Dirty Job Style

I got a great email from a reader asking about a few things.


I’ve been a tremendous fan of the blog since discovering you through Rollo Tomassi’s mention of you at the Men in Demand conference.  Per your recent post on skinny jeans, I admit that I’m guilty of in the past drawing the line between “masculine” and “emasculated” clothing, as well as taking the attitude that putting too much attention into one’s wardrobe was not masculine.  Financial plans are now underway to get a consultation, but I have a few more general questions about my situation that I feel might also be a good topic for the blog.

This is a contradiction for me, because as a former U.S. Marine of eight years, I was a willing and active practitioner of the Corps’ culture of extraordinary attention to detail– especially in one’s appearance.  For a great deal of my life after the Corps, I ran my own welding and heavy equipment repair business as well as working on infrastructure construction– iron working, gas pipelines, and steel structures.  Attention to my appearance via wardrobe fell by the wayside, as the emphasis was always wearing seasonably comfortable protection from the hazards of welding… which is to say that there is no comfort protecting yourself from the hazards of welding, only minimizing discomfort.  Recently, I went through a divorce with a woman who can only be described as the typical careerist who is not family oriented.

The divorce forced me to either sink, or rise to the challenge of remaking and retooling myself.  I sought out new work, started teaching my trade at a community college, and am now an inspector and instructor at a steel bridge manufacturer working on the Tappan-Zee and Goethals bridge replacements in New York.  I live in Frederick, MD, and work a short distance away outside of town. Frederick is a great historic town with a very active bar/night life scene and plenty of younger working professionals working here or commuting to DC.  The last thing I want to do when I get off work is to “dress for my tribe,” as I prefer to leave work at work.  I understand and admire that you work in clothing, so getting off work may not result in the kind of radical change in appearance that I feel I have to do.

Clark Kent takes off his business suit to go to work, I want to put one on when I leave work.

Because of the demands of my job and the lack of climate control on the factory floor, I wear “work clothes” usually consisting of duck canvas work pants, Red Wing work boots, a Carhartt hooded sweatshirt, and a welding cap to protect my scalp from UV and sparks.  After work, if I want to go somewhere to socialize, or to get dinner with a friend, this usually means dropping by my house first to change into a button down shirt (plaid pattern pictured here because of the chillier fall weather), and a decent pair of jeans or slacks.  In jeans, I often wear my Double-H brand cowboy boots not only because I was in my youth a competition western equestrian, but because they’re damned comfortable, versatile to those of us who don’t see them as eccentric, and the 3/4″ stacked leather heal makes for one hell of an improvement in your bearing (as well as shifting your weight onto the ball of your foot, which has its back-pain health benefits).  At 210 pounds, a former fullback in football, and a flanker on the local rugby squad, I have “hurdler’s legs”– thick upper leg, skinnier calves.  Most “normal” cuts of jeans look a bit tight on me, and my Levi’s 527 jeans are “skinny” jeans on me.

Once I built up the courage to wear them, the reactions received from them have been positive.  I have also taken a regular practice of wearing a Joseph Bank gray wool sport jacket with leather elbow pads that wasn’t terribly expensive (lined, yes I know), or a checkered wool sport coat from the same folks.  I had both tailored for sleeve length and fit in the midsection.  Broad shoulders and chest with a 34″ waist usually means the 44 or sometimes 46 jacket is a parachute around my stomach.

— What sort of advice do you have for men who work in very physically demanding jobs who want to do things and socialize at the end of the day after work?  Our tribe tends to be the jeans and tshirts rural country sort, but some of us are senior managers at our jobs who still have to keep a foot in the mud.  Some days I shower and change clothes before leaving the office, or some days I change into a nice shirt and shoes in my truck.  Are we trying to hide from our tribe?  Should we?

Here’s my response: