George Will can harrumph better than anybody, so I enjoyed his latest piece harrumphing about “egalitarian shabbiness.” He was in such a state of elevated dudgeon that he pronounced the preppy look he once condemned as preferable. The column ended like this:
Jonathan Clarke, writing in the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, of which he is a contributing editor, said the “democratization of dress” in recent decades has produced “the rapid casualization of American life.” But this has calcified into an unattractive norm. Is there a more obvious contemporary ostentation than tech billionaires conducting business wearing T-shirts to advertise that they are too rich to have sartorial concerns?
Clarke, who confesses a “slightly antique sense of propriety,” writes “few things are more heartening than to see a man or woman of advanced age very well dressed.” Such muted rebellion against what Clarke calls the “dubious new catechism of perpetual leisure” is not, as some might censoriously insist, the sin of asserting “privilege” in violation of the ethic of “inclusiveness.” Rather, it is a way to quietly assert that attention to one’s presentation is a form of respect for those to whom one is presented. And it is a way to acknowledge this: Because not all occasions are created equal, not all ways of dressing are equally appropriate.
In this column’s first 50 years, the strongest reaction it elicited was a tornado of fury in 2009 when the column disparaged American adults’ infantile manner of dress: everyone everywhere wearing denim — a democratic conformity to egalitarian shabbiness. J. Crew, J. Press, J. Almost Anything would be an improvement.
I had lunch once with Will — his wife is from these parts — a long while back. It was a perfectly normal lunch, at the Cap City Club, and we dressed in the perfectly normal way that was habitual to us at the time.
So I’m glad he isn’t privy to the Zoom meetings in which I participate these days. I look a bit… different. Since COVID, and particularly since my stroke, I don’t go to an office. So I see little reason to dress as though I were going to an office. Oh, if I’m going to meet with a client for the first time, I might shave and put on a button-down shirt, but that’s about it.
But I seldom do that. All I can say in defense of the way I dress the rest of the time is that the president of Ukraine dresses the same way, and we all respect him, don’t we? I’m sometimes particularly struck by that when I see myself on a Zoom screen, as in the screenshot below from a February meeting. He has his reasons to dress the way he does, and I have mine — although I’ll admit that mine are less compelling.
How about this? I’ll start shaving and putting on a coat and tie every day again when the war’s over. Maybe…
For doctor visits I always wear a buttoned shirt and nice pants, NEVER jeans. …and I’m always sitting next to a guy in a tee shirt, jeans and sneakers. OK, I’m a fuddy duddy. A nerd even. But that’s the way it is. That’s the way it always will be.
I sort of do that, but maybe not as far as you do.
I shower and shave, and frequently put on a dress shirt over my tee shirt, but mainly because you don’t know when it’s going to be chilly in an office. And I put on one of my cleaner, less-tattered pairs of cargo pants.
I put on the shirt for client Zoom meets as well. On the rare occasions when I have to meet personally for business, particularly with a client I haven’t met before, I might don my old communications director uniform — blue blazer, button-down shirt without a tie, and khakis that are NOT cargo pants.
Campaign guys and press secretaries wore that back when I was a reporter in the ’70s, so I assumed that’s what I was supposed to wear…
Of course, the day Joe Biden came to campaign with us in Charleston, I added a tie to the outfit. Special occasion. As you can see in this campaign group shot.
Even our campaign manager Scott Hogan — that’s him next to me in the picture — did the same. Which for him meant a trip to a shop on King Street to buy himself a suit. Scott usually dressed as though he was in the middle of mowing his lawn…
As long as I’m reminiscing, I see that Hogan was still wearing that suit four days later, when we were in Florence for the first debate.
Those were the four main campaign people, aside from me. All are in variants of The Uniform — although Kendall Corley, who would later put Joe Biden in the White House by winning South Carolina for him, has his jacket off at the moment…
I thought I won SC for Joe by volunteering for a phone bank for 5 days. What an experience.
You did, and your country thanks you!