SSS Archive – 18 December 2009

NOTE: SSS Archive posts are reposts from a defunct blog usually with minimal edits. Thoughts contained are not necessarily anything I believe any longer, and even in the posts I’m still on board with (and consequently posting here), there’s sometimes some cringe. Be advised, and take it all with a grain of salt and some generous patience.

I was hipped to this great article from the NYT concerning men my age (20’s and 30’s) dressing much nicer than they used to, and more to the point, dressing much nicer than their fathers did.  They cite this as being a sort of rejection of the casual Friday lifestyle, a way of rebelling against their fathers.  As a tie-wearing guy who takes a great deal of pride in stepping out well-groomed, well-dressed, and always in damn shiny shoes, this article made me prick up my ears and pass it along. 

Why go to all the trouble of shaving every day, moisturizing every night, keeping my shirts neat and wrinkle-free, and owning more ties than socks?  The number one reason is that girls like it.  I look good in a suit – everyone does – a well tailored suit is customized to your build and accentuates your best features. It tells the world that when you got out of bed, you decided to to go through a little extra effort just so you wouldn’t disgust all around you by showing up in a ripped T-shirt and sweatpants, both stained with liberal smears of nacho cheese. 

When you go out looking good, you are telling the world that you have arrived, or at least are ready to get underway.  A suit lends you confidence because a suit is the uniform of authority.  Many men’s sartorial traditions have their roots in military dress, and not the modern work-a-day, remote-control robot-murder army:  the cavalry army, the officer’s army, the gentleman’s army.  These traditions carried over to the professional world, and so suit = boss, suit = power, suit = in control.

The article from the NYT is spot on in pointing out that it was this mode of dress that our fathers, the boomers, rejected.  They force-fed themselves this sort of anti-establishment faux egalitarianism, convinced themselves that style was effeminate, and started shlubbing to work in khakis and dockers.  I don’t know what the big deal was – wanting to look more workmanlike?  Wanting to look like you weren’t part of “the system?”  I don’t know – knowing would mean that I want to hear a whole load of excuses that grown men have made for dressing like children.

Men of my generation were taught that that was how you were supposed to dress, and in that way we were initiated into the Cult of Blah. But as the guarantees and givens of society started slipping away from us (house, car, job, education), we started to see that membership had lost its privileges, and so our own mod revolution has begun.

Those of us who embrace style, fledgling as many of us are (myself included – financial circumstance dictates that I only go well dressed 4 days a week), do not want to dress like our fathers because we want to be more.  Indeed, those like myself from working class families don’t want to dress like our grandfathers either.

No, we are dressing like our grandfather’s bosses.  Certain whiskey ads would have you believe our fathers were swinging hip cats – they were not. These are the people who brought you Woodstock, Wal-Mart, and the SUV.  They were the people who roundly rejected the trappings of Western aristocracy and sought to knock it down.

Well now they have it – they’ve made a good, if quixotic, run and wound up in the suburbs, upside-down on their homes with a titanic collection of disposable plastic crap.

So those of us who want nothing to do with that sort of lifestyle have picked up the uniform of the old elite, the aristocracy, the upper class, and this makes for a complex fashion statement.

As we take up these clothes, so too do we say that we are embracing a way of life, one which honors authority and discipline (our fathers, who so roundly rejected authority, are hard pressed to in turn earn what they themselves would not give over) – we are in fact ready to take our turn holding the reins of empire.  We are ready to push the whole cultural anomaly of the last 60 years out of the way.

But even as we say that we are ready to pick up the old mantel of command, we are well served to remember that the gentrified social order fell out of fashion in large part due to its own fatal flaws – racist, misogynistic, and exclusive, “the system” worked so well for so few that its cruelty and avarice became inexcusable and many would-be gentlemen refused to play along.

So to my fellow aspirants in the order of silk-and-wool, let’s not be silly about our suits.  In re-embracing these fashions, so too do we lend lip service to the lifestyle that spawned them:  martinis and cigars, big business, leisure and gentle pursuits, yes, but also oppression, cruelty, and unwavering devotion to old flags and false morals.  Let us move forward into a more just and equitable gentle persons club.  Let us be more tolerant, more enlightened, and more generous than our great and genteel forebears while still looking just as good.

Looking Back – 15 June 2021

So this is about 50% complete horse crap and 50% the dawn of something better going forward.

In that last paragraph (and in one preceding it) I acknowledge that things “gentlemanly” are in large part oppressive (that’s the word I was looking for), but I still at that point believed there was something salvageable and / or that there was something good to reclaim through this sort of performative dress. I was still enthralled by Russel Smith & Alan Flusser, and considered fashion accordingly.

AND FOR THAT MATTER it’s not like I threw out my suits and sport coats (well, some I outgrew *pats belly*), but I did stop wearing a suit or jacket everywhere, and I came down on the right side of history there.

Because you know who believes this sort of horse crap? Proud boys, chauvinists, the toxically masculine…you get the picture. Joe Rogan bros pining for daddy figures.

Fashion from the golden age of Imperialism reclaimed, for reasons I describe in this old post, is not separable from its problematic past. I actually spent about 5 years combing through that in grad school and wrote on it extensively.

I called the activity “suiting” – going beyond simply wearing a suit, but committing to a sort of suit lifestyle; embracing oppressive anachronisms eve if only by refusing to address them. Someone who is suiting is not just trying to look good – they are enacting patriarchy without regard to their audience.

To put this two different ways: Someone going about suiting is similar to the sort who says “I’m not racist – I hate everyone” or “I’m an equal opportunity offender” or some such. This is a person, usually white, who believes that they can use irony to reduce racism and sexism (which they do not experience) into something long-gone and paved over. If the suit wearer learns a modicum of humility, they then have to understand that when they show up enacting power discourse via the suit, then the act becomes odious.

The second way to put it is to think about nazi scientists being shipped over to America after World War II. Sure, they’re just supposed to work on rockets, right? But ideology isn’t cancer, it’s a virus – and it just takes one infection to start spreading. A few German scientists influence a few lab interns who go on to infect their families, and next thing you know: (*gestures to America 2021*).

So yes, fine, wear a suit, look good. But also let’s not pretend that suiting makes us better people or somehow restores civility or improves the world. It’s wasteful, it’s expensive, it’s classist, and it’s overall the bad old days no matter how good they look.

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