Scunginess Triumphant, Retailers Mourn

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The
Apparel Industry Hits a Snag

Fashion’s prominence in American popular culture obscures a surprising
reality: Americans are buying fewer clothes and the apparel industry
is grappling with a stagnant market.”

The
short paragraph was a teaser linking to a fuller story available
to WSJ Online subscribers, one of which I am not. I realized at
once that I had no business, anyway, wasting time on such a lightweight
bit of news, but I found myself pondering its implications. You
could even say I meditated on it.

I
recalled a great
piece Jeffrey Tucker
had up on this site in which he set out
some dress guidelines for men. They seemed to me sound ideas and
very close to the notions I have maintained since a stern older
brother laid down the law to me back in the 1950s as to what would
“do” in New York City business environs, and what was
NOT DONE.

But
more and more I see I am moving ineluctably into the category of
dinosaur, a kind of beast famous in world history for having been
swept entirely away in all his variety by something or other —
a change of fashions no doubt.

As
to fashion, what are we to make of that first sentence in the WSJ
squib: “Fashion’s prominence in American popular culture obscures
a surprising reality”? Prominence? In popular culture? Are
they kidding? Have they not noticed the low-slung jeans, the bare
midriffs, the sweat suits, the baggy tent dresses so popular with
the ladies, especially those who should take off 50 or 100 or perhaps
200 pounds?

Has
the Journal no pipeline to male America — at least youthful
male America — where the tendency seems to be to press ever
harder toward the scungy end of the rag spectrum. There again are
the low-slung jeans with ragged bottoms scraping the ground, and
a resolute determination not to wear anything that is not either
dirty or raw ugly.

A
lot of older men like myself try to at least look washed and scrubbed
— that all by itself is rather to let the male side down it
seems — but many then insist, in these parts anyway, in wearing
a kind of natty one-piece jump suit which shouts out loud, “I’m
retired I am, and not doing a damn thing useful, and entirely defiant
about it.”

I
tried the jump suit trip when I first moved to Texas 15 years ago
but gave it up. I wasn’t retired and wasn’t planning
to retire. (I agree with the fellow who said retirement was a concept
invented in the 19th century, when it was felt you had to move the
oldsters up and out to make room for younger people in a world with
only so many jobs. An idiotic idea really. There is always plenty
of work unless you insist on being paid like one of those CEOs much
in the news.)

Now
let us turn to the second sentence in the Journal’s brisk
little announcement: “Americans are buying fewer clothes and
the apparel industry is grappling with a stagnant market.”

Is
it quite beyond these rag merchants to enlist some help from the
newspapers and TV programs they spend their advertising money on,
and from Hollywood, which is clearly running on an empty-tank ideawise,
and get them to tickle up the young folk (who are the chief targets
of both Hollywood and the major media) with the idea it is time
for a change, time to smarten up, time, for heaven’s own sake
to pull up the trousers, gird, so to speak, the loins, and head
out to do serious battle on the front lines of the culture wars
on the side of clean, trim, barbered, and — let me not shrink
from the horrid words that nail the thing precisely — of decently
respectable, bourgeois gentilhommes and gentle ladies, the French
for which escapes me just now?

You
know it’s coming back sometime, the standard of “neatly
dressed and clean with no holes or patches,” so why not get
it going now before we all expire of the hideousness of the day
to day human scene? A walk through our local mall seems a trip through
Bedlam on an especially messy day; the inmates all vying for prizes
in disorderly dress and abandoned personal grooming.

Can
it possibly be that we are to go on in this shambles of the universally
undressed and the permanently out of countenance until doomsday
or the fall of the American dollar, whichever comes first?

Say
it is not so.

March
22 , 2005

Tom
White [send him mail]
writes from Odessa, Texas. He is the author of Bill
W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous

(2003).

Tom
White Archives

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