The way people dress today, and what it means
I am wondering if you have any comment about the dress and appearance of Chelsea Clinton and her husband as shown here.
As bad as this is, there’s nothing unusual about it. This is the hideous, jumbled, discordant way much of the Western world dresses today. It is an expression of the liberal self, which recognizes no truth higher than itself. Even to maintain oneself with normal attractiveness would represent a standard outside of and alien to one’s self.
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It’s very odd. Liberalism is about self-esteem, right? And we would think that self-esteem is shown by, among other things, wanting to have an attractive, pleasing appearance, especially for women. But the modern liberal self has gone beyond that. Attractiveness or beauty represents a standard that is external to, and thus an imposition on, the self. Thus the truly free self expresses itself through ugliness. The typical liberal American announces his true “I” by being an eyesore.
I emphasize that this is not just “casual, relaxed dress.” It is a metaphysical expression of contemporary people’s disordered and rebellious being, of their rejection of any inherent order and beauty in existence.
On a Saturday night a few weeks ago I went with a female friend to a movie in the Times Square area. While we were walking to the theater, and then after the movie as we were walking several more blocks, I was looking at the way people were dressed, especially the men. I myself was wearing slacks and a casual dress shirt open at the collar, nothing fancy. Yet after walking several blocks, I said: “You know, I am the best dressed person I’ve seen tonight.” My friend thought I was boasting of my appearance. That wasn’t at all what I meant. I meant that of the hundreds or thousands of people we had passed on the street near Times Square on a Saturday night, everyone I had seen was dressed worse—most of them much worse—than I was. And I was just casually dressed in slacks and shirt.
Thomas Bertonneau writes:
I regularly wear a shirt and tie and dress jacket, when teaching. In my course syllabi, in stipulating the rules in my classroom, “Hats off in the house” is an emphatic prescription.
Of the slovenly Chelsea Clinton and her husband, you write: “The truly free self expresses itself through ugliness,” and “the typical liberal American announces his true ‘I’ by being an eyesore.” My eye, remarking the ugliness, is drawn to the baseball hats. The detail is important because it tells us that the “self-expression” of the liberal, hence “truly free” self is also an utterly conformist self, which would make it a kind of un-self, a negation of the self. Contemporary college students, who are creatures of liberalism par excellence, are full of resentment and rage, carrying all sorts of chips on their shoulders. The thing that makes them, especially the men, madder than a cornered dog, I have found, is the mandatory condition that they remove the inevitable baseball hat. They have no response, except to glower. I explain that the college classroom is not only a professional place, but also a sacred place, and that it is common courtesy in professional and sacred circumstances to remove one’s hat. I explain that I am committed to restoring dignity in the degraded precincts of the college classroom and that doffing one’s hat—in respect to one’s own higher education—although it is a small gesture, is also symbolically a productive one. On explanation, the resentment tends to abate. It is obvious that no one has ever asked them to doff their hats indoors before. [LA replies: Including in their churches, for those few who have gone to church.]
In a related development—the Philosophy Department of my college, SUNY College Oswego, puts an annual “Steinkrauss Lecture,” named after a deceased faculty member who endowed the department to carry on the tradition of a special invitational presentation. Yesterday the invitee was one David Carruthers of the University of Maryland. I will spare you and your readers the tedious details and come to the two related points. Carruthers’ bold and audacious thesis is that our intuition of an ego is an illusion and so is our sense of having privileged access to our own convictions. (Carruthers proposes a “cognitive science” version of the Heideggerian or Derridean claim that that subjects do not speak language or think, but that language or thinking somehow speaks or thinks the subject—a piece of epistemological and gnoseological perversity.) How was this invited speaker, who received a fee of at least five thousand dollars, maybe more, dressed? The answer: In a haphazard ensemble of open red shirt, beat-up black-leather vest, droopy slacks, and sloppy-looking, bashed-up tennis shoes, like the ones that David Letterman smarmily wears during his monologue.
Incidentally, many in the audience applauded like congregants at a revival meeting, but they were applauding the announcement of their own annihilation. Ecce the modern university.
There are characters who give the exact same message (“there is no mind, and no ability to know truth”) and who dress somewhat like this in Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957.
I’ve told the story of talking to a relative by marriage, a tenured professor at Boston University, about 15 years ago, who stopped me and corrected me when I used the word “truth.” He would not allow the word to be used. When I asked him what he believed in, he said: “Conversation.” What I thought of saying to him, but didn’t, was: “Do your students’ parents know that they are paying you to destroy their children’s minds?”
