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?
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.
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.