Over the last 25 years, it has been clear to me that Americans do not look as good as they once did. People increasingly dress in a very sloppy manner. Couple that with our obesity epidemic in the U.S. and every year more and more people can be classified, even putting it charitably, as slobs.
Most people admit that standards have shrunk. Here are the explanations that I have seen and heard:
“A large number of Americans have no chance for upward mobility so why should they bother to dress with care?”
“It all started with Casual Fridays a few decades ago. Everyone looked good at first, then jeans appeared, then flip-flops, then shorts, and now people look like hell at the office.”
“Many people earn (adjusted for inflation) what they made 30 years ago. They cannot afford good clothes.”
“People should wear what makes them feel good but put some effort in to your appearance.”
“Workers are far more comfortable in casual, even very casual clothes. As a result, they are far more productive.”
Certain things are creeping in to places where sloppy dress was unheard of historically. I have seen people in jeans at the Symphony. A few weeks ago I went to a matinee in Manhattan seeing Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in The PRESENT. All tickets cost at least three figures. As I looked around the theater I was the only person wearing a tie--a knit tie, a casual tie, under a sweater. Many men and women were in sweats and they obviously could afford to dress better. A few men had blazers with no tie and looked pretty sharp. And, some of the women looked great. Most did not.
I have been at a few wakes in the past year. One distinguished gentlemen had a big turnout but people were there in sweat outfits, one of which was filthy. At another wake, the brothers of the deceased showed up in short sleeve sport shirts and old jeans.
Go to Disney World, The DMV, Times Square, or to a ball game with pricey tickets. If you dress with any care, you stand out big time.
People often ask me how I can wear a tie most days. Well, it is pretty simple. My shirts fit. If your shirt fits there is no complaint about how tight it is against your neck. Pretty simple but most men use that as an excuse.
Are people dressed more casually more productive? I have done some of my best work both in pajamas or in an expensive suit. My apparel has no bearing on my thoughts and I am skeptical that dressing carefully for a professional appearance hampers one’s creativity.
Surprisingly, allies to my feelings come from unexpected sources. Bill Maher, took a five minute vacation from skewering politicians lately and railed about the growth of American slobs. He said, “When you leave home, we can see you.....This is not about money, it is about pride.”
As a child, I saw many people who were struggling financially. Their clothes may have been old or few, but they were clean and pressed. I often wonder if steam iron sales have declined over the last 20 years.
In 2007, I witnessed something that put it all in to focus for me. I was in Atlanta, and after a good day at work, I stopped at a barbecue joint for some take out. There was an elderly lady sitting alone at a table who was dressed simply but very carefully. A few minutes later a couple in their early 50’s entered and joined her. The man was very heavy and had on a wife-beater tee shirt, a John Deere cap and jeans that only accentuated his prodigious posterior. The mature lady, who was his mother said, “Dwayne, a man over 50 should not wear jeans. You look ridiculous.” His wife chimed in, “Momma, Robert Redford is over 65 and he still wear jeans.”
Without missing a beat, the old girl responded, “I got news for you. Your husband ain’t no Robert Redford. Clean him up.”
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org