Home / Whatever Happened to the Well-Dressed Man or Woman? Part II

Whatever Happened to the Well-Dressed Man or Woman? Part II

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(Continued from Part I)

Don't get me wrong. I still believe in what were ultimately the progressive social and political ideals of my generation at that time. And some of them have partially come to fruition – Obama's inauguration being an example. Moreover, I fully realise that the long hair, grungy clothes, headbands, beads and other "accessories" were all part of that statement. Nevertheless, as with most large-scale, unstructured good intentions, the "It's not what you see on the outside that counts; it's what's inside" philosophy of so-called open-mindedness was easily corrupted into what has become a lame excuse for bad taste.

Of course the prostitutes – er, designers – of the fashion industry found it expedient to follow and try to capitalise on this "free-spirited" style of the times, but in doing so they merely contributed to the overall decline in standards and personal discipline with which our society has now become so insidiously plagued. So-called icons of fashion such as Giorgio Armani have been enablers of this trend. All you have to do is walk into an A/X store and see the gratuitously overpriced rags that pass as fashionable sportswear; It's become so prevalent and easy that just about any street thug who manages to make him- or herself a successful hip-hop album, any reality show contest winner, any drug and alcohol using former airheaded model, or any other talentless pop icon can become a "designer," perpetuating the fraud that looking like either a homeless person or a gang member is considered fashionable or "cool." This takes us further into the subject of what defines good and bad taste.

Good taste, bad taste. If there's one thing of which a person does not like to be accused it's having bad or poor taste. Unfortunately, since the 70's the paucity of good taste becomes more and more evident every day. Poor taste in art, music, fashion, and writing have become the norm, the coin of the realm. Have you read or heard what passes for poetry nowadays? Case in point: Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural piece of prosaic blather is a testament to the general malaise of standards (which set the criteria for good and bad taste).  It's shocking that someone can conceive such tripe and be considered worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. Robert Frost she ain't. Maya Angelou she ain't.

Why the 70's? Because it was in the latter half of that decade that industry decided to capitalise on the hipness of being "radical;" when long hair, tie-dyed shirts, peace symbols and other nonconformist forms of apparel went from being political to profitable. So, we ended up with corporate execs and lawyers wearing polyester leisure suits with bell bottom pants and lapels out to the shoulder and either tie-dyed or flower print shirts to show that they were "with it." If a tie was worn it was as wide as a bib. And let us not forget the granny dress and the ultra-short miniskirt in which 99.99999% of women then, as well (oh Lord) as today, should never be seen.

Yes, it was in the 70's that the long precipitous descent of taste in style began. But that was just the beginning; the stage was set for the next great decline: Punk followed by Grunge, from which society never recovered. All anyone has to do is walk around any city, or college/university in a metropolitan area, or public high school and see the remnants of the waste laid by the pop culture of the 80's.

Then when you thought things couldn't get any worse, along came rap and hip-hop with its foul language and glorification of the criminal life. As soon as the "music" became commercially viable so did the corresponding "fashion" of low-rise baggy jeans and oversized clothing. Oh, lets not forget the jock/frat mentality of the middle class with their backwards baseball caps and faux hip-hop clothes and scraggy beards.

My generation has no one to blame but itself. We raised a generation (along with the ensuing generation) of kids who were told that they were all just great, that everyone was special and each and every one was entitled to whatever he or she wanted and instilling some form of discipline would damage their self-esteem. So, our society is blessed with two or more generations of people who can't be told anything, even how to dress. Fresh out of school (either graduating or dropping out) they expect to be paid whatever they want, come to work whenever they want, and work as much or as little as they want because that's how they've been conditioned to think.

Our colleges and universities have become little more than glorified trade schools whose only purpose is to make sure that what is taught are those things which are going to get junior or sis into a good MBA programme. That is all that matters. It has become the primary focus of both private and public education. The well-rounded liberal arts and humanities education has long been discarded in favour of pure avarice. So how is one supposed to know how to dress appropriately when the whole of society is bent on the expedient?

Good taste, like any skill, is learnt. Good taste is a by-product of understanding those things which are reflective of a society which has been taught that there is more to life than the temporal high of instant gratification.

When one has learned to appreciate – to relish – the complexity of T. S. Eliot, Dante, Guillaume de Machaut, J. S. Bach, Jan van Eyck, Frederick E. Church, Gerhard Richter, etc. then one can learn to appreciate the subtleties of the deceptive simplicity of a tailored suit by Joseph Abboud or a simple belt-cinched shift by Kenneth Cole.

There's good taste and bad taste. Good taste simply reflects a discerning mind as manifested through a well-exercised intellect and a highly developed sense of cultural history – things which, with our current educational and child-rearing practises, are woefully in short supply in today's society.

Continued in Part III.

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About Ralph Fisher

  • dlf

    It really is sad that sometimes you are judged by the clothes you wear. Others tend to make you an outcast of the society just because of their distaste of your fashion or style. That kind of allegation could really degrade and hurt other people’s feelings.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I have to agree with Jordan. As much as I can point to the mainstream media to support my pov about the Hip-Hop culture, that doesn’t mean that everyone who dresses that way lives the same lifestyle. Unfortunately, the Top 40 ruins the greater picture for those who don’t educate themselves further.

    If anyone let’s an appearance rule their judgment then that is pretty shallow.

  • Jordan Richardson

    But a lot of the things stated here go beyond just understanding a dress code, Joanne. And it speaks to things beyond “courtesy,” too.

    Courtesy means being polite, of course. Unfortunately there’s nothing polite about the degrading and condescending attitude this article and its presentation of other cultures and their selected method of dress. Whether one agrees on some sort of aesthetic level or not with, say, hip hop fashion is a completely different angle than to associate said fashion (or any fashion choice) with a certain code of ethics, behaviours, values, and so forth.

    So no, it isn’t “hard” to dress appropriately for a given occasion or venue. But it also isn’t “hard” to show respect and, yes, courtesy for other cultures – be they of the street or elsewhere.

  • I see the point, and I agree with it. If parents raise children without manners or courtesy, we reap adults without manners or courtesy. It’s not so hard to do, and you don’t have to be among the “washed” masses to practice etiquette and know when the situation calls for board shorts and when it calls for a tuxedo.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Your oversimplification of hip hop culture is insulting and degrading, as is your condescending attitude towards those Great Unwashed among us.

    This article, and the others in the series, are akin to the old man shaking his cane at the youngsters while wondering why nobody works anymore. Not only is the sentiment inaccurate, it’s downright insulting.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    So, do you see any value in music outside a genre that is 200+ years old, if so, what about any other fashion than tailored suits. Granted, I feel the same way about the “Hip-Hop” culture that has many an IQ dropping, that still doesn’t mean that a lot of other newer forms of expression are unintelligent.