Even though I can never find the story, I have a brilliant memory of it as read in an eighth-grade English class. I’ve searched the internet long and diligently in search of a very short story called “Clothes Make the Man.”
When it comes to the corporate arena, what a man wears, especially an African American man, is of great import. The storyline went some- thing like this.
Two hoods planned to rob a bank. Not only did they stake out the financial institution they planned to victimize, but they also decided what they would wear. The ringleader, a very short guy, told his very tall accomplice that they would don the police uniforms.
And oh, by the way, that ad-age is true. Taller men and women generally go further toward the top, but when you get to the top, it’s usually someone short. The Napoleon Complex is real. And it’s a fact that tall people usually get bad knees.
The short ,bossy ringleader strolled into the bank with his duller counterpart. They rob the bank successfully and see to be on their way to splitting the spoils of the heist.
Just then, a little girl tugs on the pants leg of the brainless tall man and asks him why he does not arrest the robbers. He looked at what he was wearing, succumbed to the uniform’s suggestion, and arrested his partner.
What you wear makes a difference.
This plea may come off as bourgeoise or even offensive, but I gotta say it. No matter where I go these days, Black folks be lookin’ a mess.
At church, at a banquet, it doesn’t matter.
And please don’t get me started with the grocery store. Grown ass men in pajama pants and Jordan’s? In the words of Snoop Dogg, “y’all doin’ too much!”
Save arguments about your freedom of self-expression and personal preferences. When you want a damn job, you go dressed to the “nines!” You forego those freedoms when you put on a show for “The Man”! Why not do it just for you?
I was at a function recently, and if your Big Mama had been there with a switch in hand, she would have worked herself into a tizzy. We came from a tradition that says if you only have one “suit of clothes,” make it the best you can afford.
Over the years, I learned that Black men don’t have wardrobes. We wear costumes. You can literally and convincingly look like a professor and a preacher or look like a pimp or a professional athlete. But nobody who makes decisions that can affect your livelihood and ability to ascend the ladder dismisses what you have on.
Sadly, America still clings to stereotypes and negative images of Black male masculinity. This pervasive ignorance that circumscribes and limits most of us to the predetermined pictures of criminals, deadbeat dads, and laziness is alive and well.
Barack Obama could never wear a bowtie in the White House. They would have labeled him Hussein X and linked him to Minister Farra khan.
America is hard on Black men, and we have to deal with it realistically. Sometimes I get gussied up just to give myself a boost!
You must heed my warning if you’re Black or Brown and want to go up the chain. Clothes make an impression on how you feel about yourself. But the telling part of “Clothes make the Man” is that it makes an even more penetrating impression on others who see you. Most outsiders expect you to act on your appearance, just as this little girl did.
My mother believes and has convinced me that nothing looks worse on a Black man than cheap shoes. I don’t know if it’s the big feet or the ability to see one’s bone structure protruding through the fake leather. So, buy what you can afford to wear, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity or trends!
You don’t have to wear everyone else’s name on your breast pocket. You can have your suits made and wear your monogram on your cuffs.
Learn to pick the appropriate costume for every occasion. What’s in yo’ closet Black Man?
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.