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Sloppy clothes, shabby manners

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter July 19, 2004 issue Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative Sloppy Clothes, Shabby Manners By Taki I shall spare you commenting on 957 pages of psychobabble, namely how the American version of Ahmad Chalabi became such a fluent liar. Bill Clinton's opus about his "parallel lives" bores me stiff. As he always reminded us during Monicagate, we should move on. But he came to mind as I boarded an airplane to fly to the birthplace of selective democracy"”Athens, Greece, to be exact. On board were two royal Greek princes, Pavlos and Nikolaos, both dressed impeccably and simply, the way gentlemen used to dress when traveling. I was a little worse for wear, pun intended, but with a blazer and proper slacks. Just as familiarity breeds contempt, informality generates disrespect. As soon as we were airborne, an obviously stressed stewardess addressed me by my first name. "How nice to know we were in school together," I told her with a smile. I was using the Harold Pinter defense. The playwright has many faults, but he is a master of the devastating retort when he feels a lack of civility towards his person. When addressed as "Harold" by total strangers, he either ignores them or asks them about school. It might sound pompous, but Pinter was born very poor in east London and obviously learned good manners from his hard-working parents. Clinton and his asides to students about his underwear are typical of the vulgar times in which we live. But he is not alone. At the G8 summit on Sea Island, Ga., the only man who dressed properly was"”dare I say it?"”the president of France. Everyone else was "smart casual," but Gap dress does little to dignify high office. Man-of-the-people matiness was started by Bill Clinton, with his grotesque running shorts and sneakers while playing golf. The reason Clinton went for "smart casual" had, as in everything he did, an ulterior motive: "You can trust me, I am not wearing a suit." Real '60s stuff. Commenting on Chirac's wearing a necktie while the rest lounged around in ugly "smart casual," a man with the unfortunate name of Kenneth Dreyfack wrote in the International Herald Tribune that a tie makes one look priggish and a nerd, "exactly the kind of weirdo no one wants to get stuck sitting next to at a party." Sorry Dreyfack (I hope I'm pronouncing your name wrong), but it is exactly the opposite. There is nothing wrong with formality, and a hell of a lot wrong with familiarity. Wearing a tracksuit on an airplane might be comfortable, but I find it slightly disrespectful. "Clothes make the man," said the Mississippi sage, Mark Twain, and casual dress has always shown itself to be a threat to good order and decorum. Those ghastly hippies, among whom Bill Clinton hid from the draft, not only lacked social graces, they made casual dress a uniform of disrespect for tradition and Western culture. The arrogant disdain shown by them was matched only by their selfishness and greed. And speaking of greed, Hollywood types, people like David Geffen and Oliver Stone, love casual. Geffen, extolling gay power, wears sneakers and a T-shirt with his dinner jacket. Michael Moore, a legendary slob, ditto. Popular culture teaches us that fashion should be liberating. It is a clumsy argument made by philistines who possess the sensibilities of a Stalinist bureaucrat and the taste of Barbra Streisand. The shabbiness of the modern man"”and woman, mind you"”comes at the expense of a society unashamed of its vices. Smart dress has nothing to do with class or wealth. It has to do with pride, taste, and a sense of achievement. After all, when was the last time you saw a mugger wearing a tailcoat and top hat? Gentlemen, however, often do. But more of Dreyfack. "It's no accident that the first thing repressive institutions such as the armed forces or prisons do to establish control over individuals is to make them change their clothing," he writes in the IHT. What can one say when reading such rubbish? It is a carefully embellished myth that dressing casual is in some way standing shoulder to shoulder with the electorate against the establishment, and that in being well dressed one is in some way decadent, snobby, and treacherous. This is why we have in one generation gone from a formal, well-behaved society into the casual modernity that uses the F-word constantly and sees soap-opera stars and badly-behaved, women-bashing multi-millionaire basketball players as role models. Hollywood has a lot to answer for. High glamour ruled the place during its golden age. Remember that wonderful picture of the great Gary Cooper and Clark Gable in white tie drinking champagne? It was uplifting and as graceful as Fred Astaire, yet another gent. Now the aforementioned Streisand sports thrift-store cast-offs while pretending to be a woman of the people. But I'd hate to be a poor person trespassing by mistake on her property, or a young surfer landing on David Geffen's private beach. (Unless he's gay, that is.) Modern actors look like bag ladies and act worse. Somehow it is all dreadfully unconvincing. An average Joe does not have to look like a Hollywood slob, but then average Joes usually have far more dignity than Hollywood types and America's 42nd president. July 19, 2004 issue Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative
post #2 of 11
If by "interesting" you mean "gratingly obnoxious," then I agree. That column had so much wrong with it I couldn't know where to begin. But how about starting with fashion, the subject that has us all gathered here.   "After all, when was the last time you saw a mugger wearing a tailcoat and top hat? Gentlemen, however, often do." When was the last time you saw anyone wearing a tailcoat and top hat? If you wore them to a formal affair, people would assume you were joking. It's a point as phony as the rest of the claptrap. But otherwise, bravo.
