"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, September 24, 2023

American Fashion? John Fetterman And A Bum's Rush To Clueless Bad Taste

American movies of the Forties dealt with serious issues, studied character and conflict, and never flinched from moral and ethical dilemmas.  Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Casablanca were the best of the lot, but They Drive By Night, the story of truck drivers fighting corrupt businessmen was tops. 

Image result for images bogart they drive by night

After Bogart, Joan Fontaine, Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart, there were the clothes! Everyone looked great in tuxedos, long dresses, tailored suits, fedoras and snap-brims, overcoats and scarves, mink stoles and hats with veils, long gloves, silk stockings, and high-heeled shoes; riding outfits, hunting outfits, afternoon wear, pearls, earrings, umbrellas, and top hats.  

Everyone dressed up in those days.  No man or woman would ever think of going out without dressing up.  Whether to the department store, the movies, or the club; or whether on trains or airplanes, men, women, and children looked good. 

Casual Couture of the Average American
Things have changed. We think we look good, but we have lost that 40's class and fashion panache. We shop in cutoffs, sweatpants, flip-flops, raggedy T-shirts, and tank tops. We never dress up for travel. We dress down. Why bother getting all cossetted and dandied for the back of the plane? Summers are hot, so chop the Levi's down a few more inches and lose the sleeves on the T-shirt. “What’s the point?”, Americans ask. 
The issue is not with high fashion but with common, ordinary dress.  Why do most of us look like slobs all the time?

The Senate recently codified hillbilly chic by passing a rule that anything goes on the Senate floor, dress-down, casual Friday every day of the week.  The only Senator so far to act on the new rules is John Fetterman, who apparently has not gotten over his bout of depression and still flounders in an anomie of his own, making no sense whatsoever and dressing in a clown suit. 

No one should be surprised.  After all it was only a matter of time before the Senate, the august institution designed by the Founding Fathers to act as a firewall against the unwashed, became one of us, backwoods crackers and clod-busters from the prairie?  Why, said Democratic leaders rushing to cleanse the country of its elitist, white, racist past, shouldn't the Senate be everyman's chamber?

All French women may  not be so bien taillĂ©e as the most elegant matrons of the 7th,  but would never go out without  a simple cashmere sweater, string of pearls, skirt, and comfortable but stylish shoes

The Italian term bella figura says it all.  It means looking good, dressing with style; eating, walking, working, relaxing in style.
Even the uniforms of the Italian policemen, soldiers, and carabinieri are more stylish and elegant than those of neighboring countries. Even the road sweepers are more fashionable in their immaculate white coveralls. In addition to being well dressed and well groomed, Italians surround themselves with beauty. Italian cars are known for their design and beauty. Gardens and architecture are vibrant, alive and beautiful. The art, history, architecture, fashion and fine wines of Italy are undisputed. There's an inherent sense of appreciation for color, design and form throughout the land. (Celeste Stewart)
Italian Americans have always maintained a sense of bella figura.  John Gotti may have been a murdering mobster, but he always looked good.

In the few WASP enclaves left in America – on the Vineyard or Nantucket, for example – a visitor will see a lot of tweeds, pearls, and Docksiders.
The rest of us, however, have left behind any pretense of looking good. This is a shame, because not only is it a pleasure to look at someone who looks good, it is painful to see someone who is not.  And painful is the only way to look at John Fetterman, dressed in whiteboy threads, missing only the backwards baseball cap - a White Men Can't Jump caricature, stick legs in cheap running shoes, baggy hoodie, and shaved head.  

Manners – another part of bella figura – are practiced out of respect for other people.  It is disgusting to watch a fat tongue push the pastrami around, or someone pick bits of chicken from the serving plate.  We should eat with our mouths closed, seated up straight, and our hands kept in our laps to spare the guests across from us.  Good manners go with fine china, crystal, and silver.  Bella figura is an ensemble.

Dressing well adds to the community well-being. Dressing indifferently is like throwing trash on the street. Soon everybody does it.  A social norm has been progressively eroded.  The more people dress in ragged cutoffs and flip flops, the more such casual indifference becomes the rule.  The Senate, for all its inconsequential bickering, nasty divides, and do-nothing tenor, at least has held the line on decorum in part because dressing the part of statesmen has kept the sense of decorum alive and kept populist caterwauling to a minimum. 

The Senate floor will soon become no different from a New York inner city playground - broken baskets, bent rims, cracked cement, and trash talking.  Fashion is not an incidental, superficial add-on.  It is the most outward expression of personality and character. 

Despite our faith and belief in our classless society, we are very definitely a stratified one.  The hipsters in San Francisco may look unfashionable, but their pork pie hats, pipe-stem pants, and plaid shirts are absolutely de rigeur in the Mission. Low-end shoppers at Walmart on the other hand, could care less and dress with clothes pulled out of the hamper, or at best some pink plastic Capris. 

The best place to view the fashion of the ordinary American is on the National Mall during the summer tourist season.  It is not a pretty sight. 

One hears Europeans say that they love to visit America because it is so casual.  For once they can leave the restrictive norms of their countries behind.  No one is looking at how they look, whether they sit up properly at table, or if their hair has been properly coiffed.  Anything goes at Ben’s Chili Bowl.  There is no etiquette for eating a sloppy chili dog.

The proper Englishman has an outfit for everything in England – breakfast, hunting, tea, and dinner – but he can bring only one set of clothes for a visit to Washington. T-shirt, sweatpants, and running shoes are perfectly proper attire for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

There is almost no obesity among French women. The social norms against it are so strong that women will do anything to fit into a size 4, even smoke like chimneys.  It is gratifying, they say, to visit a country where size is no object, overweight is a matter of diversity, and any size  goes.

There are some young American women who always look good no matter where they go. They have mastered American casual fashion – an eclectic but never put-together-looking ensemble of clothes, shoes, accessories, and hairstyles.  They are a pleasure to look at.  They add beauty, style, and presence.  The city is better off because of them.  For them fashion is art, a creative enterprise which expresses character and personality, and shows off designer versatility and inspiration. 

Much has been made of the equality gap in America, rich vs. poor, the One Percent vs. the Ninety-Nine; but there is no reason why lower income must mean looking bad.  French women of modest means have always looked good.  They may have only one or two nice outfits in the closet, but they are tailored and attractive. In Italy and France there has always been a culture of fashion which has known no class distinction. 

The well-turned out sophisticated woman of the 40s may be a cultural relic, and the few young fashionistas of San Francisco harder to find; but there are still the runways of New York and Los Angeles, high fashion and Hollywood glitz to set the standards of dress.  Maybe more and more of us will get out of our sweatpants and tank tops follow their lead. 

Yet, there remains the image of misshapen, obese, clueless and nonsensical John Fetterman and the new rules of the Senate.  Just when the spirit of Yves St. Laurent thought that American fashion had finally hit its nadir at the bottom of the barrel, John Fetterman shoes up.  St. Laurent, Coco Chanel, and Diana Vreeland can no longer rest in peace. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.