“I Am Rich and You Are Worthless”

It’s not my fault, but I ended up getting a pair of cuff links. You know how someone gives you a shirt as a gift, but you already have one in that color, so you look online for a different one to exchange it with, and the only one you like is the one with french cuffs? That exact same thing happened to me! So the shirt came, and then it sat in my closet for two or three months while I made up my mind whether I could make the leap. By the slow natural process of all the other shirts in my closet becoming stained or permanently unironable, I was finally pushed over the edge.

One day last week I walked a few blocks over to Salt Lake City’s best known, and lowest-end, men’s clothier, Mr. Mac. Mr. Mac specializes in two-pant suits for 19 year old missionaries and three-for-$20.00 ties printed mostly in microscopic patterns of interlocking ropes and wires. It has become famous for the speed with which its over-50 salesmen can materialize on top of any person just touching the front doorknob. If you have to go buy your first set of pretentious man-jewelry, and want to tone down the stuffiness of it all, you can’t beat the Sizzler of haberdashers, right?

Mr. mac

The selection was predictably challenging. Maybe eight pairs of cuff links in total, almost all of them two-toned with gaudy faux-gold trimming the edges. You go someplace humble to find the most unassuming cuff links around, and all they have is bling from the touristy sections of New Orleans. But there was one pair I could stomach. The smallest ones there, and the only ones that were just plain silver. I paid the 18 bucks, rolled up the sack and hid it in my pocket, and went back to work.

The next day, for the first time, I threw on that fancy new shirt. Instead of buttoning my cuffs over breakfast, I had to walk over to my night stand, open the little fuzzy jewelry case, and apply the cuff links to my shirt. I don’t think I knew at that moment exactly what signal they would send, but it was already clear that I was stepping way out in front of my normal fashion comfort zone. (My normal fashion comfort zone: anything plain enough that you could wear it both in junior high and in retirement). Poor, naive little man inserting his cuff links into his cuffs for the first time alone in his little bedroom.


I knew I should have gone for the lower-key look, with these

When I got to work, I began to realize that I was not just wearing some new accessory; I was actually oppressing people. Trash talk from the anti-elitist crowd, followed by my protestations of Mr. Mac-ish humility; class warfare with the secretaries in the form of polite ribbings, followed by disclaimers that, “uh, my wife bought me this weird shirt . . .” In a conversation of several people, I lifted my arm to check my watch, and instantly regretted it as the dazzle of metal at my wrist brought an uncomfortable silence. I began walking with my hands behind my back. After absently folding my arms over my chest, I would awkwardly maneuver my arms so as to cover up the out-poking edges of my cuffs. The way people reacted to me that day, it seemed very much like somewhere on my person was a sign that read “I am rich and you are worthless.” Or maybe it said “my forearms are better than your whole body.” Sending unintended signals that you think you are superior to your peers can make your workday really awkward after awhile.

There are probably plenty of people in the world that can put on cuff links without making too many waves. These are the people who really are rich and in whose presence everyone else really is worthless; or they’re 58 years old and they’ve earned them, or they are auditioning for roles as a flashy young business prodigy who still has a few real life lessons to learn despite his disarming polish.

suit and cuff links

Just add the watch chain and plaid vest to complete the look

I am none of those people. I am 33 and do not often experiment with polish or the trappings of great wealth. Also people don’t like me looking down on them from my wrists. Still, I honestly like that shirt. And I can’t just do the casual rolled-up-sleeves look all the time. So the cuff links are going to stay. I admit I get a kick out of trying stuff that everyone knows I can’t pull off. I guess it’s my way of doing what Mr. Mac would do.

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16 Responses to “I Am Rich and You Are Worthless”

  1. Loving the workplace posts. Good luck with the ‘links.

  2. Macy Bell says:

    You are actually 34. Funny that I had nothing to do with these cuff links, and nothing to really say about them either. I guess cuff links are not my thing either. A little too fancy , fance for me.

