Sunday, March 24, 2013

On Dressing Down

It is no revelation to observe that a man reveals himself in what excites him, yet one instance of this banal principle reveals. Why oh why do people get so excited when they're allowed to "dress down?" Now I'm not talking about the habitually disheveled or congenitally unkempt, but those who would seem to pride themselves on a tidy and appropriate appearance. Nor do I refer to some mild excitement: these people are ecstatic as if some Sisyphean vestmental duty has been lifted from their shoulders. What gives?

Is dressing well such a burden? Are a collared shirt, tie, and pressed pants really so hard to put on? Perhaps it is the upkeep, although as far as I know the washing machines do all the work these days, and dry cleaning is affordable. Perhaps business and light formal attire is thought expensive. Of course it can be, but so is the fashionable grunge-wear hocked by Ambercrombie et al. And what of the dress shoe's recent demotion? Sneakers are for sporting, boat shoes for boating, sandals for the beach, and boots for messy business. The humble dress shoe is king.

Aside from practical concerns, though, is dressing well such a penance? Can this finery, and finery it is although many today can afford it, truly displease us? It's not as if we're talking about 18th century galanterie formalwear stiff enough set you upright all by itself. Today's materials are soft, flexible, and resilient. And is dressing up not fun? A crisp collar, the delicate dress socks and laces, the supple leather of the shoes and that moment when the trousers fall on them at just the right place. And I should be grateful for the right to slide on a pair of shorts or aptly dubbed dungarees?

It's not as if in ditching proper attire we're removing layers of Baroque frippery to unveil some buried Vitruvian perfection, rather we replace the dignified and complementary with the shabby. Doing such doesn't mean we've embraced austerity or simplicity or comfort, but rather that we've lost the ability to take pleasure in the exquisite.

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