I was thinking the other day about where my love for style began. As cliché as it may sound, it all began with my parents. As a kid, a good appearance was a vital part of how we were expected to present ourselves in the world. They wanted my siblings and I to understand the role appearance would play in our future interactions with others inside and outside of our family. Since my parents had limited resources, they placed a greater emphasis on taking care of the clothes you already had. Your ability to take care of your clothes determined how much would be spent during future clothing purchases. From their perspective, a well-groomed appearance speaks before you even open your mouth. What my parents knew then, and I later learned, is that a nice appearance boosts your confidence and self worth. Their reasoning was that if you look good, you'll feel good and perform better. Some may say I'm overstating the impact of being well dressed but what I've learned is that my image informs my identity. The way I feel about myself is closely linked to my personal style and overall appearance. Style is not just about clothing. It is so much more and includes the way you talk, walk, relationships with others and how you view the world.
There were many early style influences for me but non more influential than the black church. The black church reinforced what I learned at home. For some Black American families, the act of dressing well began in the black church. Historically, Sunday church service was an opportunity to wear your best clothes as reverence to God and to show of self-respect. In the early 1900s, many blacks worked as laborers or domestics and often wore uniforms during the work week. There were not a lot of opportunities to wear nice, nonuniform clothes during the week. However, on Sunday, blacks used the occasion to wear their best clothes. While, best clothes often meant wearing their cleanest overalls or nicest skirts, it was the best they had.
Growing up, we regularly attended Sunday church services. This was my first introduction to style, elegance and luxury outside of my family influences. Visit a black church on any given Sunday and you'll observe a veritable fashion show; you'll see men in elaborately patterned and boldly colored suits, ladies wearing stylish dress suits and dresses with hats that will outdo anything you may see at the Kentucky Derby. My parents come from this tradition and passed this legacy of style down to their children. While I no longer attend church regularly, I still remember those early style lessons. Those days were about following rules and learning how to build an outfit. You have to learn the rules before you can break them!
The idea of best clothes also carried over into our school wardrobe. Our best school clothes were suitable for school. These clothes included jeans, polo shirts and flannels, corduroys, chinos and sneakers without scuffs. In other words, these clothes were to be worn exclusively to school or for any occasions requiring nicer clothing such as going to the theater, out to dinner or visiting relatives. My parents admonished us to change into our "play" clothes once we returned home from school in the afternoon to lounge and play around the house. "Play" clothes refers to any clothing that may have been lightly stained, slightly irregular in fit or otherwise unsuitable to wear outside the home; not rags but definitely not the best. The logic being that you can play in anything except your nice clothes.
I actually still have "school" clothes and "play" clothes today. Albeit, they are a lot nicer now. It's hard to shake those old habits. I've come to view dressing well as a sign of respect for myself and others. I hold my head up a little higher when I'm dressed well. In addition, dressing is a social activity, clothes can start conversations, serve as inspiration to others and give others insight into how you perceive yourself. Even guys who say they don't care about dressing well or clothing are actually making a statement in their dressing, even if that statement is, "I don't give a damn". Of course, I understand that clothes and style won't solve world peace but it just might make you feel better about yourself and bring peace to your small piece of the world. Let me know how your style origin began.
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Stay stylish friends...