post #3 of 11
The "American Conservative" website is priceless. Seriously. Go read some of the articles if you feel the need to laugh. A perfect example of too much information, too little intelligence and a big old persecution complex.
post #4 of 11
The "American Conservative" website is priceless.  Seriously.  Go read some of the articles if you feel the need to laugh.  A perfect example of too much information, too little intelligence and a big old persecution complex.
Anything with Pat Buchanan on board is bound for a laugh.
post #5 of 11
I had always assumed "white tie populism" would be an oxymoron, but this guy nearly pulls it off.  The Right really needs to decide whether we heathen liberals are A) a coterie of brie-eating, latte-swilling elites in flashy suits and BMWs or B) a mob of unkempt, burger-scarfing, intern-porking slobs in running shorts. Seriously, I'd think twice before conflating our generally civil discussions of style and its influences on public perception with this author's Clinton-bashing, homophobia, and bromides about "declining morals".  It's one thing to point out the misapprehensions and social disdavantages one risks when dressing inappropriately.  It's another thing entirely to draw specious, simplistic isomorphisms between attire and moral character.  For instance, I don't recall that wearing suits religiously did much for Richard Nixon or Joe McCarthy (consciously avoiding living examples here).
post #6 of 11
After all, when was the last time you saw a mugger wearing a tailcoat and top hat? Gentlemen, however, often do.
I guess Kenneth Lay must be innocent.
post #7 of 11
If this is the kind of reaction casual dress is getting, I for one welcome our casual dress overlords.
post #8 of 11
A similar article: Telegraph Blair needs a good dressing-down By Nick Foulkes (Filed: 11/06/2004) Tony Blair has done it again - another of his now famous sartorial faux pas and another blow to the solar plexus of British dignity. This time, at the G8 summit on Sea Island, Georgia, it was a pale garment that he mistook for a sports jacket: there was a palpable awkwardness about the man as he ran the photo-opportunity gauntlet wearing this unfortunate item. Maybe he experienced a moment of realisation, just before the pictures were beamed around the globe, that the look of failed ice cream vendor was perhaps not quite right for a dress-down day. It might have been an expensive jacket sold to him by one of the trendy outfitters that were such a part of the national consciousness during the Cool Britannia years of the 1990s. Even so, there is something dreadfully unconvincing about Blair when he tries to do "smart casual''. This whole "Gap for world leaders thing" does little to dignify his office. By now we should be used to his attempts at man-of-the-people matiness: the elaborately untucked shirt; that sweat-soaked shirt; the mug of tea in hand while fielding press questions in Downing Street. The peculiar thing is that Blair is both a victim and a proselytiser of the smart-casual culture that has wormed its way into the style in which British men dress today. Even so, casual clothing is something that most British men are unable to master, and attempts usually end in the sort of disaster that we have just witnessed on our Prime Minister's back or the unintentional self-parody of Alan Partridge's "sports casual''. In theory, New Labour, with its genius for reconciling diametrically opposed opinions, its capacity for uniting contradiction and its subtle sophistry, should be adept at the facile arts of appearing and seeming. The leader of a government that relies so heavily on style should have mastered smart casual long ago. Smart casual should be the uniform of New Labour, apparently demystifying the ceremonial garb of government and giving the impression of transparency of thought and deed. The equation is a rather patronising one: "You can trust me, I'm not wearing a suit.'' Given the level of governmental paranoia, image-consciousness and micro-management, one might have thought there would be New Labour guidelines and that the whips' office could offer MPs a small pamphlet laying down the endorsed manner of wearing a long-sleeved polo shirt, advice on how chinos should be pressed and listing a series of sartorial sins - baseball caps, aggressive trainers, heavily branded items of sports clothing, etc - to be avoided. Instead we are faced with the unappealing reality of one of the most slickly marketed political parties in the world being headed by a man who