Q & Answer: Answering “What’s The Occasion?”

October 22, 2009

Q & Answer: Answering "What's the Occasion?"

Over on the MaxFunForum, woodysallen asks:

I’m the guy who has a tendency to think he looks great walking out the door and when I arrive to class have people ask “what’s the special occasion?” or “why so dressed up?” and then I feel like an asshole. should I worry about that, or just feel proud that Im the only one who’s actually yearning to look nice/dress his age.

I don’t know exactly how old you are, woody, but this is certainly a problem for the budding style maven – and the grown-up one, for that matter.

The key issue here is that men’s dress is ceremonial, and always hinges on the occasion.  The meaning of your clothes is as much about context as it is about the clothes themselves.  This is particularly true for young people.  Why do goths wear black?  It’s not functional, it’s symbolic.  Just like when Alex P. Keaton wore a necktie.

When you’re in high school and college, most of your peers will assume you’re trying to send a message with your clothes.  “Neutrality” of style may vary depending on where you are – at my school is it was a slovenly version of indie rock style, at yours it may be an American Eagle polo and shorts.  Dress differently, and you’re sending a message, whether that’s your intent or not.

Choose your clothes based on the message you want to send, and understand that if you show up at high school in a coat and tie, people will think you are trying to send the message you’re better than them or more adult than you are.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t dress up when the occasion warrants, or that you can’t dress sharply at any level of formality.  It doesn’t even mean that you won’t, from time to time, hear “what’s the occasion?”  But when you do hear that question, you should have an answer.