The bums in 1941 dressed better than the billionaires today

In the collection of Charles W. Cushman’s color photographs of New York City in the early 1940s that was posted at the Daily Mail last week, I missed this striking shot. According to the Daily Mail’s caption, the three men in the photograph, which was taken in Battery Park, were living in a doss house—British for a flop house—at nearby South Ferry (the southern tip of Manhattan). Laura Wood copied the photo and had a good discussion on it.

Smoking: Three homeless people from South Ferry
doss houses are in Battery Park on June 6, 1941

Look at these men, unemployed, reduced to the indignity of staying in a flop house, yet dressed respectably in suits, shirts with collars (the middle one is wearing a tie), and fedoras, and with cleanly shaven faces and neatly cut hair. Then think of how the spectacularly affluent and wealthy leaders of our present society dress.

By the way, at least one man in today’s New York City is keeping the fedora tradition alive.

(By coincidence, the two linked photos were taken three days before the Cushman photos were published).

- end of initial entry -

Dean Ericson writes:

Oh sure, Auster, you wear a Fedora and want to be congratulated on being a Stalwart? Ha!—where’s your Bowler, your Trilby, your Straw Boater? Where’s your Panama Hat? How about your Porkpie, your Homburg, not to mention your Top Hat? No sir, America is going down the tubes in a hideous horror of hatlessness and your nearly bare hat rack—save for a Fedora or two, which, while it may be admitted that those are far better than a wretched baseball cap—hardly constitutes the sort of full-hatted riposte required to save the nation. “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” is required reading, sir.

LA replies:

In my own defense, when I was drafting the entry, I was aware of that problem, and thought of saying something like, “at least one man in today’s New York City is keeping the fedora tradition alive, though, dressed in his shirt sleeves, he still doesn’t come up to the standard of the bums of 1941.”

David B. writes:

In the photo of the unofficial 9/11 rally, you look like a 1950s NYPD detective. You are probably investigating a murder the New York Times declines to cover.

LA replies:

A 1950s NYPD homicide detective, without a suit and tie?

David B. replies:

It’s a hot day and you took the coat and tie off for a few minutes. The hat looked just right.

By the way, have you ever seen the 1961 film “The Young Savages?” Telly Savalas (playing a detective) and Burt Lancaster (playing a deputy DA) wear similar hats. I think they were dressed like their real life counterparts. TCM is showing it again in a few weeks.

Al H. writes:

Look at this from Hot Air on the Netflix rate increase and the DVD and streaming movie company separation. These are multimillion dollar companies and multimillionaire CEO’s. Look at how they’re dressed. That’s leave raking attire, not business wear.

Netflix’s two top executives in extremely important
video statement to their customers

LA replies:

“That’s leaf-raking attire … ”

That’s funny, because several months ago I wrote an e-mail to Arthur Herman, a neocon who writes on Mideast foreign policy at Commentary and the NY Post. (The photo at the linked page is more cropped and not as clear as the one in the print version of the paper.) I politely said to him, in the photo that is displayed with your New York Post columns, you’re wearing what looks like a slipover sweat shirt. This is something you would wear for raking leaves in your back yard, not for publishing articles about matters of war and peace. In the photo, you also have a a big goofy grin on your face. How do you expect people to regard you as an authority worth listening to on foreign policy, when you choose a photo of yourself which says that you are not a serious person?

He didn’t reply, and he kept using the same photo. Of course, by today’s lights, Herman is right and I am wrong. He is the one who is in tune with today’s culture, in which people in prominent institutional or intellectual positions are not supposed to be taken seriously.

Mark Jaws writes:

In 1941 the unemployment rate was over 15 percent. Those homeless gentlemen may not have been bums, but men who simply could not find work. They do have a look of seriousness about them. But as far as today’s hatlessness goes, there is hope. My 13 year old son has taken to wearing a fedora and looks quite good in it. In fact, I am seeing more traditional hats on the heads of white youths in my suburban county in northern Virginia.

Paul Nachman writes:

I immediately noticed the picture of those three New York “bums” in the Daily Mail last week but didn’t think to call it to your attention. The additional thought that occurs to me is that they were dressed in nice shirts, jackets, and — in one case — even a tie on a sunny June day in NYC, which could have been pretty steamy. And even if the air temperature was not really hot, just being in the sun might be uncomfortable.

Brandon F. writes:

I’ve always noticed this difference in blacks as well. When you see pictures of them from before the sixties they usually dressed decently. Notice how well the black civil rights leaders and marchers and celebrities dressed back then compared to now.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 20, 2011 11:21 AM | Send

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