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What I Learned This Week: It's The Frills That Bring The Thrills

10/14/2014 12:07 EDT | Updated 12/13/2014 05:59 EST

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During the Jewish Holidays last week, the two words I heard most often (other than "Shana Tovah," which means "Happy New Year") were "Nice suit!"

I heard it on three separate days, and heard it often for each different suit. Whether I was wearing the back-on-black stripe, the basic blue or the grey pinstripe, the reaction was always the same: "Nice suit!"

What makes this feedback more gratifying and relevant to this blog's mandate of lessons learned was that each of these three suits was nine years old, and I had worn all of them during the Jewish Holidays many times over the past near-decade.

Yes, the suits were good ones, but they were old.

The difference, and the reason for the attention and chatter, is that each one was rejuvenated by a new, bold, shirt-and-tie combination.

Truth be told, it would be an equally gratifying compliment to hear "Nice shirt and tie!" but nobody seemed to delve into my attire that deeply. Instead, the newness and brightness of the upper-body combo was deflected onto, and usurped by, the suit itself.

And that sums up this week's learning, namely:

Accessories are not merely "as important" as the "whole" they complement; often they actually manage to overshadow and even define what the whole is.

Think this is trite?

Think again, my friends. This is an important lesson, one that at applies to homes, offices, businesses, books, magazines, restaurants (and their menu items), plays, concerts, even blogs.

  • Art on the walls and unique furniture can characterize a home or office.
  • In the literary world, the right cover, illustrations and typography can be the difference between a best-seller and a remainder bin castoff.
  • In shows, stage design and body-warping choreography dazzle and spawn word-of-mouth.
  • And at eateries, exceptional accompaniment--be it hand-cut French fries, fine wine or mouth-watering desserts--make a meal something to write home, or write on Yelp, about.

On a break from writing this post, I discovered a company that exemplifies this lesson. It's a window-washing group from Vancouver called "Men In Kilts." At its base is the fact that it cleans windows really well. But so do so many others in the space; squeegee, water and soap is not rocket science.

What makes this company unique is its name (accessory #1), and more importantly, the way the washers are dressed--in green tartan kilts (accessory #2). The firm's obvious yet industry-obtuse slogan, "No Peeking!" (accessory #3) is its ultimate defining statement.

Back to my apparel for a second. Getting ready for winter, over the weekend I pulled a coat of mine out of my storage locker (that's it atop this post). It's a somewhat traditional, formal black coat; pretty standard cut, (fake) fur collar, slash pockets. To counter the expanse of black wool, I bought a mirrored pin that features a singing Elvis in full-body silhouette, and stuck it just under the right-side collar.

The reactions I get are always the same: "What a cool coat!"

But the coat itself isn't truly cool; the pin is. Yet the ensemble takes on the characteristics of the accessory once again.

Granted, this doesn't always work. There's an old political expression that goes "You can't polish a turd." In other words, if the base, the foundation, is crummy, all the accessories in the world can't make it better. If the main course sucks, the sides won't make it tastier. If my Holiday suits were poorly tailored, threadbare, pants too long and sleeves too short, a showcase filled with silken shirts and ties couldn't bring them to life.

So build your foundation to be as strong as it can be. But don't stop there. Add a layer or two of accessories.

Your base can keep you in the race, but it's the frills that bring the thrills.