Successward: In Matters of Dress (Chapter 6)

Successward is the 1895 book written by Edward Bok.

We may like it or not, but we are judged in this world first for what we are, but also as we look; and a young man’s common sense should teach him that it is always wise to create a good impression. It does much for him, and he cannot afford to ignore it. Good clothes cannot make a young man, but they are a help; and when carving out a career it is only pure justice to himself that he should take advantage of every point offered him. In other words, I believe it is a duty which every young man owes to himself to be well dressed. But to be well dressed does not necessarily imply the highest-priced clothes, cut according to the latest patterns. It is just as possible to be well attired in clothes of moderate cost, so long as they are not “loud” or “showy,” but quiet and neat.

The average young fellow undoubtedly errs in this matter of dress. With his tastes unfixed, in the majority of cases he goes to either one of two extremes: he either dresses shabbily because he claims he cannot afford to do otherwise, or he goes to the other extreme and tries to imitate the styles affected by the extremists in dress, and necessarily makes himself an object of ridicule.

Clothes are moderate enough in price nowadays to make it possible for every young man, no matter how humble his income, to be neatly attired. The secret of a neat appearance in dress does not depend upon the number of suits he may have, but upon the manner in which even a single suit is taken care of and how it is worn. Many a young man with a wardrobe of but two suits of clothes looks neater than another who has five or six suits with which to alternate. The art of looking well depends, first, upon the choice of a suit, and, second, how it is taken care of. If a young man has a moderate income he should make it a point to select only the quiet patterns of dark colors. Not only is this more economical, but it is in better taste than are the lighter and more conspicuous clothes. If a young man will look around him a bit, he will find that the successful men of the day are always the most quiet dressers. Their clothes are never conspicuous; they detract rather than attract attention. It is only the fop of shallow mind who invites attention by his dress. There is a certain class of pictures that require elaborate gilt frames in order to set off the little merit they possess; and likewise are there scores of men who must dress conspicuously in order to gain even the most meager attention. Men who are least certain of their position always dress the showiest. Hence if a young man dresses quietly and neatly he pursues not only the best, but the only wise course. His dress is a pretty accurate reflection of his character, and very often he is judged, to a certain extent, by the taste which he shows in his clothes.

But while a young man injures himself by showy dressing, he has no business to dress shabbily. Shabby clothes are no longer an eccentricity of genius. There are men of genius who have achieved deserved fame and substantial success who are absolutely indifferent to their appearance. And the world overlooks and forgives it. But this is only possible with men of commanding genius who are established; and the young man who takes these men as models so far as attire goes makes a sorry mistake. It is given to men of high position and of established success to follow a great many little eccentricities which are not overlooked in a young man struggling for a career.

Aside from the aspect of mere appearance, neatness in dress is undoubtedly a great inner and outer factor in a young man’s success. A neat suit of clothes communicates a sense of neatness to the body, and, in turn, this sense of neatness of the person is extended to the work in hand. As we feel, so unquestionably do we work. Our clothes unmistakably affect our feelings, as any man knows who has experienced the different sensation that comes to him when attired in a new suit from the feeling when wearing old clothes. No employer expects his clerks of moderate incomes to dress in the immediate fashions, but he likes to see them neat in appearance. It commends them to his attention. We all have an inner consciousness that a young man who keeps himself looking neat and clean is more worthy of our confidence than he who is regardless of his appearance and looks soiled and shabby. Neatness always attracts, just as shabbiness invariably repulses.

Particularly would I emphasize the value of clean linen to a young man. There is no earthly excuse why any young fellow should wear soiled collars or cuffs. Soap and water are within the reach of the smallest purse, and the home or the outer laundry is accessible to all. No single element in his dress cuts more of a figure in a young man’s success than his linen. However worn may be his clothes, his appearance always invites closer proximity when his linen is clean.

I do not wish to be understood as making too much of dress as a factor in a young man’s life. But I believe in it sufficiently, and I have seen evidences again and again to strengthen that belief, that no young fellow anxious for his self-betterment can afford to slight his appearance. No fair computation can be offered as to what percentage of his income he should expend on his dress. That depends altogether too much on circumstances. But I thoroughly believe and strongly counsel that he should dress as well as his means allow; no better, but no worse. Money spent on a neat appearance is never wasted with a man, be he young or old. The chief danger which the young man has to battle with is dressing beyond his means. A tendency toward extravagance is never justifiable, no matter what may be his income. Extravagance is always wasteful. But neither must he economize too closely. In a word, he should strive always to look neat; to present the best appearance he can.

The extreme styles presented in men’s clothes are like the extreme styles fashioned for women: they should be left for those who have large wardrobes. The young man of limited wardrobe cannot afford to have anything in it which is in the immediate style one year and out of fashion the next year. Quiet patterns in clothes, in cravats, in shoes, and in linen are always in style. The marvelous combinations we see in young men’s clothes, of extreme long coats, of light cloths and large patterns in suitings, of razor-pointed shoes, of pink shirts, white collars, and blue cravats, are generally worn by extremists in dress, or by those of mediocre tastes whose exhibition of those tastes always keeps them in the lower stations of life. These styles should never be affected by the young man who wishes to gain the confidence of his superiors in business, or the respect of the people in social life whose friendships will be of value and benefit to him. A young man, so far as this matter of dress is concerned, cannot do better than always to remember this one inflexible rule: that the best dressers among men follow the same method as do the best dressers among women—they dress well, but quietly. And quiet dressing is always in good taste.

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