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Sean Quigley '10: Appropriate for the occasion

It has been said that during the period in which King Edward VII of the United Kingdom reigned (1901-1910), humanity last knew a proper attention to sartorial choices. Yes, His Majesty's approach was perhaps a little too fastidious, but in a time when jeans are king, especially on college campuses, one cannot but admire a man who matched his clothes to every occasion so scrupulously.

Odious as the political forms of his day may be to some, though certainly not all, must we repudiate the taste and discipline of the Belle Epoque? Who could honestly say that he was unmoved, in one way or another, by Barbara Tuchman's magnificent rendering of the royal assemblage at the King's funeral in her magisterial "The Guns of August"? Since World War I, it may sadly be the case that we have not known beauty.

Surely I am not the first to notice the contemporary lack of attention to decent attire at the appropriate occasions. In an article for National Review more than 50 years ago, William Buckley, Jr., using language curiously resembling the Declaration of Independence, remarked, "Does not insistence on a minimal standard of dress reflect a decent respect for the opinions of mankind?"

Lamenting that arguments for democracy (as well as economy) were in large supply against the simple matter of wearing a coat and tie to college dinners, Buckley criticized what he saw as mere "affectation and laziness" masquerading as "personal independence."

A brief look at a photograph of MIT's 1956 graduating class, posted on Dec. 16 at Ivy-Style.com — a gloriously habit-forming blog for those who choose not to live in 2010 — reveals especially how far the mathematics and science types have fallen. Moreover, as the post notes, there was still plenty of room for creativity within the standard academic attire.

I ask the jeans-and-T-shirt philosophers to riddle that one for me. How could, in an age of supposed liberation and individualism, basically any Brown student be replaceable with the next Beat eating in the front cave of the Ratty?

In large part, two disgusting trends of the last several decades may serve as guiding reasons.

First, there is the onslaught of what, in a recent Newsweek piece, George Will termed "The Basement Boys" syndrome. Referring to the alarming number of young men who still live with their parents after (or in lieu of) college, Will spent considerable time condemning the perpetual youth culture endemic since the 1960s and even World War II.

Men just want to be boys, and fairly dull boys at that. Not wanting to brave the uncertainties and challenges of a world where greatness, if not beauty, is still possible, many young lads prefer the lackluster benefits of a basement. The dress code for such a profession? Why, jeans and a T-shirt, of course. "See, I don't care!"

With petty ambitions come petty drapings.

Yet, since we are at Brown, it is likely the case that most terrible clothing choices are the result of the second nefarious trend of late: pure neglect, or just plain lack of concern.
Whereas Victoria's offspring might have labored over the various clothes that he would wear over the course of the day — morning coat or dark suit at first, a blazer later for leisure activities and finally, either evening dress or a dinner jacket at night — Homo contemporaneus is bland all day.

In class, jeans; at a club meeting, jeans; at dinner, jeans. With the recent creation of a vulgar jeans-sweatpants item, he may also wear jeans to bed.

It is probable that most do not truly appreciate the novelty of this phenomenon. In the intelligent and historically minded AMC drama, "Mad Men," the discerning viewer will notice the frequent diversity in dress, as late as 1963. Don Draper wears a business suit during a workday, typically a sports jacket,  button-down or polo on a weekend and always matching pajamas at night.

And that attention to detail, that conception of life as demanding certain dress for certain occasions, is completely lost on the modern bore. All he knows is denim and vile sweatpants. What he misses are no less than his own humanity and the discipline of the civilization that, in its prosperity, permitted his neglect.

Here we are, we lovers of comfort and possessors of phony independence. We like to think that we are at the pinnacle of history, yet we are more accurately no better than the barbarian whose dress is a loincloth and whose culture is a pit of primitive preferences.
There we go, rain or shine, into sartorial perdition, all the while thinking that what our democracy produces could surpass even the refuse of an age not far removed. Well, if we ever do program a life more virtuous, I am sure that we shall look proletariat in doing so.

Without even knowing it, the Communists won.
 


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