Shirts and the modern self

I’ve recently noticed how, in this hot summer weather, in which most men are wearing either T-shirts or some other type of short-sleeved shirt, about 98 percent of men wear their shirts untucked, outside their shorts or pants. This shlumpy, shapeless look eliminates any appearance of masculine dignity, let alone masculine authority. It conveys the message, “I don’t stand for anything. I don’t believe in anything. I’m just a free, unstructured self.” I thought of that when looking at the still shot I posted in a previous entry of 71-year-old Samuel Williams shooting at the armed robbers in the Palm Internet Cafe in Ocala, Florida. Williams is dressed casually, in shorts, sneakers, and a short-sleeve shirt. But his shirt, unlike that of the man in the foreground holding his hands up in the air, is tucked in. He looks neat, ready for action. As, indeed, he so manifestly was.

- end of initial entry -

Brandon F. writes:

This is why, unless I am exercising or working around the house, I never wear a T-shirt in public. I wear long shorts only when it is brutally hot and then hesitantly. I tell my friends that T-shirts and shorts are for boys.

LA replies:

I have virtually never worn T-shirts (or any collarless shirts) in public, except when I was a jogger years ago. However, this brutal summer, I needed comfortable clothing, and, along with some sport shirts that I ordered from Land’s End, I got a couple of nice T-shirts too. For extremely hot weather they are practical and neat.

Mark Eugenikos writes:

You wrote:

“About 98 percent of men wear their shirts untucked, outside their shorts or pants. This shlumpy, shapeless look eliminates any appearance of masculine dignity, let alone masculine authority.”

I generally agree; I almost always wear my long sleeve / dress shirts tucked in, but somehow polo shirts to me look weird tucked in, so I wear those untucked. Of course they have to be correct size and length, so it doesn’t look like I’m wearing a mini dress or something I borrowed from my big brother.

However there’s a practical reason why some men prefer to wear their shirts untucked, even if their sense of propriety and fashion would dictate that they tuck them in. For those who are carrying concealed, it is a lot easier to conceal a handgun under a looser-fitting untucked shirt, especially when it’s too hot to wear a jacket. Bigger men usually have easier time hiding a bulge from a handgun tucked inside waist or in a pocket, but thinner or smaller men have to use tricks or it’s going to be too obvious that one is packing.

Mr. Williams in Florida is on a larger side and he’s wearing cargo shorts, so he probably put his small semi-auto in the cargo pocket on his thigh. But one can’t always wear cargo pants, or may not be allowed to due to dress code. A friend of mine is in federal law enforcement and he uses ankle holster, and claims that is the most comfortable way to carry for someone who has to carry all the time, even while in coach seat on a flight.

LA replies:

The legions of shlumpy young white men on the Upper West Side are not carrying concealed.

Doug H. writes:

This is a subject I think about often. I have noticed lately, that all but myself and another older gentlemen on the staff of our company wear their shirts untucked. Lately, even the general manager does this at the staff meetings. I still feel uncomfortable doing this. We have two staff meetings weekly, and there are only six of us besides the general manager on staff. Because of the small staff, maybe everyone feels more casual. When we have meetings with the colonels and higher level managers, our general manager insists we wear suits. I always feel I need to be dressed nicely because you never know who will come by the office. It is important for me to present a professional attitude. If I don’t take pride in the way I am dressed, I feel that people will not take me seriously.

I go to an evangelical church. I do think it is a good place, and my wife and I like the pastor and respect him. However, the dress is very relaxed. It is not unusual to see people in shorts even on Sunday mornings. When I was young, you didn’t go to church on Sunday mornings without being in a suit. I lived with my grandparents, and even though we were not big on church attendance, when I did go, my grandparents insisted I be dressed in a nice suit. It was a reflection on the family.

I have also seen the reverse of this that made me very uncomfortable. When living in Montana, I went into a small Baptist church. I was dressed in a suit. The pastor spent the first 10 minutes explaining that this was God’s house, and you should dress your best before coming in. This made me uncomfortable because I saw what appeared to be poor people who were not dressed in fine clothes.

Hannon writes:

People often comment on my long-sleeve, tucked-in shirts in combination with black slacks and belt. They will joke with what seems like a hint of admiration that I must be on my way to some special event. When they say, “Why are you all dressed up?,” I take it as a compliment instead of saying “Why are you dressed like such a schlub? At the same time I do notice that few men in any setting, say aged 20 to 60, make an effort to appear dignified and respectable. This goes for (Catholic) church as well, where I cringe when I see men in shorts and white T-shirts. If churches cannot or will not impose the barest of dress codes then how seriously can their envoys be taking the words in the Bible? How seriously are parishioners to take their invocations?

Bringing the overall social dress code down to the lowest common denominator appeases those made uncomfortable by others who dress more “upscale” than today’s average. If this phenomenon occurs on a broad enough scale—ubiquity in media, academia, so-called white collar employers—then a sort of default equality results. People grow to be embarrassed to look different from their cohorts by this insidious process. Just as anyone who points to the danger of Islam is called a hater, the more conspicuously conservative dresser will be marginalized in many venues until real differences are no longer visible.

LA replies:

That’s a new insight.

Brandon writes:

Hannon mentions the dress of men in Catholic church. We have a very old and beautiful Catholic church here in the semi-rural area where I live. While visiting one Sunday I witnessed two overweight, fifty-something women in short sleeve shirts and shorts assist the priest in preparing communion. That one sight helped me decide not to join the church.

