If anyone embraces color more than Richard Aloisio, former New York Times art director, then I’d like to meet them.
Native New Yorker Aloisio, 65, worked for over 30 years in the art department at the New York Times. Over those years he saw a few changes in the way people dress and behave in the workplace. Considerable spoke to him about the power dressing colorfully holds.
Richard, did you always dress this wonderfully?
Well, not this wonderfully, no. I always dressed nicely, but I guess the color exploded gradually. About six or seven years ago I went with a friend of mine who was having a suit made at a designer’s studio, and I became enamored with all the books of fabrics that were laying around. The studio itself was painted in cheddar, chartreuse and purple and I fell in love right away. Granted, I’m a designer, so I see color and it just delights me.
How did you start to incorporate more color into your wardrobe?
I started with socks. I went crazy with colorful socks and then I progressed to colorful ties. Then I started looking for shirts. I finally evolved to suits. It was a gradual process. If you’re interested in color I think you can start small and work your way up.
What kind of reaction did you receive your colorful suits at work?
This being New York, people tend to keep things to themselves. But I worked for a time with Bill Cunningham (the famed fashion photographer). When we ran into each other he would always say of my outfits, “That’s great kid, you’re having fun with it!” He liked to take photos of my shoe and sock combinations. He enjoyed seeing people who did things that made them feel good about themselves. His famous quote was “Fashion is the armor to survive everyday life,” and I agree. I would always feel better when I dressed well, so I started to do it all the time.
What do you think about the “casualization” of the corporate world?
What I see is that a lot of people don’t care how they look for work anymore. Hair is uncombed, shirts are unwashed and crumpled. It’s a shame because it’s making a whole generation lazy about personal grooming. I’m not saying they need to go out and buy anything expensive, but an iron would go a long way.
I once gave a colleague a Hawaiian shirt of mine and he asked me how to take care of it. I explained that he needed to wash it in cold water and iron it. His response was, “Well, I guess I’ll have to buy and iron.” The man must have been 45 years old.
These days I think “dressing well” is bred out of us. The new corporate ethic is “Come as you are, get the job done as quickly as possible and go home,” or “Work from home in your pajamas.” I hear about this happening everywhere.
Once, I got into the elevator at work with a young guy in his uniform of jeans and a crumpled t-shirt and he looked me over and said “Wow that suit — you’re making us all look bad.” I chuckled along with the rest of the elevator crowd, but thought that I would like to reply: “No, you’re making us look bad.”
Do you think that the current culture of always being available to the office at any hour of the day is affecting how people dress?
I’m sure that plays into it. But really it’s more a sense of personal style. I always dress this way no matter what; I just feel better about myself if I do. Some people think you’re trying too hard or compensating for something, but I just enjoy the process of putting things together — it’s artistic, it’s an expression of your flair, it’s joy.
How do women react to you?
Well let me say this, guys seem to have no idea that women like a man who’s stylishly put together. If you’re walking down the street on Friday or Saturday night you’ll see this couple: the woman is dressed beautifully, hair done, looking put-together and gorgeous, and the guy is wearing dirty jeans and a baggy gray t-shirt.
I’ve gotten comments on my Instagram where women are lamenting their husbands’ lack of style. One woman wrote, “I wish there were more men dressed in your sophisticated style.” Young guys are really missing out, that’s my take. Yes, if they dress up they are going to be looked at differently, especially by their male friends, and maybe that is what stops them. But I think the women will look at them differently too — in a good way.
Color encourages conversation. When I’m out and about I find myself talking to and meeting all kinds of people. For example, a woman drove by me recently, stopped suddenly, put the car in reverse, backed up and then yelled out of the window, “Those are some fly pants, bad to the bone.” It gave me a lift all day!
Do you follow fashion?
Not really. If I see something that appeals to me then I’ll consider it, but I don’t follow fashion per se. I think you can have style without needing to buy the latest trends. You also don’t need a lot of money to do it either. But it’s easy for me to shop because, if I’m in a store or online, I’m always just looking for the color, and if something pops out of the inevitable sea of gray or black then I’ll take a look at it. It certainly streamlines the process.
Do you own anything black?
I just recently bought some black jeans. I know they’re a little boring but they’ll go with all my wildest shoes!
Since the death of Bill Cunningham, who do you consider an authority on street style these days?
There will never be another Bill Cunningham, he was one-of-a-kind. His dedication, his knowledge of style and fashion and his intellect will not be be repeated. I went to Fashion Week with my girlfriend once and for whatever reason no one really looked twice at me. Maybe I was too old, maybe I wasn’t cool enough, but I didn’t let it bother me. In fact it led me to this epiphany: Those fashion photographers are not necessarily the only arbiters of style.
Walking the streets of New York, I pass by people whom you might not consider to be fashion commentators, but to me they are the absolute authority on street fashion. These are: employees standing outside of restaurants, car park attendants, people handing out flyers, even homeless people. These people see thousands of pedestrians every day, walking by in that typical New York black uniform. So if I ever manage to elicit a comment from these folks then I am thrilled, because they see it all. Just last week I passed a woman handing out soap samples and as I walked by she said, “I’ll fight you for that coat!” It made my day.