appears at global summits looking as if he has raided the wardrobe of a local amateur dramatics society. In part, this could be the last stand of a middle-aged man against the crushing conventions of life as a people-carrier-driving, balding paterfamilias. Nor must we forget the carefully embellished myth that New Labour is in some way standing shoulder to shoulder with the electorate against a nebulous body known as the Establishment and that to appear smart is in some way decadent, snobby and treacherous. It is certainly to this student union rebellious streak that Gordon Brown's lounge suit at the Lord Mayor's banquet can be attributed. To be fair to the Prime Minister, he is not alone in his dishevelment. British men are, on the whole, incapable of dressing in a manner that is both casual and inoffensive. Perhaps it is because that, for years, we were unyieldingly traditional; the working man in his tweed cap, the businessman in stripes and furled umbrella, the tweedy landed aristocrat; and that, after years of unbending resistance to the winds of change, British men's good taste has finally snapped. In the space of a generation, we have travelled from an almost Edwardian stratification of society into the casual, classless modernity of wireless computing, fusion food and the deification of soap and football stars. Many people over 30 are just not culturally equipped to do casual modern clothing. If they are honest, most men think little about casual clothing, regarding it as either an assembly of garments that are too old, too tatty or too tight to be worn to the office, or as a necessary evil bought as cheaply as possible on the way to the airport for the family holiday. Another aspect of this sartorial blindness is the apparent existence of a heat-sensitive switch that is triggered in the male Briton's brain. Once the temperature rises above 75F (25C), the British man is gripped by an atavistic urge to root around in his wardrobe, truffle out the least flattering, most dubious items of clothing and then wear them to work with a sense of pride. Summer is viewed as an extenuating circumstance for the most foul crimes against male elegance. Early this week, as temperatures peaked, workplaces all over the country witnessed extreme and embarrassing interpretations of climatically correct clothing. I happened to be in Italy, where temperatures were, I believe, a little higher than those in Britain, yet I encountered only crisply suited men using the warm weather as an opportunity to make the most of the many wonderful lightweight fabrics that are now available. In this country, the riskily foreign concepts of warm weather and relaxed clothing combine to bring out characteristics that lurk most of the year hidden under the sober suits of British business life. As we lack any internal sense of what is correct in terms of warm weather clothing, we reveal perhaps a little too much of who we are, often quite literally: the man whose hairy hobbit-like foot pokes out of a sandal, or the office lothario who unfastens his shirt a button too far. The upside of all this is that it adds to the harmless merriment of life, and the sight of British men parading around in their seasonally adjusted casual clothing can yield some unexpected gems. I am reliably informed that the editor of this newspaper's Spy column has been sporting a pair of blindingly white Gucci pumps of the sort that would have found favour with flaneurs at Cannes in the 1920s. They confirmed what many of us knew already: he is Fleet Street's smartest diary editor. However, I would advise against the Prime Minister adopting such a look. Then again, a pair of white shoes on the PM might be just the thing to liven up next week's EU summit.
post #9 of 11
so, are we to believe that 'Taki' cherry-picked a few choice phrases and clauses from 'Nick Foulkes'? I am shocked and appalled. /andrew - thinks the Foulkes piece was more entertaining.
post #10 of 11
hey Kalra- wasn't Lakshmi Mittal involved in a big scandle with Tony Blair and the Labour party?
Yes indeed I was. I will not comment any futher on the issue.
post #11 of 11
oh ye of little faith... i'm just hoping the more time i 'spend' perusing this online forum, the more wealth and power will rub off on me. obviously it's possible to lead a huge multinational conglomerate while making pithy comments online about clothes, so i feel that my ship should be coming in any day now... /andrew - is actually just waiting for Godot...
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