In Praise of Dressing Well

Written by David Coggins

Is it superficial to care about clothes? Of course not! Clothes matter, and it’s important to say so. They communicate your intentions to the world, and people will assess you whether you want them to or not. That’s why your lawyer wears a suit to court and not a T-shirt. It’s why you wear a tie to any occasion that matters, whether it’s for the opera, for church or when you’re inducted to the Hall of Fame.

I’m here to praise dressing well, and over the next few months I’ll be writing for Brooks Brothers about such urgent sartorial matters about white bucks, knit ties and what to wear to summer weddings. We’ll get into etiquette details—tipping, toasting and the rest—but we’ll do it with a smile.

Dressing well is about customs and how things have been done since before we were born. But it’s just as much about the moment and where we are now. How we present ourselves explains how we imagine we fit into the world. In that sense, style is about self-knowledge, which is why a well-dressed man knows himself. Brooks Brothers has helped men present themselves well for over 125 years. The Madison Avenue store is a true New York icon (an overused word that truly applies in this case). The Brooks oxford shirt is one of the great sartorial pieces in the Western world—and since it’s a cult object in Japan, let’s say the entire world. That oxford is the basis for establishmentarians and individualists alike.

That’s what Brooks Brothers offers: the baseline for what every man needs, whether it’s a cashmere sweater, a good pair of chinos or a striped rep tie. It’s a resource for every occasion, your last best hope when you need a pair of tuxedo shoes for an event that night.

We’re all curious about rules of dress—we want to know when to follow them and when to flout them—but many of the best dressed men create their own sartorial world with its own logic and even controlled chaos. These men make new rules of possibility and expression. A charismatic American president foreswore the hat; an Italian CEO left his collar buttons undone (of Brooks Brothers oxford shirts, incidentally). These were strong personalities who bent the world in their direction.

That’s not for everyone. We don’t have to dictate style for the future or treat the world as our runway. Some people are naturally flamboyant and others are discreet, that’s as it should be. But we can all do our part. When I see a well-dressed man walking down the street I feel that he is showing respect to everybody he passes. In a small way, I feel better about the world. So here’s to putting our best foot forward. A little self-knowledge and a knit tie can go a long way.

I look forward to answering your questions about anything from when to go sockless to how much to tip a good bartender. So let’s get in the spirit of dressing well and behaving our best. If we don’t set the standard, who will?

To ask David a question on style or manners please click here.
David Coggins is the author of Men and Manners and the New York Times bestseller Men and Style. He writes about travel, tailoring and fly fishing for several publications. He lives in New York City.