June 25, 2017

"Fifty years on from the Casual Revolution, the dream of wearing shorts forever has faded."

"Frustrated by the demands of individual expression, some have begun to yearn again for a shared and public happiness. Behind their desire lies a realization that was once universal: A society hospitable to the down and out will not be afraid to dress up."

The last few sentences of "Dress Up/What We Lost in the Casual Revolution," a longish article at First Things, by G. Bruce Boyer. Gee, Bruce, I don't know. A reader sent me this link, thinking I'd be sympatico, because, you know, I've got this longstanding "men in shorts" problem. But my problem with men in shorts is that the proportions of big baggy shorts and a loose untucked shirt cause an adult man to take the form of an inflated boy, and that's not what anyone ought to think of as sexually attractive.

But that might be your message. Feel free to whole-body announce that you are not to be thought of in sexual terms. But I've taken on the mission of stating outright what the message is.

But I've got nothing against casual clothing in general. G. Bruce Boyer (pronounced Boy-YAY?) is railing against jeans and work shirts:
[T]here has been the gradual gentrification of the proletarian wardrobe since mid-century: the work-wear of what used to be known as “blue-collar” workers, clothes that included blue chambray and denim work shirts and trousers (jeans), civilian uniforms of various types (postal workers, garage mechanics, etc.), farm and range clothing, and active field-and-stream outdoor sports clothing....

How is it that we have gone from wearing suits and ties to the office to wearing T-shirts, baseball caps, and a variety of military garments and ranch hand wardrobes?...
I have zero problem with any of these clothes. The only reason a man might look more sexually attractive in a suit is if he is physically out of shape. The man's suit restructures the body into the best approximation of the ideal by building out the shoulders and disguising the belly. The suit is the reverse of the shorts: It imposes the proportions of an adult male. But if you have these proportions, visible in what G. Bruce calls "the proletarian wardrobe," the message is just fine. 

35 comments:

HoodlumDoodlum said...

If the main criteria of evaluating the aesthetic value of clothing style involve whether the style makes the wearer sexually attractive (and that seems like a reasonable idea) then we need to have a word about a lot of women's fashion!

David Begley said...

A part of the brand of Omaha money manager Wally Weitz are his plaid shirts. Weitz has been doing this for decades so he was ahead of the curve. He is a Buffett-style value manager and his clothing differentiated him from Warren. It worked but his numbers have also been good.

Darrell said...

Stop treating me like a sex object.

David said...

"G. Bruce Boyer (pronounced Boy-YAY?) is railing against jeans and work shirts."

Attacking Meade. Fighting words. Way to stand by your man.

Michael K said...

The North American Aviation test pilot who flew the first flight of the P 51 in 1940 always wore a double breasted suit when he flew.

Sebastian said...

"that's not what anyone ought to think of as sexually attractive" Thanks for reminding us that rule #1 in the male dress code is: will this be sexually attractive to hetero cisgender females?

But now that sexual values have been properly transvalued, it seems oddly puritanical to insist on a male dress code that does not allow for the constant public titillation of men, women, and trannies who prefer boys.

Re AA's obsession: I don't always wear shorts, but when I do, I now enjoy the extra frisson of transgression.

Ann Althouse said...

"If the main criteria of evaluating the aesthetic value of clothing style involve whether the style makes the wearer sexually attractive (and that seems like a reasonable idea) then we need to have a word about a lot of women's fashion!"

Notice that I didn't speak of "evaluating the aesthetic[s]" of shorts. I spoke of the message. The wearer of the clothes gets to choose what message he wants to convey or doesn't mind conveying. I explicitly say a man might choose to send the message that he is not to be thought of as sexually interesting.

The same goes for women. Women might choose to send the message that they are not to be thought of that way. That's often done out of self-protectiveness or religious scruple or concern that sexuality is so powerful that it distracts from some other message (like, I am a career professional).

It's possible for clothes to be aesthetically pleasing and to send the NO SEX message. I don't think baggy shorts and a big t-shirt do the trick, but it is possible.

And often the SEX!!! message in clothing is not aesthetically pleasing.

So I'm not conflating sexual attractiveness and aesthetics in fashion. It's a Venn diagram.

Ann Althouse said...

""that's not what anyone ought to think of as sexually attractive" Thanks for reminding us that rule #1 in the male dress code is: will this be sexually attractive to hetero cisgender females?"

You missed the point. No one should have a sexual fixation on children.

Bruce Gee said...

“...Gee, Bruce, I don't know…”

For a moment, I thought this was directed at me.

