Today, I wore pants, which may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it’s a statement. Anyone who has known me in the last twenty years understands that I hardly ever wear pants. I wear shorts, and I’m not talking khakis or any crap like that, I’m talking the classic full-on circa 90’s jean shorts – “jorts” as my co-workers refer to them. I wear them every – single – day.
The occasions that might call for me to cover my fabulous leg hair would include fancy dates with my wife, funerals, weddings, a book signing, laundry shortage, our annual family Christmas Eve appearance at church, job interviews (I’ve only ever had two) and meeting with some high up executive or famous actor.
Granted, I work in the video game industry on the West Coast, where the definition of “casual attire” is loosely interpreted. Kilts and spiked collars are not unheard of. I’ve witnessed a 40 year old chain smoking man wearing spandex pants, a faded t-shirt and flip flops for an entire week. My wardrobe is formal in comparison.
So why the change today? I was inspired – in a Starbucks of all places.
Earlier this week, my friend and I went out to grab an afternoon coffee. We entered the Starbucks, ordered our drinks and waited for them to be made. But something had caught my eye, and I leaned over to my friend to ask him if he noticed it as well. “Did you, by chance, notice the person wearing blue working at a laptop near the corner entrance?” I asked him.
He looked at me with wide eyes as if to answer: “Everyone noticed!” but offered a simple “Yes.”
The person in question was a blonde woman, probably in her late thirties, wearing a sharp, perfectly tailored power blue cocktail dress. Not only did she stand out as a bright beacon in a sea of drab colors, t-shirts, shaggy hair and flip flops, she resembled almost exactly what I imagined a character to look like from my science fiction novel, The God Thought. It was as though the character of Marilyn had literally stepped out of the pages of my book and joined the real world. Usually the opposite happens – I meet a person and think to myself that he or she would make an interesting character. Regardless, if you’ve read The God Thought, you know that Marilyn immediately commands any room she enters.
I couldn’t help but to think of the irony, that as someone who puts the minimal amount of effort into his physical appearance, how much I appreciate the efforts of those who take the extra time to look nice.
Growing up, I pitied my father for having to wear a suit to work every day. It wasn’t until I went to college that IBM allowed him a “Casual Friday.” But now, as I get older, I find my eyes gravitating to the sharper dressers of the world. My wife, of course, is one of them – how she puts up with my lack of style, I’ll never know. We recently watched an episode of Adam West’s Batman together and her first comment was how nice everyone dressed back then. She was right. Certainly, half the enjoyment of watching shows like Mad Men is appreciating the fashion of the era. Go to Disneyland during “Dapper Days” and you will find a visual feast of all types of people, dressed to the hilt in garb from the 40’s – despite the searing summer heat. In comparison, take the first day of my kids’ school this week. I wanted to personally commend any parent who did NOT choose to wear sweatpants, a robe or a t-shirt.
For better or worse, I’ve come to realize we’re all part of a living canvas displayed to the people we live with, work with and interact with every day. What would happen if I put a little more effort into my portion of that community art? Would it help brighten someone else’s day like “Marilyn” did for me and the others waiting for our coffee? Would it, in some small way, enrich the tapestry that I’m inherently a part of?
So I conducted a social experiment today that I call the 10% change. Nothing drastic. I just dressed a little nicer than what I usually do. Full length jeans + button up pressed collared shirt = 10% more effort. Maybe I’d add a smile now and then – let’s not get crazy.
Of course, the first person to notice was my wife for the five seconds we saw each other in the morning. It gave her pause - she smiled. The people at the coffee shop who’ve served me over a hundred times in the past year didn’t seem to recognize me at all. My attire prompted several responses from co-workers, everything from “I like your nice minty shirt” to “Do you have an interview or something?” which would then lead to a lengthy explanation as to why I was wearing pants.
In the end, the day was nothing more or less than any other.
I certainly wasn’t expecting that my wearing of pants was going to alter anyone’s reality, bring world peace or inspire a solution to cold fusion. But maybe, just maybe, for a split second, it reduced the eyesore that is someone else’s universe by a fraction of a fraction. And short of that, it was kind of fun to do.
Will I try it again tomorrow?
Hell no. We’re in the middle of a heat wave!
But it probably wouldn’t kill me to put 10% more effort into my appearance next Friday - or even the Friday after that.
[Dave Cravens is the author of the new science fiction thriller, The God Thought, and is a video games industry veteran. He also likes to wear “jorts” while appreciating people who dress better than he does – namely everyone.]