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Donning suits and fedoras, these kids started Dapper Wednesdays at their rural Maine school

According to a recent Gallup poll, just 3% of men and women now wear suits to work — the lowest ever since Gallup first asked the question two decades ago. But once a week, students at Chelsea Elementary School in central Maine are encouraged to get spiffed up.

It's called Dapper Wednesday, and it all started after one boy started wearing a suit to school.

He's only 8 years old, but James Ramage already has three suits hanging neatly in his closet. And every Wednesday morning, he has to make an important decision: should he wear the navy one, the black one or a wild, red-and-green-striped Christmas suit?

"I last wore this shirt, and I last wore like my Christmas suit," says Ramage. "So I'm thinking, well, I won't wear these two because I just wore it, or I won't wear this because it's getting smaller. So that's how I pick."

James Ramage goes through his closet to pick out his outfit for the day on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
James Ramage goes through his closet to pick out his outfit for the day on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

On this occasion, James selects the black suit. He adds some flair with a bright red holiday-themed shirt. Next, he stoops down to a box on the floor filled with ties and picks out a black one. After he's dressed, he slides a comb through his hair. And to top off his dapper look, he puts on a gray fedora. Now, he's ready for school.

"I hope that everybody's gonna be dressed up and ready," he says before he walks out the door.

Once at school, James drops by the cafeteria to grab breakfast and he immediately catches attention from a member of the staff.

"All right, let me see the shirt — is it a Christmas one?" the worker asks. "I love it! Have a good day, buddy."

James Ramage tames his hair with a comb on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
James Ramage tames his hair with a comb on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

James isn't the only one who's dressed up. In his third-grade classroom, he's joined by several other boys wearing suits. And for kids who forgot to dress up, ed tech Dean Paquette swoops in to hand out bowties.

"Does anybody need a tie in here? Everybody all set? Dom needs one, all right," he says.

Soon enough, the class is looking sharp, just in time for morning announcements.

"We don't have very many announcements to make today," says a voice over the PA system, "except for it is Dapper Wednesday and we thank everyone who dressed up in a dapper way."

If you're wondering how this trend took hold at a small elementary school in rural Maine, it started like so many trends do — with one person who branched out from the mainstream. That was James, who started wearing suits in first grade. He was inspired by a TV character on the show "Fuller House" who dresses up. But when he asked for one for his birthday, it posed a bit of a challenge for his mom, Susie Ramage.

James Ramage holds a hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
James Ramage holds a hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

"Ah, where am I going to get one?" Ramage remembers thinking. "That was the big question, because it's not something that's very common in this area that they sell little boy suits."

His grandmother bought him one, and the first time he put it on, James says he felt different.

Lincoln Bolitho is hard at work on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
Lincoln Bolitho is hard at work on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
@mainepublic Cuteness overload wirh the fedora hat and crossed legs at his desk 😭 #maine #goodnews #fancy #dapper ♬ original sound - Maine Public

"I felt good," he says. "Because I thought when I looked at it in the mirror, it looked cool on me."

His mom says James now trades his usual T-shirt and sweatpants for a suit on school picture days, occasional trips to the grocery store, even some Saturdays.

"It's definitely helped his confidence and made him feel stronger and better about himself," she says. "So that's important to us."

And when James started wearing a suit to school, his friend, Lincoln Bolitho, liked the look.

"And I was like, hmm, that's kind of cool," says Bolitho. "So then I was like, maybe if I got one, me and him could wear suits together as something fun every week."

Lincoln now has three suits, including an all white one he's wearing for winter, with a fedora and penguin-themed tie. When the two boys started dressing up on the same day earlier this year, Paquette joined them.

"I first saw it, it's just that I wanted to support it," he says. "That was that was my big thing as an educator, here are two young boys that are doing something a little bit different. And wanted them to know that they did have support."

James Ramage does his schoolwork — on pencil and paper — on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
James Ramage does his schoolwork — on pencil and paper — on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

The trio agreed to wear suits on Wednesdays. They dubbed it Dapper Wednesday, and it made its way into the school announcements. Then other kids started dressing up, including fifth grader Lana Pratt, who's wearing a black skirt and blazer.

"It makes me feel like, fancy — really fancy," Lana says. "Like we're in a really great school."

Wednesdays are now her favorite day of the week, she says. James and Lincoln say it feels good to get compliments on what they wear. And Lincoln says it's nice to share the experience.

"Everyone just like feels good with a smile on their face when they walk in," he says. "And It's nice to see it because it feels like, three guys started this. And now kids are coming in with smiles. And suits."

James Ramage and Lincoln Bolitho on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
/
Maine Public
James Ramage and Lincoln Bolitho on Dapper Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

Principal Allison Hernandez — who's sporting a blazer specifically for today — says more kids are joining in every week.

"It's a great message for James and Lincoln of all the impact they can have on the world just by being themselves," she says.

Students stand a little taller on Dapper Wednesday, says Hernandez. And the mood at school is a little brighter.