June 24, 2008

Uncivilizing Society


I am a casual guy. Most days I sport jeans or shorts and a T-shirt. The T-shirt usually offers free advertising to a shoe company. I never wear shoes or socks when in the house (and sometimes outside).

For most of my professional career I have worn business clothing. Until a year or so ago I wore a shirt and tie and usually a coat to visit customers. Most often I wore a suit. Until two years ago I almost always wore a white shirt. In recent months I have taken to wearing polo shirts or dress shirts emblazoned with the company logo instead of a suit or tie. I fit in better with customers and other sales types. For big meetings etc., I still wear at least a tie.

I tell you this as an admission that I am a contributor to the decline of western civilization. As our lives become more comfortable, as air conditioners sooth our hot summers with Arctic breeze in our cars, homes and offices, we have shed our coats and hats to casual Friday.

There was a time in our society when a decent man would not leave home without a coat or at least a vest. Men of all stripes wore coats, even laborers, while professional men wore ties. Take a look at pictures from the Civil War through the mid 1900's and you will see men always with coats. Professionals wore ties and coats into the 1990s. As I said, being an old dinosaur, I wore a suit until the last year or two for work.

Not so long ago a man would not dream of taking a date to dinner or the movies with out donning his best suit. Today. you see men in even the nicest restaurants open-collared. When last did you see a man with a hat, besides a baseball cap? Sometimes when I watch the old movies on TV, I look at the men and see class. Even the thugs of the Prohibition era sported nice clothes. The men gunned down and those gunning on February 14, 1929 all wore suits and ties. As did noted anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. Charles Lindbergh wore a shirt and tie as he fell from the door of the Spirit of St. Louis upon landing in France. I think you can agree that Astaire, Sinatra and Stewart had an air of dignity and class in their fine clothes. There is no doubt that the great coaches of professional sports like Connie Mack, Lombardi, and Wooden all displayed a great deal more of professional class than the cut off sweatshirt worn by Belichick. I think this guy is right in his battle for civilized sartorial wear. He has ordered fedoras and custom fitted suits.

A part of me wants to blame JFK for his refusal to wear a hat on Inauguration Day, or the filthy hippies of the 1960s for the baseness of modern civilization. I know we are creatures of comfort. That indeed is the mark of a civilized man. Is not the march of civilization the effort to make life more comfortable? Is echewing ties just a continuation of moving from the damp fields to a cave to a house? Is it really different from the advancements made in clothing from loin cloths to itchy woollens to modern cottons? Do you really want the feel of rough-tanned leather on your nether regions? Is it rationalization, or is my barefoot stride across the carpet a step backward to the days man emerged from the jungles and forests to build cities and towns?

As I type away I am barefoot and wearing a Nike T-shirt. On the morrow I will don a polo shirt and Dockers for a visit with a customer. As I dress I will glance at my suit, I will skip my wingtips for more casual footwear and head for the door. Comfort will reign supreme over class. It will be one more day we are little less civilized.

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