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Ifat Glassman

Why are men's clothing so boring?

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I disagree with you about suits. I find suits very comfortable, IF THEY FIT CORRECTLY. Most men, in my opinion, have very poorly-fitted suits. As a result, they are constantly adjusting and the proportions don't look right. I'm not attracted to men, so I'm probably not the most qualified person to speak on this, but I think men tend to look their most elegant in suits (or similar clothing, like tuxedos or morning suits). Suits emphasize typically masculine qualities, like broad shoulders, for instance. Also, part of the reason that men tend to dress in a more boring fashion is that many just do not know how to put good combinations together beyond the most basic solid grey jacket, monocolor tie, monocolor shirt, etc. When men do venture beyond this, they usually fall into whatever the latest trend is, which tends to look horrible.

At the best men's clothing stores (like Turnbull and Asser, which unfortunately I cannot afford to shop at due to being a college student and having no money) there is an enormous variety of colors and designs, which are not at all boring and are very elegant looking.

My speculation on the reason for greater variety in women is that there is FAR greater variety in what is generally considered attractive in women, and a greater variety in women's body shapes as well. Men tend to be either 1)Slim 2)Athletic or 3)Fat all of which can be emphasized or concealed by a suit. Women can be 1)Slim 2)Athletic 3)Fat 4)Curvey 5)Petite 6)Barbie-dollish 7)etc.

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Why the hostility and defensiveness? I am afraid the tone of your posting is surprising - and utterly unjustified.

Groan. You're right about that; when I don't get enough sleep I'm mortally irritable about everything. (Not an excuse.)

Make no mistake: I like to see people dressed up, and I even do it myself on those rare occasions when I visit my family to make sure it's still there, er, assuming that I'm visiting them because of some social event (wedding, funeral), not to go hiking through woods. However, I also recognize that being where other people can see me is not the same thing as being at a social function.

Did it used to be? If so, I can understand having standards for "walking down the street" clothing other than "genetalia appropriately covered". If it never was considered social intercourse simply to walk past someone on the street, then you should be applying my standard, namely the "why are you even intruding on their personal space by looking at them?" standard. Frankly, that's rude, it implies intimacy you have no right to assume.

People forcing themselves on me socially happens all the time, too, to the point where I'm not even certain whether I'm supposed to do it myself! Talking to make the elevator ride less awkward or the wait less interminable is not something that comes naturally to me. Sitting next to someone in an airplane is not an indication that you're now entitled to socialize with them.

I view dressing up to go to a college class in the same light that I would dressing up before the maid comes over: a sign of impending neurosis. The professor is a skilled professional that I am paying for a service; paying a lot, considering that he won't ever know my name, see my homework, or grade my papers. (ESPECIALLY not since he posts my grades next to my social security number, something he is not allowed to do, but does anyway.) Even the TA that handles my third of the four-hundred-person-class probably won't even know I'm in the class unless I actually show up at one of the extra help sessions, something I'm not inclined to do because I could pass the class in my sleep.

My respect for the professor consists of: showing up, sitting in the seat he assigned me (why, I don't know, I imagine that I'm capable of finding somewhere to sit on my own), and not making any noise while he's lecturing. (Not to mention filling out all those dots on the exams. Oh, my aching hands.) But then, I give the TA the same respect when he's lecturing. So this respect comes, not because you're a professor, but because you're giving a lecture. Heck, I'm not even particularly respecting him, I'm respecting the other students because they might want to be able to hear the lecture, as I do. The professor could, theoretically, kick me out, but I'd want a refund, then.

However, I'd view matters differently if it were a small class, actually in my field (so there might be some slight expecation that I'd have future interactions with this professor) and taught by a professor that at least made a stab at recognizing his students. The former class is about as social as a public swimming pool; the second one constitutes at least a potential professional relationship. Imagining that both are the same because they're "college classes" seems a little weird to me.

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What makes clothing aesthetic?

I know what makes writing aesthetic: not having 13 spelling errors in your post. :huh:

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The suit seems highly uncomfortable, and it also doesnt emphasize the male shape very well, in my opinion. It seems more like the man in it has to adjust himself to the suit, and not vice versa.

Wow, you sound like you've never seen a fellow with a tailored suit. While a suit is ill-suited for playing basketball, it is well suited for its intended purpose. And haven't you heard that every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man?

Anyhow, I've got a few suits that consistently get, "wow, nice suit!" :huh:

Edited by Inspector

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Here are some examples of creative men's clothing that emphasize the male figure:

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page2-1.jpg

(This one didn't have any spelling mistakes, did it :huh: ?)

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Did it used to be? If so, I can understand having standards for "walking down the street" clothing other than "genetalia appropriately covered". If it never was considered social intercourse simply to walk past someone on the street, then you should be applying my standard, namely the "why are you even intruding on their personal space by looking at them?" standard. Frankly, that's rude, it implies intimacy you have no right to assume.

