Scunginess Triumphant, Retailers Mourn

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