July 26, 2007
Imagining fallen neoclassical Victorians
I'm not quite sure how to respond to this, but because a section links this blog in general terms I thought it deserved a fairly serious link:
Has a civilization ever gone from business casual to morning coats? Not without being rebuilt from the ground up in ways too painful to contemplate. We're so far from that today that the concept of hearkening back to Victorian anything is pretty comical. We may as well speak of bringing back the Great Awakening or the good old days of Antiquity. It's not just because of the distance in time: Our culture of slovenliness, gracelessness and, well, just about everything, er, blogging is about is so antithetical to the starched-collar and class-conscious ethos of Victorianism that it is simply impossible to imagine our civilization looking or feeling so civilized -- or, of course, so stratified.Imagining civilization is, I admit, one of my pastimes. I like to think that I'm trying to defend it to the best I can, and if defending it includes bringing as much of the good stuff back as possible, that's fine. The "Classical Values" theme is part satire, part reality, and if it's wistful reality, well, I've tried to express it along the lines of "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Except the curious part of the above link to this blog is that I found it in the context of a discussion with which I very much agree, and which Glenn Reynolds had linked. To back up, some cretinous slob walked onto the Senate floor wearing bedroom slippers and a Hawaiian shirt, and Ron Coleman was offended:
How far we have fallen (hat tip for that link to this fascinating blog; check out this, too). It is the Victorian in me, I know, but I am comfortable with that.I couldn't agree more. I was offended to read about young people wearing thong sandals to work (and even to the White House), by casual attire worn by bloggers to a luncheon with a former president, by what I see as a deliberately orchestrated campaign against school dress codes, and more. (Why, I even confronted the issue of ill-dressed bloggers, and once jokingly suggested a blogger dress code.)
Don't read me wrong. I don't believe in telling other people what to do; only trying to remind them that personal appearance is an important aspect of Western civilization. Personally, there is no question that I'm often much more of a slob than a "dandy" around the house, although out of respect for others I try (and yes, sometimes fail) not to go out looking like a slob. I consider traditional business attire to be the modern Western equivalent of, say, the Roman toga -- something not lightly to be discarded. I say this even though I know I am a child of the 1960s, when what had long been considered civilized attire was thrown out like many other things that shouldn't have been thrown out. I'm not talking about styles changing with the times, either. Looking like a slob really does display contempt for other people. It's one thing for people who don't know any better, but those who do know better ought to realize that dumbing down appearances by looking like slobs only helps dumb down everything, and ultimately works against civilization.
Whether this makes me a Victorian, I don't know. Considering their neoclassicism, maybe. However, I'm not about to put on a toga and Roman sandals, or start wearing a Victorian frock coat and high-button shoes. Such details are styles, fashions and facets of the constantly changing face of civilization.
There is a difference between changing styles of civilized attire, though, and degrading attire itself to the point where it is barely attire, and no longer civilized. I'm not a fashionist, a dandy, or a fashionista, and I can't spell out the standard, but it's a "know it when you see it" sort of thing. Something about seeing an intelligent and well-educated looking man wearing a t-shirt exposing his armpits and flipflops exposing his smelly feet on an airplane is more than unpleasant. It is uncivilized, and there's a lot of it going around. I can't tell people what to do, but some of them clearly know better.
I'd hate to see it all lead to no one knowing any better.
UPDATE (07/27/07): A piece in today's Wall Street Journal focuses on the phenomenon of guests in fine hotels wandering about in bathroom attire: "After years of pushing spa mania, hotels are trying to prevent terry-cloth clad guests from wandering into lobbies, bars and weddings. Hannah Karp on the effort to get robes back into the backrooms".
Hotels that aren't vigilant risk alienating businesspeople and outside guests who come for power breakfasts or ladies' lunches, or anyone else who would prefer not to see glimpses of hairy bellies and cellulite. Gerry Hempel Davis was having afternoon tea with her grandson earlier this year at the Homestead, a luxury resort in Hot Springs, Va., when she spotted an "oversized male" traipsing through in flip-flops and a robe, revealing "two inches too many" of his bare legs. "Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but to me that is totally unacceptable -- it's atrocious," she says.I don't know whether her concerns are "old-fashioned" but new is not necessarily better. New can be gross, and I think people have just as much right to complain as they would if the hotel allowed homeless men to sleep in the lobby.
"It's extremely tacky," says Ms. Spencer, 46, of Pennington N.J. "I don't know you; I don't want to see you in your bathrobe."I wonder.
What kind of person would want strangers to see him in a bathrobe?
What bothers me about this is that it really comes down to common sense. There shouldn't be any need for hotels to have or enforce rules. But some people are truly clueless -- as if it never occurred to them that they are tacky. As clueless as some of the lamebrains who hold regular conversations during movies in theaters, or cruise down the highway in the left passing lane going 55 MPH. I've seen them, and I swear, some of them do not even realize they are rude. To me, that's the scariest aspect of this.
And, because one wants to tell people they're being rude, and employees are afraid to be confrontive (as well as fearful of lawsuits by the "aggrieved"), it is conceivable that hotels and theaters might eventually call for totally insane laws. I doubt this would take the form of the state making it a crime to wear a bathrobe in a bar or talk in the theater, but it would not surprise me to see a clamor for immunity for lawsuits filed by the socially clueless.
It's tragically preventable.
UPDATE: My thanks to Ron Coleman for the link and the compliment!
UPDATE: Ann Althouse writes about a young associate so clueless that he or she sent a text message to a senior associate asking him or her "Are bras required as part of the dress code?" I didn't mean to be facetious about the sex, but the article does not provide a clue. (I suppose if a male associate asked that question it might have been thought of as sexist, though.)
There's such a complete lack of common sense that I suppose it would be sexist to require women to wear bras and not men. How about pants? Can they be required for men, forbidden for women? And can skirts be required for women, forbidden for men? Or can one sex be allowed to wear what the other is not? There are serious people running around who think such rules involve matters of "fairness" -- with distinct legal implications!
Seriously, I often worry that the absence of common sense is becoming the dominant paradigm.
posted by Eric on 07.26.07 at 05:47 PM
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