Saturday, December 16, 2006

Showing a little respect...

File this under whine of the week.

While perusing CNN for news tonight I stumbled on the above photo of the prime minister and defense minister of Japan taken just this last October at some sort of Navy review and I was jarred. They are clearly wearing formal morning coats and holding TOP HATS! I remember in 1996 when then president Bill Clinton was taking the oath of office at his second inaugural ceremony and seeing someone sitting several rows back from him wearing jeans. Setting aside for the moment my visceral distaste for all things Clinton I thought that was the height of bad form. I don't care who you are or what you think of the sitting president. You DO NOT show up at a state ceremony dressed like you were on your way to the ballgame and stopped off as an afterthought.

Speaking of presidential inaugurations when was the last time anyone dressed formally for one? My memory may have faded a bit but I think Reagan wore a morning coat to his first swearing in. Jack Kennedy was famously the last president to wear that traditional symbol of high formality, the top hat. Toppers however are still de rigueur at many functions outside of this country (see the photo above).

Whatever happened to respect and etiquette in this country? How far have we sunk as a society? I go to weddings and see people dressed in jeans and flannel shirts. When was the last time many of us were bothered to put on a coat and tie when going to a nice restaurant? Not long ago I had to explain to a good friend of mine who was getting married in the morning (after his fiancé made it clear he was not going to be allowed to just wear a coat and tie) that you don’t wear a tuxedo before six.

Has anyone been to a shopping mall lately and not seen young men walking around wearing pajamas or with their jeans hanging down around their knees? Some years back when I was in traffic court a young man who could not have had his license for long gave the judge a particularly sharp look when he was told to take his baseball cap off in court. I waited in vain for the judge to fine him for contempt of court. This trend towards casual to the point of slovenly dress seems to have even made its way into some of our churches. And lest we say this is just a universal trend favoring the complete abandonment of any semblance of manners and polite behavior, I can assure the reader that people outside the United States do in fact know that you don’t wear evening dress for an 11 AM wedding!

Sorry, but this breakdown in social graces is I think a very distinctly American phenomena. I guess I am just wondering when we became too lazy or embarrassed in this country to show a little class in our dress.


Death Bredon said...

The Anglosphere is sinking into an Australian-style casualness and informality. Prime Minister Blair insists on "Tony," etc.

Personally, I don't mind a bit of change and losening of rules for comforts sake -- but what I have in mind is more confortable neckwear and shoes (Ascots and nice loafers instead of choking ties and pinched captoe lace ups), not dungarees at ocassions of State.

P.S., Ironically, despite his inagural topper, JFK killed the gentleman's hat as normative dress in America.

Ad Orientem said...

Yes he did. I frankly regard that as the beginning of the slippery slide that has lead to the point wear I see young men walking around in public places wearing pajamas or with their pants hanging down near their knees.

I do agree with you in that I don't want to go back to the days where a man wore a suit coat and tie to a baseball game. My feeling is dress for the occasion. Casual dress is fine for recreational events or shopping at the local mall on your day off. I also agree that it would be nice if we could find a neck tie that was less restrictive than the traditional Windsor knot which has a comfort level similar to that of a hangman's noose. I just think the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction from the stuffy 1950's.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your post. So many people of my generation and younger (I'm 34) are guilty of having no idea of how to dress for certain occasions. Some realize the statement they are making with their informality, and they just don't care; they don't think there is any need for formality in manners or dress. However, many are truly clueless.

I manage a law firm and this past year we were looking for a new receptionist. I handled the interviewing process and you would not believe what people showed up wearing to their interview. I also see it in my church. I've seen women show up looking like they were going out to a nightclub. I'm not advocating burqas, but it would be nice to see more respectful dress for Divine Liturgy.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your msg. on (mostly) men's appropriate dress. I was researching the question: who was the last U.S. President to wear tails (a morning coat)?

You are absolutely correct in your discussion of the laxity in appropriate choice of apparel. But you failed to mention how lax the Catholic church has beome. Young ladies(?) now feel free to show up in shorts!!!

John (Ad Orientem) said...

The traditional cutaway style morning coat (sometimes referred to as the claw-hammer coat) was last worn by Ronald Reagan at a presidential inauguration, though he skipped the top hat. "Tail coats" however is customarily a reference to the full dress evening jacket worn at "white tie" functions. This is worn only at the most formal occasions and never before 6PM. It has become quite rare in the United States where as I note above our society has become shockingly casual in its dress. G. W. Bush in his eight years as president has hosted only one white function.

Your observation about inappropriate attire in church could be made about many churches. I try not to single out one in particular though your point is certainly valid.