The Worst Things Since Sliced Bread II

Mr. Navrozov suggested we make this an ongoing feature, and I am happy to keep it going for so long as people are interested.  In the first installment, we talked a great deal--as the title would suggest--about food and food technology.  There is an unlimited number of topics, ranging from gardening to travel to the virtualization of reality.  This week I propose clothing.

Back in the 1950s my father rarely left the house, unless it was a hunting or fishing trip, without at least a jacket and tie.  He had a beautiful heavy tweed suit made for him by a tailor named Buck Shea, whose motto, sewn into clothing, was "Buck Shea Suits Me, Chippewa Falls, Wis."  He had a tweed cap and very heavy overcoat to match.  In high school, I did not think much about clothing and wore most most young men wore: khaki trousers, blue, white or madras button down shirt, Bass Weejun loafers.  I only had one suit and a few ties.  At seventeen, going to college, I realized I was out of step and immediately purchased a beautiful blazer and then a tweed jacket, better shirts--Gant, Wren, Enro--and ties.  The convention for all but teh creeps we referred to as "fleas"--because the infested the sofas of our lounge--dressed according to a code.  Most school days we wore either a jacket and button down shirt with no tie or a tie with a v-neck sweater.  Karl Kasual, as they used to say, but going out on a date meant jacket AND tie.  Girls noticed, girls cared, and, by the way, Southern  girls of the early 1960s were well-groomed and, frankly, adorable.

We all know what happened, and I can document the deteriorization by listing the some of the changes in order:  permanent press shirts, at $1-2 more,  that never looked crisp, reintroduced all-cotton shirts at $1 increase over permanent press, ridiculously wide ties and stove pipe legs on trousers, double-knit polyester, leisure suits, and then the universal uniform of the proletariat:  jeans, sweatshirt of tee-shirt, the running shoes my first Greek professor referred to contemptuously as tennie-pumps.

The other day a friend of ours who dresses better than 95% of Rockfordian males, after complaining about the way men dressed for Mass, asked if there wasn't something in between jacket and tie--which counts, by the way, as informal sports clothes--and the prole uniform.  I first responded by mentioning business casual, which is how he generally dresses for a lunch out, before going on to wonder aloud how much extra work is it to put on a tie.  Five minutes maybe.  Although the males I meet and complain about the way I dress say it is too much trouble to dress decently, the truth is it is not the time or effort, it is that they are afraid to be out of step with the regime.

The poet and essayist Fred Turner, who grew up as the son of a famous communist anthropologist, used to ridicule the avant-garde and tell them, "Do you want to do something really daring and outrageous?  Write metered verse, maybe even with rhyme!    So I now ask self-described conservatives:  Want to strike a blow against the regime?  Put on a jacket and tie!

Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

27 Responses

  1. Gregory Fogg says:

    A properly fitting suit is just as comfortable as any other clothing ensemble. My father rarely wore a suit but was particular about his dress. Most of his life he was an over the road truck driver, but he dressed well. He only wore jeans or overalls if he was doing manual labor. While driving he wore slacks, starched shirts(often pearl-snap buttoned-he was, after all, an old rodeo cowboy) and highly polished cowboy boots. I wish I had his sea turtle Justins. He always said you could tell a lot about a man by looking at his footwear.

  2. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    I went to Catholic schools through high school and then the Naval Academy and active duty. Uniform of one kind or another. Coat and tie was the appropriate dress for the rest of my work life until I retired in 2012. Now I generally wear khaki trousers and a polo shirt.

  3. William Wilson says:

    Tom, In your previous Sliced Bread essay I wanted to mention Quick Grits, but missed the opportunity.
    Now for clothes: Canary Yellow Short Shorts Math professors wear to class.

  4. William Shofner says:

    I am not sure what is/was worse: tie-dye shirts, bell bottom pants and men’s high heeled shoes worn during the ’60’s-’70’s or tattered jeans and bodies covered with tattoos worn today by both men and women.