Wait a second.. Are you saying that you have no right to look at someone you don't know on the street? Now, maybe I'm just a simple country boy from rural Texas, but I don't see what the problem is in being friendly to strangers. I'm not saying, be a Peter Keating and make eye contact with every person in your vicinity.. Most of the time I don't notice people as I walk by, because I'm usually busy concentrating on some problem or puzzle. But if someone catches my eye-- if they're nicely dressed, or unusually attractive, or just look interesting for some reason, I don't hesitate to look at them, maybe smile, maybe even give them a nod or a, "How do you do." Usually the other person walks away smiling, too. I don't see how this is rude. If someone returned my friendly gesture with a sneer or a, "Get out of my face!" I would think that would be slightly rude (though, being interested in such anomalies and surprises, I probably wouldn't personally be offended, and would probably bust out laughing as soon as he were out of sight). That's never happened to me, but if I were indeed guilty of violating his rights by looking at him, I guess he would be justified.

I view dressing up to go to a college class in the same light that I would dressing up before the maid comes over: a sign of impending neurosis.
Wow. I guess they better update the DSM. :huh:

Personally, I think it's fun to dress up. My friends have laughed at me for getting dressed up to run to the grocery store. I don't see why not-- I feel like I'm doing something, then. : ) I don't have to. I can quit anytime. Really!

Anyhow, I've got a few suits that consistently get, "wow, nice suit!"

You know, I've been thinking about it since this thread began. I notice that I've gotten proportionately much more frequent compliments on the way I'm dressed from fellow Objectivists than most normal people I meet. At the past several meetings of the Houston Objectivism Society, different people have individually said they liked what I was wearing, which almost never happens to me normally (and I wasn't wearing anything explicitly "Objectivist," like an ARI t-shirt, just regular, nice clothes). I hadn't thought of it before, but I think that says something about 1) the superior manners of Objectivists, because they will openly acknowledge someone if he has done something they appreciate, even a small thing like that, and 2) sense of life-- picking out clothes might be slightly mundane, but it is an aesthetic issue, and you can express something with your clothes which can resonate with someone's sense of life evaluations, to the degree that they will notice it as something unusual enough to comment on.

Edited by Bold Standard

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Groan. You're right about that; when I don't get enough sleep I'm mortally irritable about everything. (Not an excuse.)

I've been there and done that more than a few times myself. :thumbsup:

I have some comments about classroom formality - but I won't have a chance to post them until later.

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Now, on the other end of the spectrum, I don't see anything wrong with boots, jeans, and a nice t-shirt. (that's what I'm wearing right now) Then again, mine aren't sloppy or baggy or loose. These aren't t-shirts with logos or anything; just plain black or white with a pocket on the front, for the most part. I know for sure that this style of dress pre-dates the hippies and their anti-class movement.

Now, to give a more full context, I work with computers and I work the night shift. And I just as often wear khakis and a polo. Or jeans and a polo. Or a t-shirt and khakis. And I usually have my 1911 on my hip. If I went to a steak house or something fancy, I'd go with the khakis and polo, or if it was the winter, a button-down shirt. I guess I just don't do very much that would be considered "formal."

When you consider that many students these days wear pajamas, now that's disrespectful.

But anyway, I've seen people who wear more formal clothes than I but who look more slovenly.

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You are apparently a fan of the "Dog the Bounty Hunter" school of mens fashion.

LOL! no I'm not. The clothes I presented have a certain design that I like. It's the leather and many metal buttons that I don't like... And leather clothes seem uncomfortable as well. I was only referring to the shape of the shirts in those pictures: it emphasizes the width of the chest, it allows freedom of movement of the arms, it has a V shape that emphasizes the hight of the man. The first link I gave (the one that doesn't work) is much more elegant and comfortable (except for the puffy sleeves... :thumbsup: ).

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and if that makes me "old fashioned" well, then that is exactly what I am.

This reminds me of an old quip of mine: "If you don't like my being old-fashioned, don't let the fashions change so fast."

(BTW, I was in my early teens when I said that. Can you imagine an old-fashioned 12-year-old? :D)

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And leather clothes seem uncomfortable as well.

A pair of well fitting leather pants are in fact very comfortable to wear. Goes well with a suit too(the jacket part, whatever it´s called). :D

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I view dressing up to go to a college class in the same light that I would dressing up before the maid comes over: a sign of impending neurosis. The professor is a skilled professional that I am paying for a service; paying a lot, considering that he won't ever know my name, see my homework, or grade my papers.

