Father Knows Best

With my parents’ 48th wedding anniversary approaching this month, there is cause for a lot of reminiscing. Recently, I took my children to spend a Sunday afternoon with their grandparents and, before I knew it, we were all sitting together viewing my parents’ home videos of their wedding, from the church ceremony to their honeymoon in Venice. As I watched my father, in a navy suit sporting a pocket square, and my mother, wearing an elegant cream coloured dress, stroll the renowned Piazza San Marco, I thought about how much has changed since that time. Many of today’s young men lack the sartorial knowledge that was common among yesterday’s generation and was passed down from father to son as a rite of passage.

As far back as I can remember my father always reinforced the connection between how I dressed and the respect I demonstrated for myself and others. In his effort to impart this lesson to me, a couple of memories stand out above all others: buying my first suit with my dad and getting ready for my first real date as a teenager.

Like any good catholic boy at the age of eight, I was excited about my first communion and the family festivities that would follow. To properly celebrate the event and acknowledge its importance, it was understood that I would wear a suit. One Saturday afternoon, my father took me to a local clothier and helped me pick out a suit, shirt and tie for the big day. After we returned home from shopping, my dad patiently showed me how to tie a knot so I would be completely responsible, from beginning to end, for my appearance. The result was a proud little boy who took his first step to being a man. Likewise, when I told my dad that I had my first official date planned for an approaching weekend, he took me aside and asked what I planned on wearing that night. In so doing, my father sent a clear message that what I wore was an indication of my intent and respect for this girl and God help me if I disappointed him with either.

Of course my dad’s lessons were not limited to those two instances but occurred throughout my life and still do to this day. My father taught me the finer points of being a man through his guidance in what to wear for all of life’s milestones: big family functions, graduation, my first job interview, weddings, funerals, etc. I suppose it helps explain my passion for menswear and the fact that I designed and commissioned my own bespoke tuxedo for my high school prom. From the strong foundation my father helped instill in me, I developed a level of taste, style and confidence that has always served me well, regardless of the circumstances.

As I fast forward to today’s generation, I am immediately struck by the number of young men, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, who do not know what it means to dress appropriately and act accordingly. Unfortunately, “Sunday best” has lost its significance and has been usurped by extreme casual. Sweat pants and hoodies, which are not appropriate for leaving the house unless it is to go to the gym, are now staples in any teenager’s wardrobe. Every young man should be familiar with the basics of how to dress well; it is a shame that I frequently meet those who do not feel comfortable wearing a suit, know what purpose cuff links serve, how to coordinate and outfit or how to tie a proper knot.

Sons have always looked to their fathers for guidance in all aspects of life. Without the necessary fatherly influence, sons are left to their own devices to carry themselves with confidence and respect while trying to look their best. A young man’s social conduct and sense of style are increasingly swayed by advertising, celebrity culture and internet content. The result is a generation of men who limit their social interactions to 150 symbols or less, confuse arrogance for self-assurance, and have an undeserved sense of entitlement. My generation has stumbled in fostering our sons’ sartorial education and, consequently, in the finer points of how to be a man. Fortunately, the remedy is simple; fathers should expose their sons to wardrobe traditions and rules as soon as possible and whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I owe what and who I am today to my father, which all started when he brought me to buy my first suit. Later in life, I did the same with my son, the only difference was I designed his suit and had it made at the Antonio Valente factory.