I suspect that I’m not the only man who hasn’t put on a collar shirt or a pair of dress slacks for months. The thought hit me Friday after I had showered and was getting out yet another pair of shorts and a clean T-shirt. Directly in front of me were a dozen or more pairs of pants and just to my right was an equal number of dress shirts. I ignored them all, just as I had since the pandemic forced us into lock-down.
It began in March when the weather was colder, and my daily costume became jeans and a sweat shirt. With the advent of spring, my choice became leisure pants and a light sweater. Warmer weather brought out the shorts and T-shirts, and it will remain so until the weather changes or the virus disappears. The lack of any required dress code is the only pleasant thing I’ve found about the pandemic.
Recent reports claim that people have proven to be more effective working at home than when working at an office. My personal theory is that men’s neckties restrict blood flow to the brain. I also suspect high heels have the same effect on women. At any rate, if the study is true, it is unsettling news for the clothing industry — and for those who own office buildings.
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For centuries, we consumers have been told that our social and financial advancement are dependent on how we adorn our bodies. Ads and adages repeated, “Clothes make the man!” and “Dress for success.” We’ve learned to accept that each fashion mandate is subject to unpredictable and seemingly whimsical revisions, forcing the consumer to modify his wardrobe at regular intervals. Unlike computer updates or the latest consumer product, these changes are not improvements; they’re just changes. Even if an employer does not demand that his employees stay current in their dress, co-workers and society itself will enforce an unwritten dress code. For example, In the first half of the 20th century, men seldom went out without their fedoras. Then in 1960, President Kennedy took his oath of office bareheaded and the fedoras disappeared.
Momentarily, one might envy the Amish, the Hasidic Jews or some other group whose dress is dictated by religious rules that do not change. Or the private schools who require students to wear uniforms, claiming the dress code frees students from the tyranny of fashion. However, when it comes to human drapery, every individual who attains a position of power or any organization that claims a membership feels that there must be rules for their disciples dress.
The Amish, for instance, care nothing for fashion, and they dress “plain and simple.” On the other hand, they feel that buttons are more decorative than utilitarian; consequently, most orders forbid them. The aforementioned Hasidic Jewish men are not allowed to wear pants. (Considering anatomical differences, it might make more sense for men to wear skirts and women slacks. Fashion and reason, however, have nothing in common.) Many religions require men to remove their headwear when they enter a place of worship, but the same set of rules requires women to wear a head covering.
An interesting effect of clothing fashion is that an individual can protest an entire culture by dressing unfashionably. Most Americans, even those who were not alive at the time, recognize “hippie” clothing from a half-century ago. So called “Goth” styles tell us something of the wearer’s attitude. “Dress down Friday” is a modest protest against the obligatory daily office costume.
A threatened culture typically discards superfluities and returns to basics. For me that means jeans and T-shirts.
Email Chuck Avery at [email protected]