Bruce Gee

Fernandinande said...

Henry VIII is spinning in his gravy.

Sebastian said...

"You missed the point. No one should have a sexual fixation on children." Yes, professor. But is looks like you missed my second point.

Earnest Prole said...

I just attended graduation services at a fairly prestigious university, and a third of the men in the audience were wearing shorts. One of the richest men in the world dresses like this. I used to care but things have changed.

Michael said...

First Things is a conservative Roman Catholic periodical. They did not decide to begin a Style section but rather included the Boyer article because it zeroes in on the ubiquity of a collapsing culture as evidenced by the fact that in advance of being actual comrades we are beginning to dress like them. He makes the point that clothes reflect something of the wearers attitude toward the larger world and his respect for those around him. Like making your bed the first thing, dressing appropriately sets in motion an attitude. He is rueing the day when most men had something in the way of personal dignity in their appearance. Look at any picture of a baseball game in the 1920s, 30s or 40s and you will see that all of the men there are in ties and hats. It is a time gone by. Now most people look like they are on the way to Home Depot or to mow the lawn. All in the name of being "comfortable" and not "snobbish." So the gardener and Mark Zuckerberg, the next POTUS, dress alike. How cool is that.

Ann Althouse said...

"But is looks like you missed my second point."

Why not make it more clearly? When I said you missed my point, I sledgehammered my point. You could return the favor. Otherwise I'm going to think that you're sexually titillated by thinking of yourself as a little boy.

St. George said...

"Przyby­szewski, an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and devoted amateur seamstress, surveys our wardrobes and sees chaos, cheapness and contemptible sexual pandering. “Has luring men become our only standard for beauty in dress?” she wonders with a note of dismay that sounds throughout her research (which clearly does not extend to the oeuvre of Leandra Medine, who writes a fashion blog called The Man Repeller). “Living in an age when the only standard of female attractiveness is hotness, and when every detail of life is offered up on Facebook, young women find it normal that the whole world, not just their sweetheart, their gynecologist and their mother, should know the exact shape of their bodies.”

"Przybyszewski believes the recent obsession with footwear is evidence of this growing narcissism; the Dress Doctors drew not from pop culture to advise on outfits, but principles of painting, proportion and balance (in more ways than one, advocating practical low heels rather than the precarious platforms and stilettos du jour). “Thinking of your appearance as a composition means imagining how others see you,” she writes. “Looking at your shoes is seeing yourself entirely from your own perspective.”

The author would like to resurrect the hat, returning focus and protection to the face.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why not make it more clearly? When I said you missed my point, I sledgehammered my point. You could return the favor. Otherwise I'm going to think that you're sexually titillated by thinking of yourself as a little boy."

I realize some adults, for sexual excitement, play-act that they are children. If that's what men in shorts are doing and there are some other adults who find that sexually interesting... yes, I have heard of people like that.

AFChiling said...

This past week I watched some of the Ascot Meeting from Berkshire, England. That there was some dressing up.

Jives said...

I read the whole thing, and I really don't see how he gets to the conclusion in the final paragraph, shoehorning these ideas into some half-assed political statement. This society has never been kinder to the down and out than it is now.

Bad Lieutenant said...

I realize some adults, for sexual excitement, play-act that they are children

Why do you harp on this? If it weren't for the respect factor we would, I daresay, be questioning your continuing to, er, pluck this chicken.

Can't you see that you are the only one who thinks this way? You don't have to 'think as others think' or be a toad, but your persuasion may be more effective if you don't start from the rhetorical premise that you are not alone.

And the getting into fetishes is nasty, but rather than shaming, because it is so ludicrous, only makes you seem (I mustn't say "look," right?) desperate.

You have an unreasoning prejudice against shorts and that's your right, as it would be to dislike blacks not 'in the proper setting' such as servants or gladiators perhaps. But it's not attractive to others.

Are you able to resign yourself to holding an unpopular viewpoint without trying to impose it upon others? Nobody's making you wear shorts or be around shorts-wearers. But is it worse to be a fuddy-duddy in silence, or to go about shrieking "I AM A FUDDY-DUDDY!?"

And you're wrong about suits, too, but enough truth for one post.

Michael said...

Way wrong about suits.

Angel-Dyne said...

AA: "I have zero problem with any of these clothes. The only reason a man might look more sexually attractive in a suit is if he is physically out of shape. The man's suit restructures the body into the best approximation of the ideal by building out the shoulders and disguising the belly."

