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…