Dressing for ‘Success’

During the Hugo Award Ceremony, you don’t have to dress like a pirate – unless you WANT to.

I have always had a tempestuous relationship with clothes.

I hated to be dragged out for clothes shopping when I was younger;  hated having to use those dressing rooms, parading out with each new pair of pants where ‘fit’ was the deciding criteria.  I resented it each and every time my mother decided that a particular pair were desirable, all they needed was a little tailoring.  (Everything off the rack always needed a little tailoring: in fact, to this day nothing has ever fit me off the rack except at the army-navy store.  My era seems to be WWII military garb.  There must have been a lot of draftees my size back then.) ‘Do you like it?’ always seemed to be an after thought.

The latter absence was at least partially my fault.  I still have trouble understanding why pants are necessary, let alone coming to the conclusion that ‘zzzzing’ every time I take a step (in corduroy) is supposed to be a good thing. (It wasn’t and it isn’t.  BOY did I get made fun of at school – hey, if he runs fast enough, he could start a fire!)

I put up such a struggle over the clothes hunts that eventually pants and shirts would simply appear in the home.  I’d wear them, judge the reaction of my fellow students and then either decide to continue to wear them or bury them as far back in my closet as was possible.

This I resented too.  What right does some kid have to judge another based on the clothes his mom dresses him in?

Contrast that with my only successful attempt at sartorial rebelliion.  Bell bottom jeans were just in and I HAD to have a pair.  I don’t remember the details of my lobbying, but I did finally manage to get a pair towards the close of my 5th year in school and, despite all of the teasing (largely centered around wearing girl-jeans) I proudly scuffed my way down school hallways and across the playground.  I was the first boy in my school to break the Bell Bottom Barrier* and I couldn’t have been happier.

I wasn’t subjected to dress codes until I hit corporate America.  Well of course you wear a suit and tie and carry a briefcase if you’re an executive climbing the corporate ladder.  But did you know there are suits you should wear and suits you shouldn’t?  I sure as heck didn’t know that until I was handed a tailors’ card and urged to visit them by someone in upper management.  And a short time later I received an impropmtu lesson in “power ties”.  Once I’d been educated, a whole new world of tie warfare opened up to me.  Heck, you could tell who worked for whom, what frickin division they worked in and whether or not they were happy in their jobs, just by analyzing their ties.  (I even knew one fellow who kept a brace of ties in his car’s glove box so he could spy on his bosses’ choice in the morning and select an appropriately ‘supportive’ one.)  It’s like those PT shirt scenes in the Eastwood film Heartbreak Ridge – match Gunny’s shirt or go shirtless – until enterprising Marines, employing their lessons in adapting and overcoming, serendipitously discover where he has his laundry done.

Utter ridiculousness.  Just one small example of how clothing has come  to be (has always been) a definer of class and station and worth as a human being.

And then there is Fandom.  Fandom, that long ago chose to deliberately reject mundane society’s class systems.  Fandom, that seeks to value true worth and evaluate it based on deeds and contributions, not on the size of someone’s clothing budget.  Fandom, where it is not uncommon for someone to spend all of their disposable income on a costume they will wear once, and spend the rest of the year wearing “ratty” clothing (not my judgement).

Fandom, where you’ll see someone wearing the same suit and tie you’ve seen them wearing for the past 40 years (though they probably have a closet full of the same suit and tie aka Brundlefly) standing next to someone wearing a convention T and a kilt, standing next to someone in full Regency garb, standing next to someone in a Ghost Busters orange overall, next to someone in dress blues, next to someone wearing Halston.

Not ONCE have I ever heard someone say “OMG!  How DARE you appear in public wearing such a dreadful outfit!  I have to leave now, your presence is diminishing my social standing.”

Nope, believe it or not, not once have I ever heard anything approaching that kind of sentiment.

Fandom long ago met the statement “clothes make the man” and, after asking “what about women?”, Fandom said “NOPE.  That does not compute.”

In light of the recent attempt by some associated with Worldcon76 to “encourage” Hugo Finalists to “dress nice” for the occasion, I say this:  I and you and everyone else attending the ceremony are there to celebrate your achievements as Finalists – not the clothes you are wearing.  Your dress didn’t work the keyboard, your pants didn’t hold the brush, your suit jacket didn’t review that story – YOU did.  If you choose to accept your Hugo standing buck-naked on the stage, I’ll applaud just as hard as if you were wearing the latest from Savile Row or Paris.  (Maybe a bit harder.)

*There was quite the debate over this back in the day as some may remember.  Lots of schools banned then (bell bottom ban) as being disruptive or some such.

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“Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there, It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.” Samuel R. Delany

1 Comment

  1. When I was new to Microsoft (early 1994 I think), one of my co-workers wanted to attend a (Republican) political event, but he was shy and didn’t want to go alone. It was a breakfast talk with a senator and congressman with speeches (and not even my party) but I wanted to be friends with my new co-workers, so I agreed to go. Attire was “informal,” which means suit and tie.

    When I dressed that morning, I realized that if I put on a suit and tie, the guys at work would tease me all day long. So I thought, “fuck it,” and put on blue jeans and a Microsoft sweat shirt. When we met at the breakfast, I saw my buddy’s wife had dressed him in slacks, a button-down shirt, and a nice sweater vest, but no tie or jacket. Every other male in attendance wore a suit and tie–tailored suits, mostly. (It didn’t help that we both looked like college boys maybe half the average age in the room.)

    He was mortified that everyone ostracized him. The representative (our actual representative from the district where we lived and worked) made a point of saying hello to everyone at our table except him.

    But I was mobbed. I came back with a dozen business cards from people involved in different campaigns. (Not that I did anything with them.)

    The “Microsoft” on my sweat shirt apparently said, “I’m so rich I don’t have to care,” even though I’d only just got there and didn’t really have anything. My friend had been there six or seven years and was worth about $10 million, so they really made the wrong call there. That plus the fact he never wanted to donate to the Republicans after that.

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