Roy Exum: On Being Ugly: The New Cool

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, two full pages were devoted to mug shots of the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks. The two hockey teams are now playing in the finals for the Stanley Cup and every single player on either page looked like a terrorist. Not one was without ratty hair and scruffy beards ruled the day. On another page was an advertisement for some cologne and Mr. Model also had a two-day stubble.

Whatever happened to the days when it was manly to look your best? I’m just back from a two-week stay at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Over a million patients go there each year from all 50 states and about 150 foreign countries. So it gave me a chance to study how Americans from all walks of life look like when they go to the doctor and I was amazed.

Do you realize that about half of us think it is cool to walk around with our shirttails flapping? No longer do men shine their shoes, take off their ball caps in restaurants, or – in a startling observation – bother to wash their hands before they leave the restroom. Thank the Lord there are “push plates”  in Mayo Clinic restrooms where the door automatically opens if you bang it with your elbow. (Trust me on this: there are some bad diseases people bring with them to that medical Mecca and I ain’t dying because of a germy door knob.)

I’ve always subscribed to the modified IBM rule. When the computer giant first got colossal, every salesman was required to wear a dark suit, a white shirt and either a red or blue tie. It was years before a light blue shirt and yellow tie were approved for top executives and finally the main office issued a decree that simply stated, “Make certain you are going to look as good as anyone you meet on a given day.”

Mayo Clinic doctors wear business suits when they see patients, always including the jacket with a nameplate in the front pocket. I don’t wear a suit to see the doctor but – out of respect – I make sure I am “easy on the eye.” Remember, I’m the one who needs the MD’s help. Being presentable means you take a shower, you shave, and comb your hair before dressing in clean clothes. I saw some patients this trip who left their sensibilities at home; I sure wouldn’t want to examine some of them

Granted, sick people sometimes reach the point where they could care less if the fashion rules state you shouldn’t mix your stripes with your polka dots. But I have yet to meet a disease where I forgot about giving a physician the respect that he or she should expect from a grateful patient. I’ve also not met a day when I didn’t take some pride in looking my best in any given situation. I was raised that way.

Unfortunately, the world seems to have dumbed us down to where it is okay to look like the protesters in Cairo we see throwing rocks on the evening news. Did you know the most expensive designer jeans come from the factory with holes in them? The saggy pants today’s youth adore were invented in prison because there the guards disallow belts – true story. In other words, it is better to look like a convict than a success. Our college kids think nothing about a wrinkled shirt until they land a job interview.

Many corporate offices today no longer have a dress code and even our churches urge their followers to come as you are. At one church in particular the deacons were asked not to wear ties and jackets “so people won’t think we are snooty.” Are you kidding me; when I worship the Lord, looking my absolute best is part of the occasion and, to be candid, I’ll take any extra points I can get.

The new catch-word on invitations is “business casual.”  This means a guy should wear a nice shirt and pants with blazer or sweater but no tie. If the invitation says “Business Attire” that means other gentlemen will be wearing ties. Conversely, “casual” doesn’t mean cut-off blue jeans. Instead a man should dress in a way that will honor and flatter his hosts, as well as himself.

You always hear, “We don’t care what you wear … we just want you,” but I’ll guarantee if you’ll dress as appropriately as anyone else who’ll be there you’ll get a warmer welcome. The better truth is that if you dress like a bum you’ll not get many more invitations.

Beards? I’m not against them at all. Many of my pals, including my preacher and my favorite son, have beards but they are neat and trimmed properly and the best ones always seem to fit the guy. On the other hand, if a woman shows up with a beard you can bet all you’ve got that I won’t be kissing her.

I believe in good manners, thank you notes instead of e-mails and stopping to thank the nurse or secretary when the appointment is over. A wise man once told me “good manners never go out of style.” Another sage said, “Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you are selling yourself every minute of every day that someone can see you. If you don’t look your best, act your best, or be your best you are losing a sale and the sad part is you don’t get to say a word.”

“What if I don’t want to sell myself that day?” I countered and he looked at me right in the eye. “Then you missed the point … the only time you aren’t selling yourself is when you sleep and that’s whether you like it or not.”

“Tuck your shirt tail in. Wear nice shoes with a belt the same color to hold your pants up. Stand up straight, always remove your hat (and sunglasses) when you speak to somebody, and never lose your pride or the respect that is due to whoever it is who is willing to see you.

“And, for goodness sake, don’t ever put a piece a chewing gum in your mouth or you’ll look just like a (mule) chewing his cud.”

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