The U.S. Senate has finally reversed its idiotic “Fetterman rule” and unanimously voted to reinstate a proper dress code. Previously, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had scrapped the dress code, allowing full-time Wario look-alike John Fetterman (D-Pa.) to wander the Senate halls and floor clad in oversized cargo shorts and a shirt clearly stolen from Shrek’s closet. The debate over the Senate’s sartorial standards shouldn’t begin and end with politicians, though. Perhaps it’s time Americans began holding themselves to a dress code.
A glance at old movies and TV shows and Grandma and Grandpa’s photo albums should be sufficient to demonstrate that, up until 50 to 60 years ago, Americans took their wardrobes seriously. Men wore suits or sports coats; women wore dresses or skirts and blouses. Ties were commonplace, and hats were a hot commodity for both sexes. But of course, that was a different era, an age now long gone by, right? Yes, but it was in keeping with a centuries-old tradition of dressing decently.
The basics of dressing well haven’t changed much since the late 1600s: Men would wear some variation of a collared shirt, a jacket or coat, trousers, and leather shoes; women would wear some variation of a dress — the mechanics and cut of the dresses might have changed drastically almost from decade to decade, but the basic notion remained the same; hats were nearly always worn out of doors by both sexes, and sometimes indoors by women. This was also not a custom exclusively for aristocrats and the nouveau riche but was a standard across class lines. Of course, the wealthier folk would be able to afford more and higher quality clothes than their working-class counterparts, but rich men and poor men alike would wear some iteration of the same basic outfit.
So what the hell happened? Why did this centuries-long custom spanning the entirety of Western civilization suddenly fall into abject decay? It may be difficult to pinpoint a single event that precipitated this corruption of couture, but we can learn a lot by examining what upheld this custom for so many hundreds of years and by looking at what cultural trends coincided with the decline of dressing well and the rise of dressing … well, poorly.
It’s easy to fall prey to the sexual revolution’s brutalist tactics and see others as sexual playthings.
Since about the end of the 1600s, men and women found it important to dress in a manner befitting their stations in life. This is not to say that every job or every class had its own costume — the term “uniform” might be more fitting. In essence, every man would wear more or less the same basic ensemble, but with differentiations that would denote his place in society; every woman wore more or less the same basic ensemble, but with differentiations (some of which were and still remain unobservable by the male eye) that would denote her place in society — just as soldiers in an army all wear the same uniforms, with differentiations so a captain may be discriminated from a corporal and a colonel from a captain and so on. (READ MORE: America’s Ruling Class)
As newly created wealth and the rise of the American meritocracy began causing class distinctions to fade, previously overlooked aspects of dressing well began to reveal themselves. Since class no longer mattered quite so much (except, for a while, in Britain) dressing well no longer had as much to do with respecting one’s class and place in society — but people still did it. For the first two-thirds or so of the 20th century, Westerners continued to dress up on a day-to-day basis. With class less important, the 20th century revealed that dressing well perhaps had more to do with respect for tradition, respect for those around oneself, and respect for oneself.
Over the course of the first half of the 1900s, respect for tradition began to decay. The devastation of two world wars brought a decline in traditional religious belief and a rise in nihilism and apathy, especially among younger generations. Marxism gained a foothold in the world, decimating Russia and giving rise to socialism in the West. And, especially among the young of the moneyed upper and middle classes, sexual immorality became more and more common and less and less taboo. Still, respect for others and respect for oneself held strong.
Then, in the 1960s, that semi-sardonic dabbling in debauchery practiced by those with too much time and money and not enough sense of responsibility gave rise to what became known as the sexual revolution. Those twin pillars of virtue — respect for others and respect for self — fell in one crippling blow. The sexual revolution made others and oneself no more than sexual playthings, toys to be tinkered with without regard for dignity or outcome. Of course, there were outcomes, like pregnancy, so the twin evils of contraception and abortion were introduced wholesale to replace respect for others and respect for self. The decay of hierarchical society, the rapid rise of Marxism, and the exponentially worsening fallout of the sexual revolution have left us with a West that considers sweatpants, cargo shorts, and yoga leggings par for the course. Even a clean pair of jeans and a crisp, collared shirt might turn heads today. (READ MORE: Abortion, the Unholy Sacrament of the Sexual Revolution)
Dressing well isn’t a matter of money or snobbishness; dressing well evinces that one has enough respect for oneself and one’s community to dress with decorum and dignity. It’s easy to fall prey to the sexual revolution’s brutalist tactics and see others as sexual playthings when every woman’s derrière can be seen clearly through her spray-painted-on yoga pants, and every man wears grey, pelvis-accentuating sweatpants and too-tight T-shirts. It’s easy to see everyone as a slob when everyone wears pajama pants and unwashed graphic tees. It’s easy to see others as less than human when no one dresses as though he respects or values his own humanity. And it’s oh-so-easy to see oneself as having no purpose, no place in society, and no dignity when one dresses in such a manner. Generations past knew some basic truths that the world today has largely forgotten, and they dressed like it, too.