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Minnesota 4th-grader keeps it formal, wearing only suits and ties

Wearing his usual formal wear, Harrison Elementary fourth-grader Derek Grady swings with his classmates during recess this week. The nine-year-old alternates between six complete suits, a dozen vests and 20 dress shirts with ties. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service

BRAINERD, Minn. – If you ever run across local fourth-grader Derek Grady and feel underdressed for the occasion, don't worry, he makes a lot of people feel that way.

The 9-year-old Harrison Elementary School student only leaves the house if he's dressed for success in dress shoes, dress pants, dress shirt, tie, vest, jacket and, depending on his mood, a fedora.

"He still does all the normal kid activities outside," said his mother, Nicole Grady. "He just does it well-dressed."

Derek's formal style has created an impact on his male teachers, Nicole said, because they don't want to be shown up by one of their students.

"They know when he's in their class, they wear their good clothes, their dressier clothes," Nicole said. "He kind of goes all-out."

Derek also has an eye for style many wives probably wish their husbands had, as he picks out his own outfits the night before school.

"I haven't had a say in what he's worn since he was about 5½," Nicole said.

It's for this reason Derek bristles when passers-by ask him if he wears suits everyday, or if his mom makes him wear a suit, or if he just got back from a wedding or church.

"It seems to fascinate everybody. I've kind of gotten used to it at this point," Nicole said.

"He doesn't care what other people think about what he's wearing or what they say. And honestly, he makes friends pretty fast. Nobody thinks it's weird."

It's better than seeing his underwear or wearing $100 jeans with holes in them, Nicole said. It's the distressed or aged denim look Derek doesn't understand.

"You could just buy jeans and then cut holes in them," Derek said. "They just rip a hole in the jeans and put them for sale."

Derek wants to wear what he wants, and if other kids don't like or understand it, "it's kind of their problem," Nicole said. Not being influenced by the crowd will serve him well as he gets older, she said.

"I won't have to worry about him so much, being influenced by everything else around him," Nicole said. "He doesn't pay enough attention as far as that kind of stuff goes."

She said Derek's fascination with formal dress has helped him develop a sense of individuality, so "I see no reason not to let him wear what he wants if he's being an individual."

At this point, Derek said, his classmates and friends are used to his unique personal style. It has created the drawback of more attention from his female classmates, "and he's not at the right age yet" to enjoy that attention, Nicole sad.

Derek even goes to the same place every time for his haircuts, and always gets the same cut, Nicole said. But like any other 9-year-old boy, "you can't make him get a haircut, you've kind of got to bring him around to it," she said.

Start of a trend

Derek said he doesn't remember why he started dressing formally, but Nicole said it started when he was about 5½ years old. He started dressing like dashing fictional archeologist Indiana Jones, in his trademark khaki pants, dress shirt and fedora, she said.

From there, it transitioned into suits and ties, Nicole said. A friend had a suit coat, Derek said, which sparked his interest in acquiring his own suit coats.

It's both easier and harder to shop for a boy who only wears suits, ties and vests, Nicole said. It's easier in that she knows what she's looking for, but those items are harder to come by for a 9 year old.

Nicole started looking for Derek's clothes at Saver's in St. Cloud, but soon found she had the best luck shopping online. Sizes vary from company to company, she said, so there's a lot of shipping clothes back and forth. That creates some headaches, buying the suits online is much cheaper than shopping at a local retailer, she said.

"It's a learning process," Nicole said. "We've got to watch his footwear, make sure he switches his footwear."

There is no leisurewear in Derek's closet, Nicole said—he doesn't own any pairs of jeans, sweatpants or T-shirts.

"I do make him wear swim trunks when he swims, though," Nicole said.

Even then, Derek said, he has to wear a polo shirt to go with his swim trunks. His Halloween costumes also require modeling characters known for their formal dress, Nicole said. Because of this, he's dressed up like Sherlock Holmes or a vampire with a suit and cape for trick or treating.

"He tends to lean toward anything dressier," Nicole said.

A lot of people also ask Derek if he gets warm in a suit all day, he said. To that inquiry, he responds he once ran the mile at school in a black suit.

He had the teachers at Harrison concerned on the 90-degree-day the students ran the mile, Nicole said. So much so, they stopped him halfway through and made him take his coat and tie off, she said.

"He said it made him run faster, so then as soon as he was done, he put it right back on," Nicole said. "Weather does not matter for him as far as his suits."

Personal style

Today, Derek's suit collection consists of six complete suits, Nicole said. He uses about a dozen vests, 20 dress shirts and numerous ties to keep things fresh, she said.

"Ties, I have about a laundry bin full of ties," Derek said.

Given the option of a new toy or tie on a visit to Kohl's, Derek will peruse the tie selection first, Nicole said.

He's also got a wide variety of pins and hats, mostly acquired on different family trips, Nicole said.

"He likes to wear little things from the states we go to," Nicole said. "He's more apt to buy a pin from a state or a hat."

With a variety to choose from, Derek said his favorite suit is still a simple black one. He's getting new gray pinstripe and blue pinstripe suits to join his collection, Nicole said. There's also a solid gray, black and navy blue suit, she said.

Nicole tries to encourage Derek toward darker colored suits, as they're a bit easier to keep clean, she said. He kept a dove gray suit clean for about seven months, she said, which is "pretty good for a 9-year-old."

"He actually keeps all of his suits in good condition," Nicole said.

Still, when Derek was about 7 years old, Nicole had to say no when he asked for a white suit.

"I drew the line at white, given his age," Nicole said. "I told him the closest we'll go to white is the dove gray he picked out."

Derek lays out his clothes the night before school, so he said it takes him "about three minutes" to get ready for school in the morning.

"You match your clothes and your suits up so well," Nicole told him.

In the summer, Derek will loosen up a little bit by taking off his suit coat and vest, Nicole said, but that's about it. But there's no actual relaxing clothes like shorts and T-shirts, just a relaxing attitude.

"He'll jump on the trampoline, swing on the swings, all of it," Nicole said.

As Derek gets older, it'll probably get easier to find formal clothes, but they'll also get more expensive, Nicole said. They'll also be nicer, which will mean more dry cleaning, she said.

Relatives looking for gift ideas always ask Nicole if Derek is interested in any cartoons so they can buy him a T-shirt with the character on it. She always suggests the same fail-safe gift idea if they're coming up blank.

"Buy him a tie, he's happy," Nicole said.

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