Thomas Bertonneau continues:
Chelsea and her husband look exactly like the most lackadaisical, anti-intellectual, drawling, and resentment-driven students in my undergraduate courses.
I doubt George Orwell had the Chelsea Schlubvinsky look in mind when he invented the Junior Anti-Sex League in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but could there be a more effective look?
Jeanette V. writes:
This topic on public appearance and yesterday’s one on tattoos reminded me of a gripe I have about the way people dress for church. I especially despise seeing women in slacks when they come to worship. My husband is a very modest and devote man who will not be alone with any woman but myself. But he is a man and some women who wear slacks to church have no clue how distracting their derriere is to a man. The worst scenario of this was a woman who came to church (with her husband I might add) wearing nice tight slacks and a top that did not fully cover her midriff. She sat right in front of us. On her lower back was a tattoo that said “yo daddy.” My poor husband was embarrassed and his face turned red. He passed the rest of the service looking at his feet or the prayer book. How does one worship with that kind of distractions?
Jeanette V. writes:
This has also been a gripe of mine. People wearing pajamas in public. I see it mostly in Wal-mart and it is mostly blacks doing it, but yes there a few white girls who also wear their flannel pajama bottoms while shopping in Wal-mart. Some people even wear their animal slippers while shopping. When I was growing up it was a sign that someone was mentally ill if they went in public in their bed clothes.
Andrew B. writes:
I can ignore and forgive people wearing jeans and T-shirts who are not performing physical labor, but there is nothing more disgusting than any woman, fat, thin, ugly, or beautiful wearing spandex “pants” in public as an outer garment.
Might as well be strolling down the street in your underwear or birthday suit with your genitals exposed. It’s revolting and repulsive. What is wrong with these people? [LA replies: I’ve tried to supply an answer as to why they do it.]
Men wearing spandex exercise shorts (or speedos at the pool club or beach) are little better. Who do they think they are? Henry VIII wearing a codpiece?
People have lost all sense of shame and decorum.
Howard Sutherland writes:
I know little about Chelsea Clinton’s husband, except that his name is Marc Mezvinsky and he is the son of, not one, but two U.S. Representatives (one of whom, his father, did federal time for bank fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud). Mezvinsky is also a Goldman Sachs-trained hedge fund guy. Marc isn’t dressing the way he does because his rag-bag outfit is all he can afford.
But let’s focus on the more-famous Chelsea Clinton, and what her costume represents. This young woman is elite of the elite in America today, and not only in America. Consider her pedigree and school credentials. (I say school rather than educational deliberately, because graduation from even—especially?—the most revered of educational institutions is no longer a guarantee of any education whatever.)
This young lady is the daughter of, on the one hand, an Attorney-General of Arkansas, five-time Governor of Arkansas, and two-term President of the United States and, on the other, of a Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation, two-term U.S. Senator from New York and incumbent U.S. Secretary of State. She is a graduate of the Sidwell Friends School, one of the most elite secondary schools in the country, and Stanford University. She has masters degrees from Oxford and Columbia and is supposed to be in an Oxford doctoral program. One may say that all the fancy schools are due to who her parents are, and one almost certainly would be right. Nevertheless, as a line-up of elite—in the new American sense—lineage and top-tier degrees, Chelsea’s CV is hard to beat. Nevertheless, she clearly feels no need to dress the part; quite the opposite.
Instead she wears the ubiquitous ball cap, and it doesn’t even fit (maybe she borrowed it from Marc). She wears a cheap-looking (although it probably cost $300) jacket, open and floppy; a cheesy-looking T-shirt (but that it’s a Jackson Hole T-shirt is a tip-off that this gal is a Somebody); spandex pants calculated to emphasize the size of her rump; and flip-flops—all the while clutching her aluminum soda-pop can and hauling a bag that poorer folk could probably fit all their worldly goods in. And this somewhere on the streets of one of the wealthier neighborhoods of New York (Upper East Side? Upper West Side? Probably one or the other), where not so very long ago a well-heeled—and make no mistake, these are very well-heeled people, no matter how they dress—couple would not have left their apartment for a stroll without the man in jacket and tie and his lady in a proper skirt or dress.
I disagree that this costume expresses a rejection of standards. This couple is—in today’s pecking order—very superior indeed. They are representing a new standard. The problem for us is that it is a hyper-liberal standard, and embedded within it is a conscious rejection of the “confining” standards of earlier days, especially with respect to how women were expected to conduct themselves.
This is America’s future out for a stroll (although maybe a little on the pale side for that). I would pray God to bless America but, truly, why should He?
