to her job. I felt like I had fallen through the looking glass into 1965 Mobile, Alabama, and I was face to face with a black person enforcing a whites-only policy. (The racism analogy, by the way, is not incidental.) "And for what exactly are you appropriately dressed? Cleaning toilets?" I sniffed before sashaying away.
Nick was livid, but I was uncharacteristically calm. After seeing the motley crew entering the joint, I hadn't wanted to go in anyway. He promised to talk to his friend who's a DJ there (and who, inconveniently, hadn't been there that night to intervene on our behalf) and make sure that girl loses her job. Why bother, I wondered. She has to wake up every day and look at herself in the mirror. Hasn't the poor, pathetic thing suffered enough?