Sometimes, when I am sitting in a courtroom as part of my reporting duties, I look at what the defendants facing the judge are wearing. 

I am not talking about those unfortunate defendants who were bused in from the county jail to the courtroom. They don’t have much control over what they wear or how they look.

Other defendants come to court from home, yet they present themselves dressed like they are going on a float trip or to a water park. A T-shirt and shorts are not what a self-respecting male should wear if he is trying to persuade an authority figure that he is an upstanding citizen. That is an occasion where it might greatly benefit an individual to spruce himself up a little and put his best face forward.

It is an example of how society is growing increasingly informal. There was a time not too long ago in this country where men were expected to wear a suit and a hat to go watch professional baseball games in the middle of summer, which seems to me a surefire recipe for a heatstroke. That was a little before my baseball-watching time, but I do have vague memories of an era where people were expected to dress up to attend charity events, fly on an airplane, or go to some big cultural event like a classical music concert or a play. Restaurants used to have ties and blazers to loan to male guests who came in looking anything less than their best, and would even turn patrons away who weren’t properly dressed for a nice meal.

Now, going to any of those places this time of year involves seeing people who are dressed like they just attended a tailgating event at a monster truck rally – tank tops, cutoffs, sweatpants, and cargo shorts as far as the eye can see. I understand that those things are more comfortable than putting on some pants and buttoning up a shirt. However, the problem with letting people dress like children at all times on all occasions is that it gives them permission to act like children. The decline in standards in the way we dress has been accompanied by a decline in manners, civility and basic decency in the way we treat each other. That is reflected in the way people are dressing and behaving when they go to a place like court, which specifically involves people being judged as fit to mingle with society.

Obviously, people shouldn’t be judged solely on what they wear. I also am not expecting everyone to have formal dress and perfect manners in all situations. I know I couldn’t live up to such standards. I am not even a big fan of suits and ties, and generally only wear those to funerals, weddings, and other tragic events. However, I would wear one to get into a nice restaurant if I knew that was a requirement. Or to court, especially if my freedom were on the line.

I understand that is unreasonable to expect any defendant to walk into the courthouse in Chanute or Erie looking like a big-time politician or a GQ model. That might be a little beyond the price range of most regular criminal court participants. All I ask is that people consider the way they present themselves in these types of situations, and the impression that might make on others.

When I am either working or trying to convince someone not to send me to jail, I do make a slight effort to look semi-presentable. I don’t succeed in this 100 percent of the time, mainly because it is difficult for me to buy clothes. Being 6’5 and skinny, my problem is that I am too tall for most of the clothes sold in regular stores, but not big enough to fit into anything sold in those obnoxious Big & Tall stores. So, most of the clothes I wear don’t quite fit right.

Still, I wear a basic uniform of shirts with a collar and slacks when I am trying to either make money or avoid jail. Slacks and a decent shirt don’t cost significantly more than shorts and a T-shirt, and would make for a much smarter criminal-court ensemble.

I don’t mean to set myself up as some snooty “Project Runway” judge or some crotchety old man who talks about how much better things were back in my day. I just notice that it really did seem like we were a little nicer to each other back in the days when we dressed a little nicer. Perhaps, if people in our community tried to look a little better, we might all feel a little better.

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