September 23, 2007

Slovenliness and organized religion

I'm busy cataloguing all the evidence that's confronted me so far that shows how little seriousness there is in the Mountain Time Zone, and as you can guess, looking presentable is a special case. There is one exception, however: some people still follow the convention of wearing their "Sunday best" if organized religion plays more of a role in their lives. It's clear that religion is not altering their basic preferences, since they don't put any effort into their appearance when it isn't Sunday. But having one day of dignity out of the week is more than can be said for the majority of their counterparts back East (these are mostly lower-middle or middle-middle class people). There, church-going is infrequent among Whites.

This confirms the claim I made previously, before moving out here, that the casualization of dress codes has hit the middle and lower classes much harder than the upper classes, whose casual clothing doesn't look pitiable. As with most of the attitudes and practices spread by the well-to-do counterculture of the late '60s and early '70s, the blight they have produced has remained largely out of sight for their rabble-rousing originators.

1 comment:

  1. The pseudonymous "Nicholas Antongiavanni" in his book _The Suit_ makes an effort to trace the trajectory of men's clothing over the last 200 years. He is worth quoting at some length:

    In former times the people were deferential to the great, and though they coveted what the great deigned tasteful, they could not afford it and would not dare to wear it but wore only what was permitted to them by custom and tradition. When by chance or labor one of them came into money and tried to dress like the great, these would rebuke his insolence while his peers would ostracize him out of envy. This is well illustrated by Fielding in _Tom Jones_; and though the example therein is of women, men are no less virulent in their reaction, only less violent.

    Democracy eroded the people's deference; industrialization and capitalism made them rich or not poor. No longer deferential, they ceased fearing to offend the great. No longer poor, they indulged their appetite for ostentation, imitating as best they could the modes of the great. This the great could not abide. Jealous of their monopoly on show, some used their superior wealth to trump the people, not leaving out any kind of lavish display. But even the finest clothes are within the reach of all but the most impecunious of men, provided they are irresponsible. So the great had to find a new remedy. Thus did many of them, in a spectacle redolent of what the French call ~nostalgie de la boue~, begin to wear garments hitherto worn only by the poorest and most wretched. These they mixed with their opulent clothes, in a manner most outrageous and unexpected, and took delight in shocking the proprieties of the people, who dared not imitate their audacity. For what the people had in money they lacked in confidence, as Steinbeck showed when he had a man of the people say to one of the great that "you got to be awful rich to dress as bad as you do." But mostly, having tasted luxury, the people were loath to return to those rags they had cast off on becoming rich. So, having no desire any longer to imitate the great, they indulged their own proclivities and created their own modes. These could not be called tasteful by any reasonable interpretation of the word.

    Some still clung to the old modes, but the pressure to abandon them soon became unbearable. Among the people, these began to be despised as boring, and to dress tastefully was to risk being despised as "square." Among the great, many came to believe the protestation of academics that taste was nothing but a fraud perpetrated by the great to keep down the people
    [I think he means Veblen --Ed.]. Feeling guilty, they shunned those clothes denounced as tools of oppression. And this was a blow that taste could not survive. For in all societies, modes of dress are set by the great; and if they mock taste and celebrate its opposite, taste will not be held in esteem by the people, who by nature prefer kitsch.

    Not sure if I agree with all of this. But it provides an informed framework to productively disagree with, if nothing else.

    Both "Antongiavanni" in his book _The Suit_ and Flusser in his book _Dressing the Man_ make the point that there were few if any indisputable arbiters of style in the later half of the Twentieth Century. People like the Duke of Windsor and Cary Grant played that role earlier in the century.


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