2008-12-10: On the Evolution of Personal Style

Recently, I was thinking about how my choice of clothing has evolved over the years. It seems that most folks make conscious choices to go for one look or another, and buy new wardrobes periodically. For me, each of my various looks has slowly evolved off of a previous one.

I'm writing this because, unless my next job lands me in a suit and tie environment, I think I'm finally wearing the clothes I would've worn ever since college, if I'd only known about them back then. I had this realization today on the walk into work, and figured it would be worth writing down.

When I was a kid, being home-schooled, I never cared much about what I wore. A t-shirt and jeans was my constant uniform, other than on Sundays, and there was no reason to change this. I actually preferred plain blue shirts over shirts with patterns, logos, etc.

When I moved on into an apprenticeship at a repair shop, I was pushed into Dickies ("work pants"), which I hated. The pocket space was limited, and I was used to more substantial-feeling pants. Pants which felt like they could survive a bit of rough handling, not thin and rippable fabric.

Later on, I went to college and resumed my T-shirt and jeans uniform. Now, my parents had always bought me XL size t-shirts, and what I didn't know at the time was that they were oversized for me. This translated to my looking fatter than I needed to, to which I partially attribute my lack of dating success at that phase in my life. There were a number of girls telling me I should dress up more and I'd have girls interested in me, but that just wasn't going to happen for a number of reasons. However, I'd have been more than willing to change over to L-size shirts if I'd realized that was a big deal - it would've been a huge improvement. I now weigh 240lbs, and those XL shirts I owned back then still look like tents on me. I'm not sure how or why I was always stuck in XL shirts, but I do know I never picked that size myself.

Once I became president of the ACM chapter at my university, I felt like I needed to dress up more, so I tended to wear button-up shirts to school. It was a marginal step up from t-shirts, although I did still wear jeans.

Throughout this time, I basically had two settings: oversized t-shirts and jeans, and clothes meant for going to church in. In hindsight, the one thing I should've done differently would've been to refuse all XL t-shirts. That was a discrete chapter of my life, which ended when I moved to California.

When I moved out to California and started work at mp3.com, I typically wore t-shirts and jeans to work when I wasn't wearing all black. I'd discovered khakis a couple of years into this job, and liked them quite a bit. Unlike dickies, they were a thicker fabric and held much the same appeal as jeans. I also discovered that I should've been wearing L-size shirts, and pretty much stopped wearing XL's. One other influence on my attire was later on, after some whiners started filing HR complaints on me for talking about guns on the company BBS ("I take it as a personal, directed threat to me that this guy mentioned to the other gun guys that there's a gun show in town next weekend"), I switched to almost 100% gun related t-shirts (in size L, since I'd actually discovered after moving out here that I wasn't size XL) just to annoy them. It seemed to work pretty well, actually - the company had a point of having no dress code, so all they could do was fume at the guy wearing all black and a trenchcoat (this started pre-Columbine and continued after - because I wasn't about to let a pair of losers and the fear that whiners would equate me with them, make me stop wearing my favorite coat) and gun shirts every day.

When MP3.com died off (bought by cNet), I was a consultant for a while, which lead to my buying a new assortment of professional-looking button-up shirts and light-colored khakis to go with them. Some folks who knew me at MP3 thought I'd made some massive change or something, but really it boiled down to two things which I've never put down before:

1. The gun shirts were a form of protest against an organized persecution by a few leftist liberals at mp3. Those folks loved using HR like a club, and I was an easy target. I don't think it was about guns as much as it was about politics and silencing a dissenting voice.
2. I inherited my grandfather's dislike for getting "all gussied up" without a good reason. On the weekends, I'm still a jeans and t-shirt guy, and when being underpaid as a DBA back at mp3.com (c'mon, what DBA makes $67k/yr?), I wasn't about to consider that to be a dress-up job. On the other hand, if a client is paying $60/hr or more to see me, I think I owe them a bit of dressing up. I think that, for me, the threshold where I think I owe an employer button-up shirts is $75k/yr. If the job is under that, no problem as long as they're ok with t-shirts.

My ex-gf suffered some regret for our breakup when she saw me in my consultant attire (and relatively recent mutual friend observed, "Eh, that's just how Sean always dresses, what's the big deal?") - there was a degree of amusement when watching her splutter about how I never dressed like that when we were going out. This leads me to believe that had I been in button up shirts and khakis back in college, I probably would've actually had a few girls after me. It's probably a good thing I wore "girl repellant" and got good grades in computer science, though.

My next job was at Kyocera Wireless, where I stayed in my consultant clothes, and then I went to work for Sony after that. Now, Sony is where I am now, and where I picked out what I believe is going to be my final wardrobe. It takes the high points of just about all my previous phases and discards everything I didn't like.

First off, the impetus to change from my consultant attire was provided by my desk. The first time my elbow tore out of my shirt, I was surprised. The next time was later that week, and I was even more surprised. By the third or fourth shirt, I realized I was in a pattern and I was ultimately going to lose all of my thinner-fabric shirts. The deal is that this desk is actually pretty low compared to previous desks I've had, which lead to more stress being placed on the elbow of my shirt, which lead to tearing through it. I still mourn the loss of some of my favorite shirts, but my new shirts are very similar but unlikely to meet with a similar fate. Around the same time, my lighter khakis suddenly started getting stains on them - food, grease from gun working, etc - the trippy thing is that I've been working on guns for years, but never had such bad luck with stains until that few months. After I was down to two pairs of blue jeans, themselves badly faded and somewhat stained in spots (and I'd bought several khakis, only to get them stained worse in short order), I got frustrated and decided that price was little object and I was just going to get clothes that wouldn't stain or rip.

MidwayUSA was having a sale on Blackhawk tactical t-shirts and pants. I ended up ordering some on a lark, since they were advertised as stain and rip resistant. When I tried them on, I decided I liked 'em and started doing my clothing shopping at Galls. I now own several 5.11 Tactical button-up shirts, plus an assortment of Blackhawk button-ups, faux button-ups, and polos. I think this clothing is what I should've been wearing from college onwards.

1. They're about as comfortable as jeans and a t-shirt. The button-ups actually have ventilation holes and mesh, which aren't really noticeable unless you're looking at the shirt from the inside.
2. They're professional looking, at least the button-ups are.
3. They're not too big. In fact, the pants have an elastic waistband so that they never sag. The shirts are a bit bulkier but when tucked in they don't look bad.