The tyranny of the casual

A discussion at The Thinking Housewife addresses the issue of casual men’s dress in today’s business environment. Casual dress is not only increasingly allowed, but even virtually required in some venues, where wearing a suit and tie is treated as the equivalent of expressing incorrect racial or sexual attitudes. As under liberalism generally (as explained in James Kalb’s seminal essay, “The Tyranny of Liberalism”), what appears to be a liberation of desire (“be free to be yourself”) is really a suppression of desire—in this case the desire and the need to be formal.

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January 10

James P. writes (in a comment he also sent to The Thinking Housewife)::

Sheila says,

“It’s truly ironic how so many publications feature articles on women dressing successfully for their careers, and charitable organizations seek donations of suitable work attire for welfare mothers or high school drop outs entering the workforce, yet only men are counseled to dress in a casual, relaxed, informal manner.”

I work in Washington DC, which is an unusually formal town. What I see here is that the number of unprofessionally dressed women vastly exceeds the number of unprofessionally dressed men. So, if the men are being counseled to “dress down,” they are not doing it (their bosses won’t let them)—and the women are not being told to “dress up” (their bosses won’t make them). Ten years ago I worked in an office with a large number of young women and men, and the double standard there was glaringly obvious. The women got away with wearing things that would have gotten the men sent home in an instant. For example, the women could get away with wearing open-toed sandals and denim skirts, while the men were obliged to wear proper suits and ties. The only conclusion I could draw was that our supervisors—all of them older men—did not dare to rebuke the young women for failing to meet the proper standards, for fear of some sort of sexual harassment lawsuit or complaint.

My own view is that putting on the suit and tie has an important psychological effect. If one looks like a serious professional, then one feels like a serious professional and one acts like a serious professional. Conversely, if one does not look like a serious professional, then one does not feel like a serious professional or act like a serious professional.

I am tempted to argue that men are discouraged from wearing suits as a by-product of feminism. Men in suits and ties radiate power and prestige, but women cannot gain such an appearance of power and prestige, because women who wear suits and ties simply look ridiculous. Therefore, the solution, from the feminist standpoint, is to reduce the male appearance of power and prestige by discouraging them from wearing suits and by encouraging them to look as slovenly as possible. In this, as in so many other realms, if liberalism cannot build up the “underprivileged,” it seeks to tear down the “privileged.”

Roland D. writes:

A lot of the momentum towards casual attire originated with the perpetual-adolescent culture of the Silicon Valley. As this irritating attitude and ethos has permeated society, so has the trend towards casual dress in business settings.

The derogatory remarks on Laura Woods’ web site about the dress of parishioners, particular the smug expression of satisfaction at the embarrassment of the cited man and his son, are un-Christian, ungenerous, and pharisaical in nature. Worship is about giving thanks to God for his blessings, and it matters not whether one is dressed in the most regal finery or in the filthiest of rags. His grace is available to all, irrespective of outward appearance. It’s not about shunning people and making them feel uncomfortable, and the person who made those remarks should be ashamed of himself.

As a frequent business traveler, I’ve found the “business-casual” dress phenomenon to be a great boon in this age of ever-increasing restrictions on airline baggage allowances; I can easily fit five polo-style shirts, five pairs of slacks, dress shoes, and five sets of underwear/socks into a roll-on bag which will fit in the overhead bin of almost all airliners worldwide. They come out wrinkle-free due to my use of Eagle Peak Pack-It clothes “folders.”

LA repllies:

As a frequent and skilled business flyer, have you any thoughts on the movie Up in the Air? It’s about a man whose job has him flying constantly, and he’s an expert at it. His expertise as a traveler, and his pride in his expertise, is a central theme of the story.

Laura Wood writes:

Regarding Roland D.’s comment, the theme of the discussion was business attire and the general triumph of the casual and slovenly at work. One commenter mentioned his disgust with slovenliness at church and with one man who appeared in play clothes on Easter.

I agree that it is un-Christian to exhibit contempt for casual dress while in church or at church events. Standards should be upheld indirectly through the appearance of those attending, not through personal shunning. Churches should also help in this area by emphatically and repeatedly recommending appropriate dress in their written communications. Many people today have had virtually no experience with the non-casual; the whole idea of dressing up is foreign. Unfortunately, those who show up looking as if they were attending football games rarely are too poor to dress decently. Roland’s equation of their clothes with the “filthy rags” of the poor does not apply unless one sees ignorance too as a form of poverty. Churches should offer firm, but sympathetic help to overcome this ignorance. Casual clothes, especially sweat shirts with commercial logos, create an atmosphere of irreverence.

I have seen many poor people dressed decently in church. An old and shabby suit—the sort of thing that can be purchased in any Salvation Army thrift store for a few dollars—is not irreverent. An expensive football sweatshirt is.

Sean writes:

In response in Roland D.

I posted the comment you refer to. I appreciate your chastisement. Looking back on my post, I believe I retold the story in a spirit that was uncharitable at best and unchristian at worst, and I am grateful to you for correcting me in such a polite and dignified fashion. Naturally we should err on the side of generosity in these matters. God’s grace is available to all regardless of outward appearances. That is obvious.

That said, your argument is one I have heard before and while I agree with it in principle, I usually see it deployed in defense of gross disrespect of God, the Church, and the worship we engage in.

I heard of a situation a few years ago at a neighboring parish. A number of family members who normally did not attend church showed up for a baptism. One woman in her early twenties showed up with multiple piercings (itself pretty odd, but not totally unacceptable), fishnet stockings with a miniskirt, and a T-shirt with a number of curse words printed on it (definitely unacceptable). The pastor told her before the service started that her clothing was inappropriate for worship and she should change or cover it up, to avoid offending and distracting others. The girl and her mother became very upset and challenged the pastor, using that same line of argument—although much more direct! “Would Jesus tell people to do that”, “you’re a bunch of snobs”, etc. I believe they ended up leaving right after the baptism itself, rather than stay in what must have been a very uncomfortable situation.

Now, was it wrong to “shun” that woman and “make her feel uncomfortable”? I’d say the pastor acted with great sensitivity. The clothing that young woman was wearing was obviously intended to give offense. I’m only human, so when I see someone wearing a T shirt emblazoned with “F——You,” I naturally jump to conclusions.

That is an extreme example but characteristic of behavior I’ve witnessed over the years, including the gentleman and his family in the original story. I have always believed that as long as the clothing is not provocative or disparaging, there is nothing in principle wrong with it in church—BUT, worshiping the King of Kings is the most important thing you do each week and you should dress accordingly. There is nothing Pharisaical about correcting other parishioners’ behavior or habits in an appropriate fashion, particularly when there is an obvious intent to offend and disparage.

Ferg writes:

Roland D. writes:

“Worship is about giving thanks to God for his blessings, and it matters not whether one is dressed in the most regal finery or in the filthiest of rags. His grace is available to all, irrespective of outward appearance. It’s not about shunning people and making them feel uncomfortable, and the person who made those remarks should be ashamed of himself.”

Yes sir, that is true, indisputable. Still, when I was a child my parents taught me that dressing well to go to church showed respect for your fellow parishioners, and respect for the presence of Jesus. It is not about earning his grace, but about showing you appreciate and are grateful for that grace, and you wish to show this gratitude to him, and to all your fellows as well, in every way you can. I see no shame in this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 09, 2010 12:58 PM | Send

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