Patrick E. writes:
She looks like the self-centered young girls that fill the college campuses today. The only thing missing is the ubiquitous sunglasses. As someone who, last year, stepped into a college classroom for the last time as a student, I can tell you that this style of clothing is the norm. The female students will either wear those type of “pants” (which they call “leggings”), or they will simply wear the same sweatpants they went to bed in. It has come to the point where wearing jeans is too much to ask of them—they are not comfortable enough in them, they say. If any wear a skirt, it is one of those super short ones that makes it look like they are going to a hooker convention. It truly is all about them and making themselves feel comfortable—to hell with anyone who might not want to see so much of their backside.
A lot of males wear hats to class (usually backwards) and jeans with holes in them as the guy in the picture has. Usually they wear them much lower than seen in this picture, however. They actually buy them with holes in them for outrageous prices from places like American Eagle. If they live in the dorms and don’t have to walk outside on cold days they will wear the same shorts they wore to bed.
We have come to the point where (most) professors are dressing nicely with a suit-and-tie (or at least a dress shirt) and the students they are teaching wearing their bed clothes. I couldn’t disrespect my professors that much and I regarded the ones who dressed poorly as harder to respect.
I would like more professors to do what Thomas Bertonneau does and demand students take their hats off.
It is absolutely outrageous that professors allow students to wear baseball caps in class. It shows that the professors don’t believe in their own profession.
But that is simply consistent with the behavior of all authority figures in the West today, whether political leaders, police chiefs, priests, college presidents, or professors. As liberals, they don’t believe in authority as such, and they don’t believe in their own authority. They seek to to undermine their own authority (of course they make various unprincipled exceptions in the areas they really care about, such as the advancement of liberalism—see my brief 2003 entry, “Why is liberalism both liberationist and totalitarian?”). That’s why the elites of the contemporary West are generally so weird-, unnatural-, and sneaky-looking. Their entire existence is built on bad faith. They are deeply twisted human beings.
And by the way, I remember the precise moment when I first became aware of this phenomenon as it related to political figures. It was when the Clinton administration came into power in 1993. Clinton’s lieutenants and spokesmen—Paul Begala, Rahm Emmanuel (though he may have entered the picture a little later), the press spokesman Michael McCurry, and others—had a sleaziness, a disrespectful, sneaky quality printed on their faces. It was shocking and deeply disturbing to see such types in the White House. They were of a type that, in an earlier generation, you might have expected to see working in some sleazy dive on the wrong side of town—and now they were the top advisors to the president of the United States. I was also bothered by the fact that the conservative media said nothing about this. They didn’t seem to notice it at all. (It’s an example of how conservatives only perceive the threat of leftist political forces, not the threat of leftist cultural and moral forces that are much more potent and insidious in changing our society.)
And of course Clinton himself had that same bad-faith quality imprinted in his persona. For example, when he would utter some threat to terrorists, he would say it in such a way that he was actually undercutting belief in the American power and strength that he was going through the motions of asserting. He expressed his authority and power in such as way as to subvert his authority and power.
However, more perverted than the American Democratic left, is the entire European political establishment. They are men and women who are supposed to be devoted to the guardianship and well-being of the societies they lead, but, like Ayn Rand villains, are actually devoted to the undoing of those societies; and their twisted, sneaky nature—their longing for the destruction of their societies and even of themselves—is seen not just in their formal statements and positions, but in their faces, their manner. It’s as though you can almost see them decomposing before your eyes.
Liberalism radically debases human character, first in the elites, then in the general population.
Clark Coleman writes:
In your recollections of the sleazy Clinton administration, you left out James Carville. I assume this omission was not because you considered him to be the exception to your criticisms!
I look at Chelsea Clinton and I think she is a compound character from Roald Dahl, Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, and Nikolai Gogol.
I don’t know what you mean.
I keep looking at that picture of Chelsea, and I’m amazed, and I laugh, and I shake my head. Truth is stranger than the strangest fiction (which is the list of authors I sent). I’m having a hard time putting it all into words.
That shows you’re spiritually alive.
LA to Jeff W.:
Thank you so much for sending that photograph of Chelsea Clinton and husband. Look at the thread the photo set off.
Jeff W. replies:
When I saw that photo, I thought it might elicit a good reaction from you.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 30, 2012 03:03 PM | Send
I myself share the reaction of Gintas when he said: “I’m having a hard time putting it all into words.”
One thought I have is that it helps prove the point that conservatives have nothing left to conserve. If this is our elite culture, then there is nothing at all in it worth saving.