Stranger in a Strange Land: Finding Our Style

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Finding Our Style

“Well Nick, we enjoy having you work for us but…”

“Uh oh,” I think, “the suspended ‘but’.” Like the blade of a guillotine it hangs in the air somewhere between the cutting of the rope and the slashing of the blade, offering a brief moment to reflect.

“But what?” My mind races through plausible answers. “But too much time on the internet? But not enough billable hours? But they know about my tendency to enjoy a beer over lunch on a Friday afternoon? But…”

“…We don’t like how you dress,” they continue in their Donald Trump tone.

The blade suddenly halts and I lift my head off the chopping block. “Huh?” This is not what I expected to hear at my annual review.

They then proceed to explain that I dress “too modern” or “GQ”. “It’s not professional,” they say. “After all, this is Dubuque.”

“This is Dubuque?” I think as I look across the table at a group of the most unlikely of fashion aficionados. Clearly not Project Runway, but instead an army of pastel polo shirts and wrinkle free khaki pants is judging me. Granted, Dubuque is no Milan, but it must have a sense of style that surpasses this.

To discover Dubuque’s style, I decide to consult the experts. My first stop is Graham’s Style Store for Men. Being in the style business for over seventy years, they are sure to be of help. Snaking between the clothing racks, I browse through a diverse selection of fashion options, everything from the basic suit to designer jeans and trendy caps. I spend a few minutes discussing style with Ben Graham as he meticulously tailors a pair of pants to meet a customer’s exact specifications. In his opinion, Dubuque is quite fashionable; it just sometimes “ takes a bit longer for new trends to trickle in.” Regardless, Graham’s stocks a wide variety of clothing to meet the diversity in individual styles found in Dubuque. According to Ben, a person’s clothes must match their personality because clothes are an extension of who we are. “When someone tries to dress as something they are not, it simply doesn’t work.”

My next stop is Hardin Phelps, Ltd., a downtown boutique men’s clothing shop. Focusing on designer brands typically found only in major metropolitan areas, Hardin Phelps offers a selection of dress, casual and everything in-between. In talking with Janice, an employee, I learn that if she were to dress Dubuque, she would add “more originality.” She says, “People should not be afraid to dress in accordance with their personality,” as this is how we let others understand who we are. A customer enters and I thank her for her time. As I leave we mutually agree that “men should wear more pink,” since brightly dressed individuals make for a more colorful community.

Strolling back towards the office I reflect on what I’ve learned from my fashion field trip. For one, style is an individual choice. It is an invitation for others to understand who we are. Since we are all different people, our style should express our diversity. What works for you is different from what works for me, yet together it works. It works because it is this gathering of individuality that ultimately creates a community. For a community is nothing more than a collection of mismatched individual tastes stitched together to give a city its style. In essence, this is Dubuque: a city of exciting, sometimes interesting and always evolving style.


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