Compositor B's Rants

Because some unknown guy working in a 17-century printshop should still have a platform to spout off.

Of “Bad Jeans” and Blurred Boundaries

Posted by Compositor B on April 25, 2009

This item from Lileks last week, in which he fisks George Will, merits further consideration. Recap for those to lazy to click-n-read: Will writes a column decrying denim as the root of all degradation in society. We’ve “slovenly” and “infantile” because adults wear jeans, to paraphrase. Lileks takes him mercilessly (and hilariously) to task.

That being said, is there something to the notion that society’s overall dress code seems to have gone “extreme casual,” and that this suggests something truly negative? That some “slovenly beast, its hour come round at last, slouches from the food court towards Abercrombie to be born?”

I don’t think there’s any question that society has become more casual in appearance, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that this is a symptom of the end of days.  It’s possible to be perfectly “adult” while wearing jeans, shorts, sandals, whatever, as top-flight engineers at hi-tech firms with casual dress codes would agree. 

Another thought:  perhaps increasing “casualness”  is something inevitable as economic prosperity and political freedom grow, and thus a positive thing. Broad-based wealth and legal equality may drive a confluence of fashion trends among all of society’s layers. Whereas Elizabethan England had vast numbers dressed in filthy rags, and a privileged few dressed in breathtaking finery, supported by sumptuary laws. Vast disparities in dress code were merely a symptom of that society’s underlying inequalities. 

But I want to make a distinction here that those of a curmudgeonly bent might argue does not exist. While increasing casualness qua casualness may not be a bad thing, perhaps the increasing tendency of adults to dress and act like children is a phenomenon of concern? A sign of a dangerous infanilization (and hence “unseriousness” of adult society?

Example: dad and junior at the mall, both wearing jeans and t-shirts. One can usually note that the clothes were purchased from different stores.  Dad in a plain tee or one with a humorous message? OK. Dad in a funky “Hot Topic” tee replete with flaming skulls, or one with a particularly crude sexual message that’s the juvenile visual equivalent of blasting Eminem as loudly as possible while cruising with the windows down?  Kinda creepy.

Further, I have bad news for junior. Like it or not, we adults are horning in on your fashion action. Times past, we could count on the kids wearing crap and doing their hair in ways so annoying that adults wanted no part of it. Not any more. Increasingly, we adults wear the specific brands and styles of casual clothes that kids try vainly to cordon off for themselves. Guilty as charged – I have some B&W Puma shoes, that instantly became lame when my daughter saw me wear them. I’ve been strictly warned against buying certain specific fashion items. It doesn’t help that everything returns as a retread. Your teen doesn’t care that “we were wearing Converse shoes before you were born” – she just doesn’t want you to ruin the mojo by wearing it in its current incarnation.

Ditto various technologies. I’m on Facebook. So are lots of adults. Should we be? For a while I resisted it, precisely because I esteemed it not sufficiently grown-up. Likewise, I like lots of current music enjoyed by my kids. Should I? Or should I be listening exclusively to the 80s and 90s XM stations, rejoicing when Bon Jovi makes another appearance?

Lotsa words for a qualified “maybe.” I’m open to the argument that adults dressing in identical styles to kids and listening to the same bands and playing the exact same video games is sign of an infantilized and spoiled culture, one incapable of mustering up the will to resist deadly enemies abroad and to make hard choices at home.

I’m also open to the idea that the previous sentence is a bunch of nonsense. Read Aristophanes. 2400 years ago, and the “parent generation” (with the twin tasks of raising the young and caring for the old)  was bitching about how everything has gone to hell, and that the youth were a bunch of drunken, disrespectful slackers off fornicating in the bushes when they should be growing up and acting more responibly. “Woe is us, we’re doomed.” Looking at the current state of things and with horror at the younger generation to which we must pass the torch seems a hardy human perennial.

What, you thought there’d be a definitive answer…? 🙂


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