Is it more important to look good than to feel good?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 - 19:00

Some folks might not remember the silly quote by comedian Billy Crystal when he impersonated actor Fernando Lamos, “It’s more important to look good than to feel good,” to which he added: “You look marvelous!”

If I’ve used the first quote more often than I should in past columns, it’s because I think it conveys a deeper meaning. Reversed, the expression could mean that if you look as good as you can, you might also feel good.

Crystal’s quote prompted me to come up with my own saying: “It’s not what you do that’s important, but how you look while you’re doing it.” A supervisor on a warehouse job, however, didn’t exactly embrace the spirit of that saying when I rammed the prongs of a forklift through a crate containing a grand piano. But if I recall, I was dressed in clean Levis and a t-shirt and performed the feat with style.

Old school dress up: It’s a dead giveaway of age if you tell someone that you remember when people dressed up for airline flights and restaurant dinners. Dresses for women and sport coats and ties for men were the modus operandi. Today, people wear sweat pants and even pajamas at the movie theatre, bank, just about everywhere. They clearly don’t agree with Fernando Lamos.

Apparel varies considerably, however, according to what city or country you’re in. In downtown New York, especially Manhattan, you’ll see people wearing clothes that would instantly clean out many people’s 401Ks. That applies to some areas of London, for example West London, and parts of Paris.

In general when travelling in Europe, it’s easy to notice that clothing is generally of a higher quality than garments worn in much of the U.S, particularly the west. That includes satchels, purses, suitcases and other accessories.

When I was a child my mother constantly admonished me to wear clean underwear throughout my life, because, she said, “if you have an accident and must be hauled to the hospital in an ambulance, you don’t want them seeing you in dirty underwear.” Fortunately, I’ve never had that ambulance ride, but I always wear clean underwear just in case.

In high school, my Sears “better” and sometimes “best” were no match for the custom clothing worn by students from more affluent families.

Moving across time to the present, my wife is completely responsible for improving my look. I kept wearing the same faded Levis for about 20 years and had torn polyester shirts that no longer had buttons. With clean, pressed khakis and dress shirts that were properly fitted, I began to look better — and consequently, feel better.

I’m admittedly somewhat vain, but I don’t think I’ll ever become so obsessed that I feel compelled to squander my children’s inheritance and spend it all on makeovers; you know, hair transplants, eyelid lifts, facial reconstruction. That’s why I wear a hat and sunglasses most of the time — to cover up the thinning hair and wrinkles and other ravages of age.

I have a friend about my age who’s into riding motorcycles. He tells me about how fun it is to roar into supermarket parking lots on his Harley Davidson, helmeted and dressed from top to bottom in black leathers. “The young women really look my way,” he says. “Then I take off my helmet and they see the thinning hair and the gray beard, and it’s almost sad to see their disappointment. But that’s okay… I have their attention for a while.”

Looking good in the outdoors: It’s obvious my friend completely understands the importance of looking good when we can. With hat, sun glasses and the latest high-tech outdoor coat like Arcteryx, I sometimes have the same experience, albeit brief.

I’m still a function before form person at heart, however, and when it comes to outdoor recreation, I’ve learned that some of the higher quality, more attractive gear is also more functional. SmartWool long underwear, for example, is comparatively expensive. But it seems to be more durable than polypropylene and of course there is the old adage: “even when wet, wool is still warm.”

Many years ago in Washington D.C., I was turned away from a music concert because I wasn’t appropriately attired. I pleaded with the ticket people, saying that I was from Alaska and had looked forward all my life to seeing and hearing a symphony orchestra. They wouldn’t make an exception, and in retrospect, I can’t blame them.

At that moment I vowed never again to be underdressed, or dressed “inappropriately,” no matter where I was or what I was doing. That’s not too challenging in Alaska, where Carhartts are considered the Alaskan tuxedo .

But you never know when we might be visiting Huntington Beach, California, taking in the roller skate scene and in serious need of knee pads, tights, compression shirt and custom helmet.

In order to look better than one feels, one’s wardrobe must be versatile.


This column is the opinion of Frank E. Baker, a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank, email [email protected].

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