Lesson from prom season: Boys, it’s time to learn to wear a suit

The other day, I passed a bunch of kids going to prom. The girls, in their gowns, with their hair fixed just so, were beautiful. The boys, in their rented tuxedos, looked like dorks. The girls carried themselves like women. The boys looked like dorks.

Mark Zuckerberg, May 2007
Mark Zuckerberg (Wikipedia)

I understand we’ve become a casual society, that it’s OK, apparently, for a CEO to wear a hoodie when he meets with Wall Street investors, but, boys, you really ought to learn to wear a suit.

It isn’t hard: Don’t slouch. Don’t horse around. Tuck in your shirt. Straighten your tie. Back up: Learn to tie a tie. Don’t wear a clip-on or that crappy bow tie with the elastic band that came with your rented tux. Tie it yourself. Don’t go for that end-of-the-day loose knot. You haven’t earned it. Straighten your tie.

I was a teenage boy once. I know it’s weird dressing up. It’s uncomfortable, and it makes you feel really self-conscious. I know a guy, his daughter bought a prom dress, went to the salon and was ready for prom when her date called to say he looked dumb in a tux and that he wasn’t going, and he didn’t.

Boys, don’t be that guy. Learn to wear a suit.

It’s important, because a guy in a suit looks like he knows what he’s doing. He looks like he’s in charge. He looks confident. Someday, you’ll want a job, a real job, and you’ll need to wear a suit and look good doing it, because, let’s face it, you’re not Mark Zuckerberg. You don’t have any billion-dollar ideas, and, even if you did, you wouldn’t have a clue about how to make them happen. You’re going to need a job, and to get a good job, you need to learn to wear a suit.

Khakis, a blue shirt and a Navy blazer don’t count as a suit.

Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story trailer

Years ago, I read something, attributed to Cary Grant. He was a movie star, and looked like it. He was the George Clooney of his day, only smooth, and he never played Batman, although he sure as hell would have made a great Bruce Wayne. Anyway, Cary Grant supposedly said a guy needs only one suit, but it had better be a good one. That’s good advice.

Trust me: You want Mark Zuckerberg’s money, but you need Cary Grant’s style.

26 thoughts on “Lesson from prom season: Boys, it’s time to learn to wear a suit

  1. I have teenaged sons. They complain I’m making them dress up when I insist they wear a polo shirt instead of a T shirt with their jeans. Imagine the howling if I actually made them tuck the darn thing in.

  2. I’m not one to point fingers, given that I don’t remember the last day I wore a suit…but that comes with wearing issued clothes to work every day. But your point is well made. There are standards to be met for certain situations – how you carry yourself, and how you are outfitted. It’s best to do both like it isn’t the first time you’ve been in public.

    1. I have no illusions than any teenagers will stumble across this and think, Oh, OK. I need to do this. I just think it’s something they need to hear, so, someday, they can’t say they didn’t know it.

  3. My nephew went to prom last weekend and he looked like a million bucks in his tux. It was a special night that he will hopefully remember; I can’t imagine him missing out on that because he felt uncomfortable in a suit.

  4. Bravo!! My son is in college and finally appreciates “suiting up.” He’s immersed in all kinds of things — from college dances to job interviews to simple presentations in class — and “suiting up” is part of the gig. I must say, a young man who’s comfortable wearing a suit stands heads and shoulders over his peers who don’t. Timely advice (and trust me, the girls will appreciate it, too!)

  5. Yesterday, my girls announced that ~ “Mommy, you have THREE daughters now.” They had put their little brother in a dress! And interestingly enough, he seemed to enjoy wearing it. LOL

    Maybe it’s never too early to start wearing ties…. or I might be shopping for his prom gown someday.😉

  6. >>Khakis, a blue shirt and a Navy blazer don’t count as a suit.

    In my neck of the woods, that’s known as “Annapolis Formal.” Seriously.

    My next door neighbor wears a suit every day and always looks dapper. He was going to be out of town on business and asked me to give his teenager a ride to a formal event. He’d arranged the clothes and pre-tied the necktie. What he didn’t count on was that “Polamalu,” the nickame his football coach gave him because of the striking similarity in hairstyle, would insist on wearing his Cubs cap. As I dropped him off and drove away, I thought he looked adorable. . . .because he wasn’t my son.🙂

    1. Someday, they’ll put on a suit, and someone will say, Wow, you clean up well, and they’ll mean it, and they’ll have an epiphany. Either that, or they’ll stumble across Mad Men.

  7. Lawyers are about the only profession where one can count on the guy to be in a suit. When he doesnt, he loses credibility.

    I was recently in a mediation where the lawyer showed up in a hoody. My client and I entitled the episode “Bevis and Butthead do Mediation”.

    Meanwhile litigants show up in all manner of attire. I believe I have a post on this topic in markpattersonlaw The Secret Knowledge of Lawyers, something about men wearing the “wife beater” to the domestic violence calendar- a shirt with it’s sleeves torn off displaying tasteless tattoos.

      1. Bevis was the lawyer. I dont think Butthead, the client, would think much about looking elsewhere. They sounded like this:

        Ah, eh, ah, ha- this child support sucks, ha, eh, ha

    1. Wow. That is just . . . wow. I’ve seen some lawyers show up in outfits that were definitely less than suits, but never a hoody. I guess he thought because a Judge wasn’t seeing him? But yeah, that just REEKS professionalism. A lot of times, though, I find that the client finds a mirror in his attorney. I guess they were a good pair. Still, that is inexcusable.

      1. Yes, inexusable.

        Then there was the criminal defense lawyer who tried a case in blue jeans, a jury trial. Didnt go so well.

        Or the lawyer the trust department of a large bank – she was dressed alright but then questioned the bench as to whether the proceeding to review the banks handling of the trust funds was an “informal event”.

        This is Seattle, where grunge was born. It has not seeped into courtrooms. Hearings there are still formal events, but black tie is optional.

  8. At the risk of sounding antiquated, I agree 100%. There’s a wonderful story in a novel by John Barth in which the main character’s father insists on wearing a tuxedo when he paints the house. His reasoning is that is he is wearing his best clothes he will be especially careful and will do a better job of painting the house. As dozens of teachers told us: “In you look sloppy, you’ll act sloppy” and that is validated every day in every mall (and WalMart) globally.

  9. Good points. I have two boys that aren’t yet teenagers (Thankfully) but I do try to take them out to thing that wearing a suit is required. Appropriate events, I am not just taking them to a 5 star restaurant, but to events that it would be appropriate for them to attend and practice how to behave, and they wear their suits. I did it two weekends ago, and someone asked why I spent the money on their ticket, and I said, because they need to learn. And they need to be able to learn in a setting that allows for mistakes. Because there is something about a sharp dressed man that gets one’s attention

  10. My husband never looks so sexy and confident as when he wears a suit. He wears a suit every day for work (when he’s not working at home). Fellas, believe me . . . a woman likes a man who looks put together. Suit trumps hoody any day.

  11. Thank God it was a man who said this! I’ll bet there are millions of women around the world who think the same thing. Who the heck wants to go out with a guy who looks as though any minute he’s going to lose his pants because they are already halfway down his butt? And ya know what? I don’t care if Mr. Zuckerberg is a multibillionaire, he still looks like a guy who just got out of bed and hasn’t got a clue about the real world. If he thinks he’s thumbing his nose at the big guys, wait until he finds out all the women want more than just money, they want a real man who knows how to tie shoelaces. I’ll take a suit and tie to dinner any time; let the little jerk stay at home slippin’ around in his two-tone slippers. I’ll bet he rides a tricycle to work. No, not THAT kind, the little kid kind. Goodness, excuse me for the vitriol; I didn’t know it was there!

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