|Monday, April 26, 2004
13:48 - Ties for the People
How long has the modern-style necktie been around?
I can't imagine it goes back much further than, say, the 20s. A friend at lunch said that he'd seen a photo of one of his great-grandfathers wearing a modern-looking, straight, pointed silk tie around 1900.
So that's over a hundred years in which the necktie—one of the most variable pieces of fashion in the Western world throughout cilivized history, from Elizabethan ruffles to Civil War-era dickies to Southern bolos—has barely changed at all. Sure, it's gotten wider and skinnier; but in general it's remained the same for as long as there have been automobiles.
And that Deep Space Nine episode thought that twenty years from now, in 2024, we'd have totally discarded the traditional necktie style, in favor of a weird, oblique, sashlike arrangement that sits diagonally across the chest. That and the Chicago font were what indicated the San Francisco of The Future™.
Something tells me the necktie will be with us for a good while yet.
Why? Because style in men's fashion is converging. It's becoming standardized. Everybody wears the same thing nowadays. Slacks or jeans, and a button-down or polo shirt or T-shirt—or else a suit coat and slacks—are the uniform of the man on the street, the baseline from which all variations (such as the dickies and ascots and bellbottoms of the 70s) spring, and to which they all eventually return.
And it's the same across all social classes. Whether you're a rich and powerful CEO, or a guy living in a trailer park, you don't consider jeans and a t-shirt to be "above" or "below" your station.
Which is what I got thinking about today. Men's fashion, indeed, might in fact be the greatest indicator of the great Classless Society that all the Trotskyites of the early century yearned for. They envisioned a world where everyone would occupy the same position in the social order, because they all made the same amount of money. The young Bolsheviks thought that to achieve social parity, equality of wealth was necessary. But what's come about is a denial of that: we have the classless society, but without discarding the idea of some jobs paying more than others.
They seemingly pictured a glorious future in which every man would dress in snappy suits and go to opera performances—everybody appreciating the highbrow, intellectual achievements of humanity, only without a lower class to have to feel superior to. Well, what's happened instead is a lowering of the level of "culture" that we enjoy when given the wherewithal and the opportunity. What do Americans do when they become independently wealthy? Do they retire to smoke-filled rooms and play whist while ordering their servants about? Do 7-11 customers play Lotto in the starry-eyed hopes of attending fancy dress balls and climbing the ladder of high society, leaving their former mudstained lives behind for a whole new crowd? Hardly. They buy boats. They restore old sports cars. They build airplanes. They go parachuting. They build extravagant home-theater systems on which they can view Jackie Chan films in HDTV resolution while eating nachos. From burger-flipper to CEO, Americans by and large dream of nothing so much as remaining the same people they are—just having more fun.
Europeans, and those who sympathize with them, see this as proof of America's lowbrow, uncultured nature. "Why can't Americans watch more opera?" they moan. "Why won't Americans appreciate foreign films, or go to art museums, or emigrate to Provence, or show some semblance of culture?" The short answer is that we don't want any part of "culture". We see it as tedious and pretentious, a vehicle for self-righteously creating rifts between social classes. We'd rather keep wearing our jeans and t-shirts if we get rich, but do it in the cockpit of a Shelby Cobra or a Piper Cub.
Every since this country was founded, social classes have gradually been eroding, even as the shrill voices on the Left insist that the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer. We have social mobility unprecedented anywhere in history, and not because we artificially removed any upper social strata to which poor people could aspire. Instead, we made it so classes still exist, but they don't matter. When your garage poker club has members who are in debt up to their eyeballs and members who own their own entrepreneurial businesses, you know you're about as far from the days of personal wealth being denoted by how much gold thread and how many ruffles were sewn into the clothes you wore out into public as you can possibly be.
Hell, we don't even wear hats anymore; if we do, it's the ubiquitous baseball cap, which (like a silk tie) looks just as at home on the head of a CEO as on a trucker. So we can't tell how rich someone is just by looking at him.
Which is just how we like it.