  5. Raymond Olson says:

    Mr. Shofner–Neither am I at all sure–and as a young man (rather despondent, however) I wore bell bottoms and high heeled boots (western/cowboy, that is). I gave them up as too pretentious (never been so much as astride a horse) and too unflattering. I don’t recall wearing tie-dyes, but I’m inclined, probably mistakenly, to think they’re not as ugly as tattoos.

    On the other hand, it has been a long time since I wore suits and ties. I didn’t need them for work, except during conventions. After I was retired, I began to notice that the shirts I wore with ties would no longer button at the throat (I contend that much of my face precipitated into jowls, with no help from me). Also, my running temperature, so to speak, increased, making confining clothing increasingly uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the suits lost their fit. I hang on to a handful of sport jackets that I seldom don, and a few ties for no good reason.

  6. Vince Cornell says:

    I hate that baseball hats replaced straw hats and fedoras and such.

    I admit, I’m not enough of a rebel to dress in tie and coat all the time. Fortunately, I don’t go out much. I will say that neither myself nor my boys ever wear shorts, and my girls are always in skirts or dresses. A lot of what I see now-a-days are girls in short shorts with long shirts, so they look practically nekkid, or in blue jean pants with so many rips it looks they survived a fight with a grisly bear.

  7. Frank DeRienzo says:

    What is with the torn up distressed look? Young women pay premium prices to get jeans that are ripped up. I do not get it. I recall recently someone complaining that his father-in-law called him out as a poor provider because his wife wore ripped up jeans. The detached father had no idea that his son-in-law was paying a premium for them and that his daughters problem with aesthetics most certainly began with her upbringing.

  8. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    As an historical side-note, Ray Olson, who now disdains proper attire, was once a trend-setter in men’s fashions, and even today, his growing followers in Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland are famous for adopting Ray’s “homeless look.”

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Wes, you can throw away the high-heeled boots a lot easier than you can erase the tattoos, which are a serious commitment to svagery.

  10. Allen Wilson says:

    I can’t believe how many people who would never have considered getting a tattoo twenty years ago now have arms covered with them. It’s main stream now. What in the world is going on?

    How about wearing a dress shirt with jeans? I was guilty of that when I was young but then thought better of it.

  11. Raymond Olson says:

    But I forgot to get residuals for my look.

  12. Raymond Olson says:

    But I forgot to get residuals for my look.

  13. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    It’s not to late for us to market a line of RO duds. Too bad the Cabbage Patch Kids are one, because they could have modeled for the new line.

    As for dress shirt and jeans, preferably with tweed jacket, that was a preppy look in the late 60s and into the 70s. Silly as it was, it was like other fashion trends but not a repudiation of civility.

  14. Harry Colin says:

    I’m as astonished as Mr. Wilson about the tattoos. Since I visit my mother daily in the nursing home I’m in contact with a large number of nurses, nurses’ aides and support personnel, overwhelmingly female, and there is no question that the untatooed are a minority – by a significant margin. It astounds me that so many young and attractive ladies plaster themselves in ink.

  15. Dom says:

    The tattoo craze is daunting. I try to tell my kids that tattoos are for heathens and camp internees, although in fact I know nothing about the practice. The idea of permanently marking one’s self up is difficult to understand (*especially* an attractive lady!) except maybe as a religious or tribal obligation.

  16. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I have the same baffled and disgusted response to tattoos, even the charming tramp stamps exposed by sometimes attractive young women with too little clothing. I will take the time, however, to recall not quite three years ago. when I was coming out of anaesthesia in the cardiac recovery wing. I had been unconscious for a few hours–the last thing I could recall was my chatting up a nurse and showing a brave face. Coming slowly out of the fog of death, I realized there was an attractive and athletic young woman, with both arms tattooed in a sleeve ( I believe they call it) on top of me with her knees planted on either side, pounding violently on my chest and screaming, “Breathe, damn you, breathe.” A few hours later, when the medicos were through with me, I stared into space thinking only, so this is it? Two days later, a nurse came into my room to check on my various vital signs. “Do you remember me?” she asked. I stared at the “sleeves” and said, “Breathe, damn you breathe.” She laughed lightly, and, she explained that hospital varieties of pneumonia were particularly resistant to antibiotics and very painful. It was therefore vitally important to force me to breathe to the best of my ability. And, while I have not changed my view of tattoos on whit, I am even more puzzled. At any rate, I feel I am indebted to the a tattooed lady.

