George Will recently penned a piece opining on the the proliferation of denim wearers and, most importantly, the philosophy behind this several-decades-long phenomenon. You can read it below, along with my comments, of course.
By George F. Will
Thursday, April 16, 2009
On any American street, or in any airport or mall, you see the same sad tableau: A 10-year-old boy is walking with his father, whose development was evidently arrested when he was that age, judging by his clothes. Father and son are dressed identically -- running shoes, T-shirts. And jeans, always jeans. If mother is there, she, too, is draped in denim. [James Howard Kunstler called it the infantilization of the American adult male, although it goes for American adult females too.]
Writer Daniel Akst has noticed and has had a constructive conniption. He should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has earned it by identifying an obnoxious misuse of freedom. [Sorry, George, but that's going a bit too far. Freedom means putting up with slobs who have no idea that's what they are, but I kind of get your drift.] Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he has denounced denim, summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche.
It is, he says, a manifestation of "the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby." Denim reflects "our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings -- the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure." Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not -- authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil. Denim on the bourgeoisie is, Akst says, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a Hummer to a Whole Foods store -- discordant. [True.]
Long ago, when James Dean and Marlon Brando wore it, denim was, Akst says, "a symbol of youthful defiance." [Now, since practically everyone wears denim, kids have to show youthful defiance by wearing their baseball hats cockeyed, or having tats or piercings.] Today, Silicon Valley billionaires are rebels without causes beyond poses, wearing jeans when introducing new products. [Yeah, I've noticed this over the years. They try so much to be some kind of iconoclast, but they end up looking like they're trying too hard and merely appear foolish.] Akst's summa contra denim is grand as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface of this blight on Americans' surfaces. Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). [Yes! YEEEESSSSS!!! Oh, and let's not forget the worship of sports teams and all of the piggish behavior that seems to entail.] Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. [If appearance DIDN'T matter, then why is the media and pop culture filled with images of so-called beautiful people? Of course appearance matters, which is why every mother's son and daughter ought to do their best to look neat, clean, and well-dressed at least a couple of days a week.] That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste. [In other words, it leads to the "Who are you to judge?" mentality which, when embraced, leads to more and more boorish behavior, dress, and attitude. It leads to mindless lemming-like conformity and a suppression of thought, and that's NEVER a good thing.]
Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves. [This is so true. If you dress casually, what does that say about your attitude and thoughts about your audience? Not much in my book.]
Do not blame Levi Strauss for the misuse of Levi's. [I don't.] When the Gold Rush began, Strauss moved to San Francisco planning to sell strong fabric for the 49ers' tents and wagon covers. Eventually, however, he made tough pants, reinforced by copper rivets, for the tough men who knelt on the muddy, stony banks of Northern California creeks, panning for gold. Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed for driving steers up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead in Abilene. [Bwaahaha!]
This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly. [Hmmm, I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess that's as good a milepost as any to start from.]
Edmund Burke -- what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted "the decent drapery of life"; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim -- said: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely." Ours would be much more so if supposed grown-ups would heed St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and St. Barack's inaugural sermon to the Americans, by putting away childish things, starting with [but not limited to] denim.
(A confession: The author owns one pair of jeans. Wore them once. Had to. Such was the dress code for former senator Jack Danforth's 70th birthday party, where Jerry Jeff Walker sang his classic "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." Music for a jeans-wearing crowd.)
Bravo!, George Will, for bringing up this topic. Too bad it will fall on deaf ears, or those that do hear your message will miss its point entirely and dismiss you as a snob. Oh well, pearls before swine and all that.
By the way, one of my favorite things to do is to put on a pair of casual chinos, dress shoes, a dress shirt (no tie), and a sports coat and shop for a few things at Wal-mart. The looks I get from the slovenly dressed there, which comprise about 95% of shoppers, are priceless. It's all great, good fun, and my little slap at the ignorant, boorish behavior and dress that has become the norm in America.
P.S. I own more than one pair of jeans, but I don't wear them every single day. I also have other forms of dress and I believe I'll be wearing those forms more and more in the future so as to differentiate myself from the rabble.
P.P.S. No doubt some of you will say, "I don't care what others think of me." Yes, you do. Would you rather drive a shiny, new, paid-off car, or an old beater? Be honest. Have you ever checked your nostrils in a mirror to see if there is anything there that shouldn't be? Sure you have, because you care about what someone might think of you should you have dried snot ringing your nose. Don't give me that tact; try it on someone else. If you truly don't care, then forget this post and go in peace like the slob you've likely always been.