Another artifact from that recently discovered box of ad agency memorabilia and old family photos.
This cartoon graced my office wall for years just because…well…because it was just so damn true.
My parents were particularly proud when I graduated from college, almost as if they considered it their own personal accomplishment. One day not long after graduation my dad said, “If you’re going into the business world you’re going to need a suit and tie. Go downtown and buy what you need and I’ll pay for it.”
”Thanks,” I said, “But I’m never going to have a job where I need to wear a suit and tie.”
He shook his head in disgust and walked away, muttering, “God damn smart ass kid.”
Trying to look at it from his point of view, I suppose that having a son who wore a suit to work would have been considered a significant accomplishment. He was a guy who did hard physical labor every day of his life. His work clothes consisted of rubber boots, jeans, and T-shirts, and the left sleeve of each of those T-shirts was stained an ugly brown from rubbing up against a hundred shit-covered cows twice each day. Perhaps in his mind a son who wore a suit and tie was a symbol that he had succeeded as a parent.
But it was not to be. I graduated from college in the midst of the hippy revolution, and although I was not a hippy philosophically, I was definitely one sartorially.
Five years later, after I had been working for my future business partner for a few months, we landed a small chain of hip European menswear stores. “You can’t write about this stuff if you don’t understand it,” he told me. “So we’re going over to the store today and Larry and Doug are going to put you through a full fitting to help you relate to their customers.”
Larry and Doug, the owners of the store, put me in a sleek European suit, measured my inseam a little too enthusiastically, and then began putting those little chalk marks all over the suit so their tailor could make it fit me like a glove. (“Making a suit fit like a glove” is a mixed metaphor, but so be it.) They found a shirt that fit my scrawny frame perfectly. They selected matching socks and a tie. It was the mid-70s so they even put a gold chain around my neck. I have to admit that it was an interesting experience, one I had never had before, and it truly did help me understand their customers in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise.
A few days later my soon to be partner buzzed me and asked me to come to his office. When I got there he told me he was embarrassed by my casual fashion sense and the whole experience at the menswear store had been a ruse to get me fitted for a suit. “We have a big new business pitch in Philadelphia next week,” he said, ”and you need to look the part.” He proudly presented me with the suit, shirt, socks, tie and chain combo.
I realized that I had no shoes to match the brown suit, so I went out and bought a pair of brown running shoes. During our flight to the City of Brotherly Love, my boss/future partner asked me to reassure him I had brought along a pair of appropriate shoes.
“Absolutely,” I said. I pointed to my feet. ”I went out and got these brown running shoes.”
He laughed. He thought I was joking.
Just before the plane landed, he asked me again. I gave him the same answer. He was horrified when he realized I was serious.
”We’ll have to go out first thing in the morning and buy you some real shoes.” I truly did not understand what he was so upset about, but bright and early the next morning we were standing outside the nearest shoe shop when it opened its doors. We quickly bought a pair of brown leather shoes that matched the suit, and then rushed over to the client’s offices in just in time for our meeting.
All’s well that ends well, because we did the presentation and won the account. No one complained about my shoes. I’m pretty sure we would have been victorious even if I had worn the running shoes.
We met with our CPA a few days after our return to Southern California. After he congratulated us on the big win, my partner told him the story about the shoes and the CPA surprised us by saying, ”Those shoes were a business expense. So we can depreciate them.” And that’s exactly what we did. I believe we depreciated the shoes over a five year period.
That CPA later went on to great fame and fortune. I hadn’t spoken to him in many years, but I had a tax issue a few years ago, so I called him in search of some advice. He howled with laughter while recalling the only time in his career that he ever depreciated a pair of shoes.
I wore that suit no more than a handful of times over the next couple years, because it just wasn’t me. The words sleek and European just did not match my self image. I slowly reverted to the more casual look with which I felt more comfortable. I believe they call it business casual today.
As the years crawled by my business attire became increasingly more casual until it became almost slovenly. For a number of years I leaned toward jeans and colorful Hawaiian shirts. And that slowly devolved into wearing mostly mostly t-shirts emblazoned with the word ”Maui,” tattered jeans, and Mexican huarache sandals.
We were asked to pitch a big southern California entertainment company. I recall turning to my partner as we entered the client’s lobby and saying, ”I really need to start dressing better.” It was winter and I was wearing a baggy, tattered turquoise sweater over a T-shirt, worn out jeans, and running shoes. We told the receptionist we were there to see the marketing director and she said, ”How did you know today is casual day?”
“We didn’t,” my partner replied.
“Then you’re very lucky,” she said, looking directly at me. ”He’s really into fashion and would never hire anyone dressed as casually as you.” She said casually like it was a dirty word.
Here’s how one of my copywriting students at University of California Irvine described me in a writing assignment for another class:
“If you closed your eyes, you’d swear you were listening to Dr Demento on KMET Radio. deYong has a voice just like Dr Demento … Looking at him, one would never guess that deYong is a partner in a successful ad agency. He arrives each week in torn sneakers, baggy pants, and a T-shirt which often bears a catchy slogan. His most recent T-shirt was designed by one of his sympathetic employees as a get-well present. It read, ‘Death warmed over.’”
Not much has changed over the years. Now that we live in Texas I wear jeans and T-shirts for about six months a year followed by shorts and T-shirts the other six months. We had to attend a funeral service a couple weeks ago and Jamie announced, “It’s time to wear your big boy clothes.”
If forced to dress up, I’m also forced to ask, “Jamie, does this shirt go with these pants?” The most common answer is, “No,” and it’s usually accompanied by a look that says, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
In describing my own fashion choices, I’ve neglected to mention the universal truth of the cartoon at the top of this story. It’s not just me. You rarely see an ad agency writer who comprehends fashion. There must be something hardwired into the brain that dictates, “Good with words, bad with clothes.”
My second job in advertising was at the largest ad agency in Los Angeles. All the copywriters — except one — dressed just as poorly as I did. The exception was a guy who wore a suit and tie every day. The rest of us teased him unmercifully about his favored fashions. Much to our surprise, his career took off like a rocket and he eventually became the CEO of one of the world’s largest international ad agency conglomerates.
I doubt that he’s ever worn a Maui T-shirt and flipflops to work.
UPDATE: I posted this story a couple days ago. I just said, ”Jamie, have you read the latest story on the blog? I quoted you.” She said, ”You mean when we went to Joe’s funeral and I said, ’Just don’t look homeless.’” Ahhh, yes, I’m feelin’ the love.