I think my father owned two pairs of shoes all his life -- one black and one brown pair of Florsheims, meticulously buffed enough to blind you on a sunny day and always, always (did I say always?) stored away with shoe trees when not pressed into action.
My father was a barber, but every day he dressed like he was going to a wedding, complete with the little white pocket kerchief, perfectly squared and in its place all the time. At night when he returned from his Eighth Avenue barber shop in Manhattan, he looked no worse for the wear of traveling the subways and buses to get to our Astoria apartment. And the next day he looked better than the day before.
Being my father's son, it was no different for me or my brother. Going to a strict Greek parochial school meant no school day would be spent in anything but a regulation school uniform complete with tie and yes, shined shoes. My mom, a seamstress, made mostly everything we wore, so every stitch was always in place. And God help you if you weren't properly dressed for church on Sunday (the subject, by the way, of a recent story on CNN).
To this day, I carry the dress-well gene. Though I admit to wearing jeans and regular knock-around shirts to work at times (hey, it's my own business), I always feel funny doing it. On calls to potential clients, I always dress well, even though dressing well these days means dress pants, a nice shirt, blazer, but no tie. If I wore a suit complete with tie to these visits I would stand out like a piece of sod in a field of crabgrass. A small white handkerchief added to my vest pocket would complete the overdressed look.
I always welcome the opportunity to dress up, an obvious leftover from my upbringing, but I also welcome the occasional question about why I do it. It's a very simple answer -- it makes me feel good.
There is no philosophical way to explain how good you feel when you're all dressed up and somewhere -- or even nowhere -- to go. It even works when you're working out of the house. Try it. Change from your sweats or pajamas-that-look-like clothes into something nicer, and your productivity lifts. Conference calls in your pajamas always go better when you change it up.
I try to spread the word of dressing up as a way to fight the blues, but many times it's just me having a conversation with myself. This holds especially true for the future leaders of our country.
It's nice to see young people dressed nicely instead of seeing them in ripped jeans (and they pay a premium to buy them that way), jeans pulled down to expose their underwear (why wear jeans at all?) jeans that button up just below the hips (and always creep down to expose the start of Mt. Rear) T-shirts with meaningless phrases (and they pay a premium to buy them that way) and, well, shoes that would make Milton Florsheim cry.
I'd like to make one more outrageous statement, though I have no scientific backing for it. Dressing properly might make you feel healthier. And who knows, it may even work on stress.
There is, however, one exception to this practice of dressing well -- leisurely Sunday mornings, especially when the weather is nasty. What's better than reading the paper, having a cup of coffee along with an everything bagel (just a schmear please) and looking like one of those police mug shots of celebrities. I think even my father would approve, though he'd probably be shining his Florsheims.