In response to my recent post about dressing and acting respectable:

Sheila Tone: I think a lot of people from nice backgrounds believe dressing down is a way of showing solidarity with the poor. They also enjoy the idea that they can trick others.

Dave: David Brooks famously noted that BoBos (his term; essentially SWPLs with money) will borrow fashions from a foreign peasant — maybe a Guatemalan poncho, for example — but never from poor American whites.

W: That’s obvious, Dave, because a rich SWPL dressing like a poor white could actually be mistaken for a poor white.

I am inclined to believe that it has more to do with “tricking others” than showing any sort of solidarity, though I don’t know that they would necessarily view it that way. I think a lot of it relates to the decision of informality. I think of the whole Casual Monday-Friday phenomenon in the office place and I think that more of it has to do with attitude than actual comfort. At least for guys. Maybe I’m an outlier here, but I simply do not believe that jeans are any more comfortable than slacks. In the south, they’re less comfortable due to the heat. But people prefer them regardless and I believe they do in large part because wearing casual clothing, whether comfortable or not, allows people to feel more relaxed.

I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with the notion that whites don’t dress as poor whites. At least not as it relates to young people. Wearing blue collar shirts (“Gas Station Shirts”, as I used to call them, even though they typically were not actual gas station shirts) was a fad for a while. I was a fan of this fad because I knew a great place in Phillippi where I could get said shirts for $2-3 a piece. This may have had more to do with the solidarity that Sheila refers to. On the other hand, they were typically worn by people that are most diametrically opposed to poor whites in terms of philosophy and politics. Additionally, in Delosa it’s not too uncommon for people to “dress cowboy” if they are remotely in to country music.

What’s interesting about both the blue collar shirts and dressing western is that, though people across the economic spectrum do it, you often see key distinctions between between the way that people that dress that way out of necessity or actual cultural placing and the people that dress that way just because. For instance, I was terrible at the Gas Station Shirt fad because I insisted on tucking my shirt in and that ran contrary to the norms. A good portion of the time not only are the shirts untucked, but they are unbottoned with a shirt underneath (this I could do – so long as there was something between my belt and my body other than my pants). Well-to-do people that wear the cowboy wear are conspicuous because their shirts and even jeans always seem to be well-pressed.

Now, this either defeats the purpose or is part of the package. It’s sort of a way of showing solidarity or at least taking off airs, but in a way that suggests “I am not really one of them. “

Category: Coffeehouse

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4 Responses to Taking Off Airs

  1. DaveinHackensack says:

    Re suits versus jeans, it’s not exactly that jeans are more comfortable than suit pants per se, but that you can be more comfortable in them. Suit pants are thin, expensive, prone to wrinkle (or even tear), dry clean-only, etc. Jeans are thick, tough, washable, not prone to wrinkle or tear. The epitome of comfort in cold weather though is the pair of fleece pants I’m wearing right now, but other than wearing them in the car when I’m going through a drive through, or maybe running into a supermarket late at night, I don’t consider it socially acceptable to wear these outside.

  2. trumwill says:

    Suitpants may be less flexible in terms of wrinkling and cleaning, but slacks aren’t, necessarily. Even cheap slacks are wrinkle-resistent these days provided that you don’t abuse them when you take them out of the dryer. Moreso than the t-shirts people prefer to work shirts, anyway.

    I’m sympathetic to arguments about heat from the north, though. In the south, though, the temperature argument runs in favor of slacks. Heavily.

  3. DaveinHackensack says:

    You can certainly be more comfortable in those sorts of washable, no-iron slacks than in suit pants. They seem pretty common with physicians, engineers and other professionals who wear shirts and ties often but are on their feet a lot.

  4. trumwill says:

    Clancy has the most comfortable-seeming slacks I have ever touched, but it’s the kind of material that would seem goofy on a guy.

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