  17. Vince Cornell says:

    If the nurse’s name was Lydia, I can tell you where she had a tattoo of der fuhrer!

    Tattoos are one thing, but can anyone explain the nose rings? I feel there’s a proliferation of those in young and not even obese young women. Was there some grave miscommunication that someone (anyone?) finds this attractive?

  18. Dom says:

    I once caught grief from an extremely attractive tattooed woman when she learned what advice I was giving our children.

    Nose rings are a real head scratcher. Perhaps they signify the woman wants to be led around like a bull? They are more grating on the eye than most tattoos, but at least they can be easily removed.

  19. Jacob Johnson says:

    I used to be very confused about the choices large amounts of children made about many things; over the course of one summer seeing fellow children (we were apparently supposed to be “students”) leave playing pokey-men and return attempting to speak with “AAVE” and wearing size 52 pants belted at the knees. Not all but certainly too many. I remember thinking at the time that if I abruptly started going about with a parrot on my shoulder and a tricorn hat saying “avast ye lubbers” with a Bristol accent on a regular basis that I would be regarded as insane, but nobody seemed to bat an eyelash at the at the emerging manners of large amounts of children, even if they thought it was a little bit dumb. Why? You couldn’t have paid me to do that yet so many adopted these habits out of fear of standing out of line, not with men in leather jackets and truncheons, but a bunch of other snivelly little twelve-year-olds. In high school-before I embraced the joys of sartorial sociopathy- I dressed, every day, with no variation, in Wrangler blue jeans and a grey Haynes t-shit. For this it was once said that that I “dressed a forty-five-year-old” but presumably a forty-five-year-old has a job so it’s no wonder that this was offensive to “millennials.” One shade of blue, rather than a sort of transitive spectrum of shades of blue meeting at the middle with a bleached streak to made you look like a ponce- apparently a very important distinction.

  20. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Here is a simple question. I wear inexpensive cotton khakis at home most of the time, but they are so flimsy they wear out quickly. I wondered to myself yesterday if you could get denim khaki trousers and discovered you can. Would this be a betrayal?

  21. Vince Cornell says:

    If the denim khaki pants have either cargo pockets or a hammer loop, then it is a full betrayal. There is still open debate if a subtle cell phone pocket above the knee is allowable. My experience has been that what they make up for in durability they lose in breathability. In the frost covered northern lands, it would probably be okay, but here in Alabama where I’m currently visiting during the doggest of dog days of August, I think my legs would spontaneously combust if I wore any denim. I’m having to take 2 showers a day as it is!

  22. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks for the information. I have not worn denim since I worked in a carwash on El Camino Real between San Jose and Santa Clara about 1965.

  23. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Dr. Fleming, try Dickies.

  24. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Or lighter weight Dockers.

  25. Cody Nicholson says:

    Not long ago I was invited to a small gathering of “adults.” The person who invited me requested that I dress down a bit by wearing jeans, so that other guests would be comfortable. Apparently my usual attire of khakis with a collared shirt can be perceived as somewhat snobbish in today’s society.

  26. Allen Wilson says:

    One solution I have found is the opposite of denim khaki trousers. It’s the so-called 5-pocket twill jeans. They are made from fabric similar to that of khakis but it’s heavier, yet still a lot lighter than denim, and they don’t have rivets. If you wear a polo over them like I have to do in order to try to conceal a too-ample gut, and thereby conceal the five-pockets underneath the shirt tail, they could be mistaken for khakis. I long for the days when I could stuff the shirt tail inside the pants instead of looking so sloppy!

    One of the bad things I could mention is the substitution of cargo pants for khakis in business casual dress. I have cheap cargo pants for wear around the house, but not for casual dress. I’ve found it harder to find khakis that actually fit. Cargo pants are cut bigger around the waste and that works better for Fatboy.

  27. Dom says:

    Much as I hate what’s happened to my front end, I can’t help but think how handy it would have been when the children were younger and needing to be carried; something like a forward-facing hip.