James P. writes:

Doug H. writes,

“I go to an evangelical church. I do think it is a good place, and my wife and I like the pastor and respect him. However, the dress is very relaxed. It is not unusual to see people in shorts even on Sunday mornings.”

At our church, casual dress is the rule. I am usually the only man in a suit and tie. Most of the other men wear shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops—including the volunteers who pass the collection baskets and assist the priest! I grant you that it is the summer in Virginia and brutally hot, but like Hannon, I cringe when I see men who are improperly dressed.

As an aside, usually the women make an effort to dress well. My theory is that the women are the motive force behind church attendance, and the men are only coming because their wives want them to. No doubt the bargain is that she accepts his slovenly dress if he comes to church without too much grumbling.

LA replies:

As a personal opinion, I wouldn’t call a church where the congregants wear shorts to Sunday services a good place.

Peter F. writes:

My late grandfather, a southern gentleman of the old school (deceased since 1971), rarely wore a shirt without a collar at home even on the very hottest days (summer in Georgia can be brutally hot and humid), and always wore a shirt and tie when dressing for work, in his case as a banker and an accountant. “Dressing down” was, for him, loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar while sitting in his easy chair after work, next to the only AC in the house, gin-and-tonic in hand. I have made the observation many times over the years, to my wife and others on a private basis, that how we dress changes how we act and even how we think, in ways that are not generally-appreciated these days. Just as slovenly dress begets slovenly behavior and demeanor, dressing up can elevate your manners, your deportment and even your thoughts. This would have been an utterly uncontroversial statement 30 or so years ago, when my high school used a dress code as part of its student code of conduct. Likewise, it was not all that many years ago (although it does seem like it) that one would even think of attending church without dressing for the occasion. Fine dining establishments had dress codes. As a child, I remember putting on my best clothes before flying—remember those by-gone days when air travel was a civilized thing, and not the cattle call we have now? People’s habits of dress, alas, are just one more cultural indicator trending in the wrong direction.

July 19

Jonathan C. writes:

While I too prefer shirts tucked in, as a man dating women under 40, I can’t just go by my own tastes; I have to avoid fashion choices that mark me as an undateable dork. It turns out that tucking a shirt into jeans is a no-no if you want to have a shot at the more attractive young ladies who aren’t on the dorky side themselves. [LA replies: How do you know all this? Who told you this?] It marks you as oblivious to current social norms. There seem to be only two real choices for men who want to appeal to that demographic: slacks or suit pants with shirts tucked in, or jeans with shirts untucked (no long tails).

Norm writes:

I agree with most of the comments expressed in the entry about tucked vs. untucked men’s shirts. My habits are quite similar to yours and your readers, but I would like to expand the discussion if I could.

I think the wearing of men’s athletic undershirts in public by “stallions,” pot-bellied buffalo and their female counterparts detract greatly from the dregs of whatever remains of our besieged culture.

And speaking of women’s sleeveless attire: I don’t want to know what the colors of their bras are. Visible bra straps (as well as the back of the entire bra) seem to be a lemming-like fashion statement for multiple generations of teeny-boppers, club-dwelling bachelorettes, and their sixty-something grandmothers.

But even one who might be thought unattractive, yet simply and tastefully dressed for a public outing and the weather should be admired for the dignity and self-respect on display.

LA replies:

” … detract greatly from the dregs of whatever remains of our besieged culture”

Detract from the dregs! That is a funny line.

Timothy A. writes:

I had this same conversation with a friend last Sunday. My friend’s wife tried to make the case that there was a practical reason for untucked shirts in hot weather - increased air circulation keeping the wearer of the untucked shirt cooler. Neither my friend nor I bought this explanation.

Mark Jaws writes:

I have really enjoyed this thread. As a then-Army officer, I noticed things heading south for the U.S. Army as early as 1982 when the Army adopted the untucked battle dress uniform (BDU). For those chubby schlubs who could not conceal their muffin tops with the traditional olive fatigue, tucked-in uniform or the sleek and classical khaki uniform, the BDU was a godsend. But for those of us who were slim, trim, lean fighting machines, the BDU made us appear to be emaciated souls recently released from some Japanese WW2 prison camp. As a result, many of us resorted to starching our BDUs to attain a crisp, professional, tight soldierly look, but that was eventually decreed taboo. Now I cringe whenever I see a soldier in uniform.

LA replies:

VFR has previously discussed the U.S. military’s appalling pajama-like uniforms, and I have wondered how any man could feel good about himself dressed in such a silly outfit. And how was it that no one in the military or the government circa 1980 objected to these pajamas and tried to stop the move in that direction?

See, from 2009, “Clothes make the Eloi,” and “Our nation’s chubby, shapeless guardians.”

Edward C. writes:

Dear Mr. Auster, I am a 61 year old man who wears untucked shirts. I do this to conceal two full sized firearms and spare magazines. I recognize the slovenly appearance this projects, but I use it as a way to blend in and be the gray man. If my efforts to avoid trouble ever fail, this may provide a surprise to the goblins.

Ed C.

LA replies:

Well, you might be the next Samuel Williams who saved the day at the Ocala, Fla. internet cafe this week. But Mr. Williams was neat looking and had his shirt tucked in!

However, maybe you would say that his neatness came at the cost of carrying a weapon that was too small for the job. :-)

Edward C. replies:

Mr. Auster, I would say that Mr. Williams did just fine. Unanticipated aggression and the presence of a firearm were enough to save the day. Luckily those were not serious, dedicated thugs. I’m a bit more heavily armed, but we all have to find our own salvation.

Paul K recommended your web page to me and it’s now the first one I check daily.


Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 18, 2012 04:42 PM | Send

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