    So funny picturing you pulling your wrist up to look at your watch, and bedazzling everyone at work.

  3. Teej says:

    Are you sure that it wasn’t the $5,000 Rolex that made the time-checking a bit awkward?

  4. Braden says:

    Ry, your description of Mr. Mac is some of your finest work–prose and humor–to date. Excellent!

  5. Peter says:

    Mr. Mac? Yeah, the guy sells winter galoshes and boxes of hankies, but not links. Get the little knobby non-metalic links from J-crew, and you’ll be the talk of the office.

  6. Ryan says:

    Pete, you read my mind. Or rather, Davis’s. A few weeks after I told him about my cuff link issues, he handed me a new pair of blue elastic-y ones. Much less ostentatious. The only problem with those is it takes me roughly one hour to insert or remove them. But still, people do seem to hate me much less now, thanks to Davis. As always, any fashion success I achieve remains completely dependent on the kindness of others.

  7. Davis says:

    As fate would have it, I’m wearing a pair of silk knots this very day. Do they make other feel oppressed? I don’t know, though I hope so.

  8. Ali says:

    i didn’t realize cuff links made such a statement. reedo wears them, but i guess he falls in that “old man, deserved it” category. i agree. those fabric ones are better than the the blingers.

  9. Layne says:

    Reading your post, I can’t stop thinking about George Castanza’s cufflinks. He had a pair and wore them with a regular shirt and was hassled by everyone for doing so.

    I think there is some unwritten rule that attorneys should have cufflinks to show as a measure of their success and stature. Is this true or untrue? How many people in your office wear french shirts & cufflinks?

  10. Ryan says:

    I understand if people think that I am exaggerating the problem a little in my post, because I didn’t explain people’s reactions in much detail. But seriously, you need to know there is no exaggeration in this post. To answer your question, Layne, there are very few in my office that wear cuff links- maybe two I can think of, in this 100 person firm (there are probably one or two more). On the second day I wore the links, one of our older partners saw me walking across the lobby and said, in sort of a friendly, avuncular way: “You need to stop wearing cuff links.”

    That sealed the deal for me.

  11. Rebecca says:

    My Dad just tried to give Christian a French cuff shirt when we were in GA for Christmas. He just could not believe that Christian didn’t think he could pull it off. A window washer with cufflinks…what?

  12. Christian says:

    I hate it when the cockiest window cleaners (Yes you “Sparkle Shine” and you “Clear View”” show up at the conventions with cufflinks, like they own the place. It only breeds hostility.

    He also tried to give me a leather jacket; another thing I can’t pull off. It takes a special straight man to pull off leather jackets.

    Ryan, Davis and his fancy East Coast girlfriends have been fashion oppressing me for years, so I don’t think I would mind one Big Ry in cuff links. Man oh man have you changed. Long way from the too-small black Members Only fake leather jacket with 18 zipper pockets with no shirt underneath.

  13. Johnna says:

    My dear, what rich people really wear are nylon knots. They’re not metal, and they’re not flashy. A set costs $9.00 at Brooks Brothers.

    not sure the link will work, BB is always moving stuff around on its site.

    They have the ultimate blasphemous logo, btw. That Brooks Brother lamb is the Lamb of God.

  14. Ryan says:

    But Johnna, the point is I’m trying NOT to look like a rich person. So maybe if rich people are no longer wearing actual cuff links, my current pair are the perfect dress-down attire?

  15. Andrea W. says:

    This post made me laugh hard. It also made me laugh that Macy had to remind you how old you are. It kills me that that partner told you not to wear them. It’s amazing how much little things like cufflinks can communicate

  16. Motherboard says:

    This post cracked me up! Only because I live with one of those partner-type attorneys who think cuff-links mean your gay.

    Honestly? Men who wear cuff-links are hot. Will you wear them when you teach at CBC? Cause you will make all the women swoon! (maybe Macy should come and stand watch?!)

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