A dress code and its effects, 1957

At Laura Wood’s site, a reader tells the story of a movie theater in upstate New York in 1957 which had been beset by rowdy, sloppily dressed youngsters. In a bid to fix the problem, the theater, after two weeks of advance announcements, instituted a dress code. The result was not only that the young people began to dress better, but that, once their dress improved, their rowdyism disappeared.

Clothes make the man. The way we dress affects the way we feel about ourselves, and thus the way we conduct ourselves. People dressed like shapeless sacks feel like shapeless sacks, and so behave like shapeless sacks. People dressed neatly and attractively feel more orderly and harmonious inside, and as a result their external behavior becomes more orderly and harmonious. How much of the chaotic personal behavior and hideous cultural disorder of today’s society is a function of the chaotic and hideous way people dress?

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Bill S. writes:

Ironically, I’ve been thinking about exactly this since last week. Being retired law enforcement, I was asked to accompany my cousin to his District Court hearing over a charge of aggravated harassment—that’s another story though. I’m well acquainted with the ins and outs of the court system and agreed to be there with him. Dug out my white shirt / tie / best suit for the occasion.

The courtroom was packed with defendants/attorneys. These were preliminary hearings, not arraignments that follow immediately after being scooped up off of the street in “come as you are” attire. I was appalled at the dress of most of the defendants appearing before the judge. Baggy shorts, T-shirts with obscene or inane graphics, NY Yankee ballcaps turned backwards. Most were full-fledged “adults” who knew fully well they were appearing before a judge to answer criminal charges. (Last year I had the privilege to read Diana West’s “Death of the Grownup,” a book that has repeatedly confirmed my own observations of the deteriorating state of “maturity” in our Western culture. I highly recommend the book.)

Daily I observe the soulless social misfits dragging about the streets/stores—heads down, uniforms of the day, baggy shorts, oversized T-shirts, oversized ball caps skewed sideways a la Rootie Kazootie. They can’t make eye contact or even bid one good morning, a nod of recognition or anything else that is indicative of pride and self-esteem. The only recognizeable word amidst the mumbling is “f**k.” “Zombie” is appropriate in description, methinks.

I graduated public high school in 1968. Our class was the last class to have a dress code. Shirts with collars, no T-shirts, and dress slacks. Jeans/denim were strictly verboten. Leather shoes, polished. We had to carry our sneakers to school for phys ed days. Thursday was assembly—white shirts and ties all day, otherwise sent home for the day. Girls had to wear dresses no shorter than 3 inches below the knee, and so on. (BTW: assembly typically opened with the Pledge, National Anthem and hymn “Come Thou Almight King.” And this was PUBLIC school!) As I said, the dress code was abandoned in 1969. My father, a staunch conservative and impeccably dressed banking VP stated at the time that the ramifications of abandoning the dress code will become apparent in one to two generations—and he described the “zombies” to come.

Self-esteem is a rarity as a result, and with it goes respect for others. The quiet discipline required to maintain dress-code adherence blossoms through all disciplines in life, I believe. How one can appear in church in fleece pajama pants and flip flops is beyond me. I’m rambling now and beginning more and more to sound like grandpa. But, dad was right.

Thank you, Mr. Auster for an excellent site. I revel in the thoughtful discussion at VFR and regularly pass the URLs along. A diamond in the rough of today’s “civil” discourse.

April 28

Kilroy M. writes:

Reading the discussion about whether the attire worn by a person has an effect on his behaviour, Professor Philip Zimbardo’s Stamford Prison Experiment comes to mind (reviewed here). The experiment involved 24 college students who were placed randomly into two groups and ordered to role play. The two groups were prison guards and prisoners. As it happens, the experiment had to be terminated before completion due to the torment that the prisoners were experiencing at the hands of their wardens. As psychologist Leandro Herrero puts it: “Fiction became reality, and reality was hard. It was so hard that the experiment had to be stopped after a couple of days—one week before it was due to finish because somebody was going to be killed and others seriously wounded.” A study published in Social, Psychological and Personality Science concerned the colour of uniforms and the corresponding behaviour of hockey players. Webster, Urland and Correll found that “these quasi-experimental findings suggest that black jerseys are associated with more aggression and that white jerseys are associated with less.” So yes, there does seem to be a connection between attire and behaviour. Of course, as traditionalists we have known this, which is the reason for “dress codes” and prejudicial attitudes that “judge a book by its cover.” Moderns, on the other hand, need to have the obvious proved through rational scientific process.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 27, 2012 06:32 PM | Send

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