I’ve been thinking about the power of clothing.

I do this a lot because I am both a) rather strangely obsessed with historical clothing and b) profoundly dissatisfied with how we dress in modern times.  Look around you – almost nobody looks spiffy.  Rather, nearly everyone looks like they thought they would be spending the day lolling about on the floor of a college dorm room ( even the 50 year old executives on the metro on “casual Friday”) or like they’ve been under the weather so they never quite got out of their sweats.

My son at 6 in a suit modeled on one owned by the Duc d'Anjou and made with fabric remnants from the Vatican

It used to be that clothes reflected a person’s status.  Sumptuary laws made certain that only those at the top of the pecking order were allowed to wear certain materials.  You knew a king when you saw one.  I am not advocating a return to class-distinction by wardrobe.  By no means.  But who would have predicted when dress was democratized that a race to the bottom would begin?  Yet today, after hundreds of years during which tradesmen and later the middle class tried to dress up a socio-economic level (or two),  people willingly leave their homes in such a slovenly state that, but for their hygiene and the fact they have their teeth, they could pass for peasants.

All this “casual” dress is done in the name of comfort, but there is no reason in the world why nice, properly pressed clothing can’t be comfortable.  And if it is not as comfortable as just throwing on any old rumpled thing, isn’t personal pride worth a modicum of sacrifice?

Yesterday over at Steampunk.com there was a discussion of the 2013 Prada Fall/Winter line.  They were, of course, interested in the steampunkiness of the collection but I saw lots of historical references in the garments.  I was struck by just how good the models all looked—even Willem Dafoe who has looked slightly seedy and decrepit for years.  They look powerful, confident, sharp and generally more attractive then when you see them in modern clothing (go ahead, Google Gary Oldman and compare an image of him in street clothing to those of him in the Prada).  This confirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time—almost everyone looks better “dressed-up” (as in properly, neatly and relatively formally attired).

If you want further proof compare pictures from people in your own life  when they look “thrown together” with those where they are “sharply dressed.”  I mean there is a reason we tend to put on more formal clothing for auspicious occasions—we want to look our best.  You didn’t wear flip flops, sweats and a tee-shirt for your wedding right? (please, PLEASE tell me you didn’t).  To illustrate my point, here are two pictures of the same young man (a daughter’s boyfriend).  In the first he is dressed in typical college wear, in the other in a vintage bespoke 1939 tailcoat.  Not close is it?

 

I concede (though it gives me no pleasure) that the days of dressing for dinner are past, and that going back to styles which require the assistance of a valet or ladies maid is out of the question.  But surely it is not too late to bring back pride in personal appearance and the idea that different clothing is appropriate for different settings (work vs. cutting your lawn)?

Maybe what we really need is this fellow.  Is he rude in this sketch—yes.  Is it meant to be funny—of course.  But have we all seen people dressed like this and thought they were “a turd”—I sure have.