Odd that as the proportion of the population (of both sexes) that could benefit from sartorial "restructuring" increases, so does the proportion of the population that wears shabbily-constructed, casual, "comfortable" clothing.

It's certainly possible to dress "casually" and look like an adult, with an adult's self-discipline and an adult's courtesy toward and respect for other members of society (my husband looks as crisp, correct, and adult in levis and a tucked-in oxford shirt as he does in a suit). But that doesn't seem at all to be the trend in "casual" dressing these days.

Michael: "...and Mark Zuckerberg, the next POTUS..."

God help us.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

For some reason, the lover (groundskeeper Mellors) in Lady Chatterley's Lover (a book I would argue was very influential for the boomers) has views about what men should wear in order to look sexy to women. Lady C naively asks: what should women wear? and he says this doesn't matter--if men are attractive to women, everything will proceed for the benefit of society.
The specific recommendation that stands out for me is that men should wear red shorts, sufficiently tight fitting to expose the buttocks. You don't have to know much about Lawrence to think he'd like to expose the cock and balls as well, but then, Mellors and Lady C agree that they are both opposed to homosexuality.

Sebastian said...

"Why not make it more clearly?" I thought "oddly puritanical" was clear enough.

"Otherwise I'm going to think that you're sexually titillated by thinking of yourself as a little boy." Now, now. Aren't you violating a rule of decorum you recently reimposed on your commenters?

“I've taken on the mission of stating outright what the message is.” We all appreciate the missionary fervor, and on behalf of men everywhere, I thank you for enlightening us about “the message.” Most appropriate on a Sunday morning.

Of course, some in the congregation might wonder what's up with the preacher: "Why does she harp on this? Can't she see that she is the only one who thinks this way? And the getting into fetishes is nasty, but rather than shaming, because it is so ludicrous, only makes her seem (I mustn't say "look," right?) desperate. She has an unreasoning prejudice against shorts and that's her right, as it would be to dislike blacks not 'in the proper setting' such as servants or gladiators perhaps. But it's not attractive to others. Is she able to resign herself to holding an unpopular viewpoint without trying to impose it upon others? Nobody's making her wear shorts or be around shorts-wearers. But is it worse to be a fuddy-duddy in silence, or to go about shrieking "I AM A FUDDY-DUDDY!?""

Earnest Prole said...

I agree that shorts on a grown man say "I've given up." Regarding the casualization of male fashion, something more profound is occurring. Have you noticed that the only people who wear suits and ties anymore are those in the untrustworthy professions -- lawyers, politicians, real-estate agents, morticians, etc?

Angel-Dyne said...

Bad Lieutenant: Can't you see that you are the only one who thinks this way?

I know other people who think that way - about shorts, and about other popular items of clothing. I remember a while back one poster having fits about women in capris. Didn't bother me, though I have been known to wear capris.

You have an unreasoning prejudice against shorts and that's your right, as it would be to dislike blacks not 'in the proper setting' such as servants or gladiators perhaps.

Crap analogy. "Althouse, your intense disapproval of shorts is just how Nazi Germany started!" (Though I agree that Althouse's delving into fetish territory was also lame.)

But it's not attractive to others.

Doesn't bother me. Men-in-shorts aren't my personal bĂȘte-noire, but I find nothing "unreasoning" in the idea that how people in a society dress and present themselves tells us about more than their personal sartorial idiosyncrasies.

Are you able to resign yourself to holding an unpopular viewpoint without trying to impose it upon others?

How is she possibly "imposing" it on others? If you think it's stupid, ignore it,it has no effect on you. If she succeeds in persuading others to her viewpoint, you may eventually be "imposed" upon by their disapproval, or maybe your boss's revised dress code, but that's true of any opinion about appropriate apparel.

Nobody's making you wear shorts or be around shorts-wearers.

Now that's a childish retort. Nobody's making me put piercings all over my face or dye my hair pink or wear skin-tight, low-cut shirts and pants three sizes to tight, either. But I still reserve the right to express a negative opinion on these things.

But is it worse to be a fuddy-duddy in silence, or to go about shrieking "I AM A FUDDY-DUDDY!?"

"But is it worse to be [snot-nosed "how dare anyone disapprove of me!" type] in silence, or to go about shrieking ["I am a spoiled toddler ENRAGED that anybody should disapprove of me or even suggest that they think it's a good idea for people adhere to this or that community stricture!]

Works for just about any fill-in-the-blank, really.

Achilles said...

