The Uniform

March 20, 1999


I like to write like this. Leaning back in my chair, feet propped up on the desk, legs crossed at the ankles. The computer is to my right, the font size is increased, and the keyboard lies across my thighs and shakes as I type. It's Saturday morning and I am mellow.

I started thinking about this piece several days ago but somehow it is fitting to write on a Saturday. I remember a Saturday about 21 years ago. I was lying on my bed, feet crossed, propped against the wall. A shorthaired golden retriever lay sleeping on the right corner of the bed. In the fireplace the oak logs crackled, the knotty pine room was warm.

I was about to leave my home in the woods. It was late April and there was a chill in the air. Spring comes late to the North Country. The sandy rutted lane was still buried under deep snow.

A friend had loaned me the book. I was studying it - Uniforms. Sometimes you have to wear one to work. Leaving the woods was not going to be easy and I needed to learn the ways of the world.

Too many rules. I don't mind uniforms, but this was insanity. I was angry and flung the book at the fireplace. It bounced off the metal screen and landed on the hearth. Poor dog. It startled her and she jumped out of her sleep. The look on her face was one of startled bemusement. Sensing I was irritated she got up and laid her flank against my thigh. Those big brown eyes looked up from where her head lay in my lap. I reached down and stroked her soft patch of white fur under her chin. "Its ok Sandi, it's ok."

Yea, right. I hate stupid rules. They all seemed stupid to me at the time. My uniform consisted of jeans, wool and flannel and down. Herman Survivor insulated boots for the deep cold snow, black Swiss mountain boots for everyday walking. Tennis shoes worked in the spring.


A dog, a jeep, a cabin, firewood.


John T. Malloy had other ideas for me.

The book: "Dress for Success."

In the world of business, these are the following rules of dress. The tie should be made of silk, shirts should be white or blue, button down preferred. One must never wear brown suits.

The Windsor knot is tied as follows . . . .

I thought about those directions for tying a tie as I stood in front of the mirror. Seemed like such a long time ago. I figured out the rules sure enough. I figured out how to play my way though. I found how to buy $1,200 suits for $400. I bought my pinpoint Egyptian cotton button down shirts through the mail, monograms for free when they are on sale. I found the "right" silk ties at my "right" prices.

I had learned well.

The jeep was long gone.

The beard was long gone.

I wore shoes.

For years I watched how they dressed. It did not take long to figure out who dressed themselves, and who got their clothes picked out by another. Rules are rules. The wrong tie can make the uniform look stupid.

Not me, not today.

I had the right tie. I pick my own, although I will take a fashion conscious teenager along from time to time to "help." When we both agree that a tie is right, I know it is "right."

I stood there with the tie in hand.

I had picked it to match the blue shirt, and the burgundy monogram on the pocket. The suit was Hickey-Freeman , light gray with a blue pinstripe.

The button-down was made of pinpoint Egyptian cotton.

With a splash of Obsession and I was ready to take on the day.

The uniform was intact.

I grabbed the gym bag and headed for the door. I passed the girl folding towels and said "See ya tomorrow."

I threw the bag into the trunk, slid into the seat and headed out of the parking lot.

As I got to the end of the driveway instead of turning left I turned right. I headed home.

I wondered if anyone noticed the uniform today.

Pinstripes, right tie, right shirt, no socks, tennis shoes.