“You folks wearing the suits, come aboard. The rest of you tourists will have to wait for the next tram.”
There’s a story behind this quote that happened years ago at the United States Capitol.
Let me explain: It starts with my parents. They always believed in appropriate attire for most occasions. Dad had his suits custom-made by Baltimore tailors. When the Cary Grant look-alike dressed up his 6-foot, 3-inch frame, people took notice.
My grandmother put on a suit just to go to the grocery store!
However, I grew up in the 1950s, when rock ’n’ roll singers were setting the trends. It became more of a struggle for my elders to convince me that semi-formal dress would open doors and set impressions. Being a kid, I never made the connection.
Then one summer day when I was 13, Mom wanted to take us to the Capitol building. She insisted I put on my Woodward & Lothrop pseudo-silk suit, along with my striped tie. Sunday-best shoes would be required and shined to perfection. Sorry, no white bobby socks would be allowed.
I protested. Why would I need to put on my “monkey suit” just to go to the U.S. Capitol and hang with scores of tourists? I knew they would be wearing Hawaiian shirts, baggy shorts and flip-flops. Argus C-3 cameras would be hanging around their necks, or at the very least Kodak Brownie Holidays. Why not just blend with the crowd?
Mom would hear none of it. Either her protocol would be followed or I would not be going.
I remember feeling so out-of-place — standing among the folks from Youngstown and Saginaw who had just jumped off the Grey Line tour bus. Why did Mom do this to me?
Within a few minutes, we followed the crowd to the in-house subway system. It was designed to shuttle Congressmen from their office buildings to the Capitol. Tourists could ride as long as there was not a vote on the floors of the respective chambers.
Much to my surprise, when the tram stopped, the operator told the tourists not to board. But my mom, my two sisters and I were allowed to proceed. We had a private ride to the Russell Senate Office Building.
Suddenly, I realized what Mom had been preaching!
We had lunch at the Congressional Dining Room, and later that day, were ushered into California Sen. William F. Knowland’s office, as if we owned the place. Mom’s point had definitely been made.
It’s true that rules for business attire were more standardized back in the late 1950s. But I may have evidence that the same rules of etiquette apply today.
Recently, we were at Harrah’s Steak House in Reno. It’s a pretty classy place, but people still show up with backward baseball caps, cheap shorts and Nikes.
But on this particular day, we looked pretty spiffy. I was wearing my slick navy blue suit while my wife was in her colorful designer dress. As a matter of fact, we were the only ones in the place who looked the part.
The result? Without reservations, we were given the best table in the house, along with two extra servers to take care of our dining needs. That night, we were ushered to one of the best seats for the evening show.
I’ll concede that in most cases today, I dress pretty casually — especially being retired. In many situations, “dressing up” is no advantage or necessary in our area of the country. But on that humid Washington, D.C. day, I learned first impressions make a huge difference if one wants above-average service and respect where the powerful work and reside.
In these situations, respect is not achieved through tattoos, midriffs, nose rings and exposed boxer shorts. In addition, I think it’s also safe to say that “cut-offs” just don’t “cut it.”
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.