Paul is tall and skinny with "hysterical" eyes. He has an unusually narrow chest and he is "exceedingly sensitive" about this. Paul has no interest in school. In fact, he does whatever he can to let his fellow students and teachers know that he doesn't belong in school or the traditional, mundane atmosphere with which he associates schooling and education. He is much more interested in music and the arts. He is also more interested in the culture and fashion associated with the arts. As much as he is ashamed by his skinny physique and narrow chest, he is also ashamed by his worn clothing. He does his best to wear the clothes with some kind of style and he wears a carnation in his coat buttonhole in order to look more sophisticated. The school faculty thinks that the carnation is Paul's way of mocking them. They feel that a truly contrite boy would not flaunt a snobby look like this if he is trying to win them over and get back into school.
When Paul steals the money from Denny & Carson's office, he buys fancy clothes and lives the life of a financially secure lover of the arts. This is the first time Paul feels at peace.
The mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every day and every day, restored his self-respect. He had never lied for pleasure, even at school; but to be noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys; and he felt a good deal more manly, more honest, even, now that he had no need for boastful pretensions, now that he could, as his actor friends used to say "dress the part."
Paul does feel inclined to differentiate himself from other boys by altering his appearance. There is something elitist and superficial about this. However, this stems from the fact that he does not fit in. Perhaps his teachers had not done enough to focus on Paul's strengths. They might have gotten him involved in Drama or a music program. In any case, and to whatever degree the fault lies with Paul, his parents, or his teachers, Paul does feel the need to change the way he looks in order to feel more at peace with himself. It is a coping mechanism, a way of "acting," but also a legitimate way of expression. This is necessary for Paul because he feels that no one outside of the art world truly understands him.