"I realize some adults, for sexual excitement, play-act that they are children. If that's what men in shorts are doing and there are some other adults who find that sexually interesting... yes, I have heard of people like that."

It is more zero fucks than it is what you are describing.

There is nothing less sexually exciting -or excited- than a pear shaped male. Male weight gain has been strongly correlated to low testosterone levels which also has been correlated to low libido.

There was also the story a while back about the man who had to have his testosterone levels zeroed out. He stared at walls for hours because he had no will to do anything.

My guess is if they went on HRT they would wear shorts less except when exercising.

Earnest Prole said...

There is nothing less sexually exciting -or excited- than a pear shaped male

Donald Trump, the most famous pear-shaped man in the world, proves you wrong.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...It's possible for clothes to be aesthetically pleasing and to send the NO SEX message. I don't think baggy shorts and a big t-shirt do the trick, but it is possible.

Ok, and I apologize for having to ask again, but why do you object to men in shorts, then? They're sending the message that they're immature little boys (and not adult men, not sexually attractive, etc). Do you object on their behalf that they're sending a message they don't want to send, aesthetics aside? This is, are you offended (or whatever) by the fact that they're sending a message that's different than the message they want to send, or that you think they should want to send?
Or maybe is it both--that you find the look objectionable/ugly AND bad/dumb because it sends a message other than the men want to send?

But, on the message part, how do you know? When I see young women wearing costume-y 80's style high-waisted jean shorts, or adult rompers (an unflattering look on almost everyone) I receive a message. How do I know if it's the message the women are trying to send? I think it's a dumb look and unflattering, but maybe they WANT to wear unflattering things--sure. Maybe men who wear shorts (the look you specify) WANT to send the message you perceive them to be sending. Are you saying that you don't think they want to send that message, but even if they do they shouldn't want to send that message??

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Side point--I thought all the 60's era hippie people were the ones who helped move us, as a culture, towards more comfortable and casual fashion. Is that something to add to the list of their sins??

HoodlumDoodlum said...

[Confession--I wore shorts (knee-length) all day yesterday, tromping around Stone Mountain on a company "family fun day." It was mid-80's but 98% humidity. Almost all the men there wore shorts, but our CEO (who mostly hung around the pavilion as far as I could tell) wore long pants. So, data point.]

Marc Puckett said...

I can't wear shorts at work, nor do I at Mass on Sundays. (Yes, that means that the outrage is in fact perpetrated by some, and by me when I have a chance to hear Mass during the week; nobody has lit a pyre yet). I do get the impression that Mr Boyer is addressing me, however.

I have missed, for all this long time, or failed to remember, that it is perceived inappropriate sexualisation that is at the base of the doctoral antipathy to shorts, and not simply their social impropriety in certain situations. I find it not a little laughable to think that anyone seeing my 60 years old out of shape figure can possibly be sexually titillated; on the other hand, the infantilization of the culture seems to be a real problem, and the manipulation of children for the self-absorbed needs of other elements of society something to be reprehended: but I want a census of middle aged males to discover if any significant percentage of them wear shorts for any reason other than their physical comfortableness-- the Venn diagram is going to display a very, very small section or whatever it's called that supports AA's thesis, I think. Obviously, I may well be wrong.

Marc Puckett said...

The only good thing to come from the 60s is that fact that I don't have to wear a suit to Mass and to work every day. On the other hand, I would gladly give up my freedom from the daily wearing of the suit if in return the more invidious consequences of the 60s et cetera could be erased from society.

n.n said...

Kenya, the doll formerly known as Ken, would beg to differ.

wwww said...



I agree with the idea that we lost something.

I liked when people dressed up to fly in airplanes. Dressing professionally for work, dressing for church or temple -- I appreciate that people take the time to do it.

People acted and treated each other with more respect when flying, and I don't think it's entirely unrelated. Nothing is wrong with jeans at a baseball game, and while I can appreciate that people are comfortable, hoodies at work make me roll my eyes.

Dressing for interviews with tech companies or some start ups can be confusing. What to wear? It can't be too buttoned up. It's just another costume, only it's confusing.

It's not too hard to find comfortable formal clothing. Don't wear uncomfortable shoes or a jacket that doesn't fit and is uncomfortable. Men can find comfortable formal shoes. Heels aren't needed -- there are lots of formal flats or well crafted leather shoes with cork insoles.

I think baby boomers and the Silicon Valley techies threw something valuable away with the casual revolution.

Earnest Prole said...

Silicon Valley techies threw something valuable away with the casual revolution

As with the previous California Gold Rush 150 years before, dress is "what works."