Sunday, September 16, 2007

Quote of the Day: Lynn Hirschberg on Sloppy Rich People

"I have long believed that leisure wear is one of the great evils of our times. Scientists should stop investigating the links between fat friends, fast food and obesity and concentrate on the pernicious impact of stretch fabric. When a waistband can give and give, why should anyone stop eating? When a shirt does not need to be tucked in, who cares about the belly beneath? Lycra has changed the physique of this country, especially among men. With stretch in their play clothes, restraint is gone. A suit is suddenly uncomfortable and buttons pop; why not go for something loose?"
That's Lynn Hirschberg sounding indignant in T Magazine, the style supplement of the Sunday New York Times.

As much as it may sound like a jab at the lower classes, she's referring specifically to super-rich business men like Harvey Weinstein, pictured at left at an invite-only captains-of-industry media conference in Idaho earlier this year. "Harvey Weinstein's fashion stock is plummeting," reads the caption to the photo as it appeared in the Times.

That caption is especially funny because Weinstein is a co-owner of Halston, as Hirschberg points out.

"Thirty years ago, these men would have felt compelled to wear seersucker or linen suits, full-length pants or proper button-down shirts," Hirschberg laments. "They would have felt that their station in life demanded a certain decorum, a prevailing sensibility that extended to their attire."

I would argue that as time goes on, dressing well, whatever that actually means, gets harder for men. It's because the traditional uniforms of work and leisure are being switched and rearranged.

Ironically, men of my generation can wear a suit and feel like they are expressing their individuality, instead of conforming. We have the Harvey Weinsteins of the world to thank for that. Like my father and most baby boomers, they've tired of suits and ties; they've decided they're aged enough and successful enough that they can wear anything they want. (I should note that my father dresses much better and much more consciously than Mr. Weinstein.) In many cases, this new freedom means laziness, not just comfort and choice.

Hirschberg notes that this laziness in dress among the rich is limited to American men; women still have to think about what they wear, and successful European men still dress smart.

It seems that we're always comparing ourselves to those damn Europeans. "French women don't get fat," for example. We're sensitive to these influences (evidence: "freedom fries"). We should be. Did you know that one of our most celebrated American sit-coms, All in the Family was based on a British sit-com? And the new CBS show, Viva Laughlin is based on a British series, too.

Any community is going to be known as an amalgam of its antecendents until those sources are forgotten and the community can come out as its own spontaneous creation. But will America ever have its own style? Something that isn't known as a relaxed version of an English creation, like the loose-fitting sack suit Brooks Brothers sold?

Such a rant must sound horribly elitist. A well-educated cultural critic could make a good case for a subconscious longing for Empire and days of British rule, that big daddy that our little Oedipus America murdered centuries ago. And of a desire for structure and rules -- like a tantrum-prone child crying out for discipline or perhaps a "savage" Indian subcontinent eager to adopt its conquerer's buttoned-down sartorial sense. (Please excuse my sarcastic treatment of cultural criticism.)

Liberals will be reflexively suspicious of such calls to fashion. Uniforms and fancy clothes reek of power displays and the social hierarchies most leftists would like to either smooth over or pretend don't exist. Wouldn't we all get along better if we all dressed casual?

But whatever the influences or subconscious sources, I think and work better when I'm clean, well-groomed, and well-dressed. Hirschberg again: "Too much power has made men arrogant and surprisingly unaware. Their clothes reveal more than they realize — sloppiness is more than just an XXL polo shirt; it’s also a state of mind."

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