In a discussion not too long ago, someone asked me who has had the most significant style influence in my life. Though I assumed that an actor, designer or even a politician would be the winner, what almost immediately popped into my head was a little surprising. Since most people’s personality tends to be the sum of life events as well as genetics, I thought you might find a story that combines both a little interesting. If nothing else, I’d like to think of this as a brief testament to finding true class right at home.
Though not my initial thought, it quickly became obvious that the most powerful influence on my personal style has been my father. While I have had many influences over the years, from magazines and movies to working in a couple of Ralph Lauren stores; my core view of what defines “style” is firmly grounded in him.
As is often the case with children, I never really appreciated as a boy his wonderfully classic sense of taste and respect for quality. It only hit me after I had grown up and moved on with my life. Though he himself would eventually grow up to live a decidedly preppy handbook kind of life, he was by no means born to it. A keen application of hard work and long hours in the library eventually led to a New England prep school and then an Ivy League college. The result is a man who, though having very traditional taste and an appreciation for the classics, is without pretense. He has never forgotten his roots.
As to his personal style, my dad’s version of a sweatshirt and jeans are khakis and a corduroy sport coat. It is simply what he grew up with; as he once told me, “I’ve worn a jacket every day since grade school, I had to.” As a result, he has always managed to look completely comfortable in such attire without being the least bit stuffy or off-putting. This is a real accomplishment as, literally, he has never actually owned a pair of jeans. To the contrary, he has always been an approachable guy which is very important because he is also doctor.
One particular memory of my father will always stick with me because it showed how clothing can so define the inner qualities of a man. I was with a friend who worked at our local hospital and we stopped by the emergency room so he could drop something off. While I stood in a corner, watching the commotion and trying to stay out of the way, I saw my dad come around the corner. As it so happened, he looked great; seersucker suit and white bucks – downright natty, actually. He didn’t see me.
What happened next will forever stay in my heart and mind. He walked over to an elderly man lying on a gurney parked along the wall. Very gently, he leaned over and began to talk with the gentleman. Their heads close together, I could see the body of my father’s patient relax. At that moment, what he had on was irrelevant; he was there to comfort and help his patient. I then recalled something he had once said about always dressing well to make his rounds at the hospital: it wasn’t for his benefit; rather it was a sign of respect to his patients. He paid attention to how he dressed because his patients deserved at least that.
In that moment, the style on the outside very much matched the man on the inside. It’s easy to dress well, but that’s not the same thing as having class. More than any magazine or movie star, that image will always be my definition of true style.