If I could afford a maid, while I certainly would not dress up for her arrival, I would definitely make it a point to put on clothes other than, let's say, the ones I go to bed in. Even if I wore very exquisite and expensive silk pajamas that are very attractive, I think that would be highly inappropriate. Yes, one can be as completely covered in sleep clothes as one is in street clothes - but that is not the point. Such clothes, by their very nature and purpose, are intimately informal and casual - so much that I don't consider a maid or other hired help as falling within the rather small circle of individuals that I consider myself intimate enough with that I would present myself in such a state, even within the walls of my own home. Wearing stained and grubby work clothes would be of a much higher level of formality and far more appropriate, even though one might be able to make the case that they are signifcantly less aesthetically appealing than a nice pair of pajamas.

Such an attitude might sound kind of odd to some who have been raised in a post counterculture world where people feel perfectly comfortable revealing the most intimately personal details of their private lives on national television or on Internet message boards. I am afraid that the distinction between things which are acceptable to make public and things which are appropriately private is yet another example of that which the 1960s and 1970s counterculture nihilists sought to obliterate. The very notion of personal dignity was one of many things that the counterculture attacked and sought to replace with a grubby, animalistic form of egalitarianism - and our culture is still feeling the aftershocks.

True to form, the nihilists had no positive arguments to support their position - they just ridiculed that which they sought to destroy off the cultural landscape. People over a certain age who refused to remain silent were denigrated and dismissed as being "old fashioned" or "prudish." People under a certain age were warned in no uncertain terms in countless ways through the popular culture by self-proclaimed exponants of alleged "individualism" that if they refused to conform they, too, would be denigrated and branded as "square" or "uncool" and subjected to ostracism and ridicule by their tribal peers. As a result, a great many people even younger have grown up with no conception at all about what it means to have a "private life" and the notion of "dignity" is utterly foreign to them. Their personal lives are as much of an open book as are those of the residents of a prison or a commune.

So, yes, while I would not necessarily make any effort at all to look especially nice (unless I was just disgustingly filthy) when a maid or other hired help comes over to do work, there are, nevertheless, certain standards of dress that, even under such semi-private and casual circumstances, I would adhere to.

I also have some comments to make with regard to formality in the classroom which I will put up later on in a separate posting.

Edited by Dismuke

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I view dressing up to go to a college class in the same light that I would dressing up before the maid comes over: a sign of impending neurosis. The professor is a skilled professional that I am paying for a service; paying a lot, considering that he won't ever know my name, see my homework, or grade my papers.

Rather than discuss specifically what I think is appropriate attire for the classroom, let me begin by discussing the wider point of what I meant when I agreed with Vladimir about the need to dress respectfully.

The issue is this: Different contexts and circumstances should and do require differing degrees of formality. Furthermore, the clothing that one chooses to wear is an implicit form of communication and should properly reflect the appropriate level of formality for a given situation.

To defend such a point, it is necessary to ask the following: Why do some circumstances warrant a certain degree of formality? How does one determine what degree is appropriate? And, how does one determine in what specific ways clothing should reflect that formality?

The counterculture nihilists were, of course, completely contemptuous of formality and sought to denigrate and trivialize it whenever possible. They were not enlightened social critics who were merely opposed to certain conventions and ceremonies which they considered outdated or irrational. They were hostile to the very notion of formality as such. According to their lowest common denominator form of egalitarianism, going to a job interview, buying a house, getting married, graduating from college, the occasion of somebody's birthday or wedding anniversary, being a guest of or being granted an appointment with a stranger who is, in some way, accomplished, attending a gathering of highly accomplished people, going on a date with one's girlfriend/boyfriend - all of these things fall into the exact same common category of "things that people do" as does going to the bathroom. As such, they are all of equal existential significance and require no additional degree of awe, respect, emotion or ceremony whatsoever. Sure, some of these situations make for a really nifty excuse to get drunk or stoned - so to that degree, they are ok. But for one to attach any sort of importance to the occasion itself - well, how quaint, old fashioned and holier-than-thou.

Formality means to recognize the importance and significance of certain circumstances, persons or institutions and to show the appropriate level of respect towards which they are entitled.

To accord importance or significance to something is to make a value judgment - which, of course, is antithetical to a nihilist. When it comes to the realm of human beings and human achievement, the particular form that a nihilist's revolt against reality takes is through the hostility and contempt that he has for values - not just for particular alleged values he does not share but values as such. Ayn Rand described this mindset as a "hatred of the good for being the good." Unfortunately, while the 1960s nihilists are long since dead as trendsetters, the destruction that they inflicted, the voids they left behind and the deadly premises they planted continue to permeate and infect all aspects and corners of our cultural life.

A person who is hostile to values is incapable of regarding anything as being significant or important. And, if there is nothing in this world that is of significance or importance, than there is no basis for which to have and show respect for anything. That was the basis for the counterculture's attack on formality and was a mindset that was implicitly transmitted throughout the popular culture in countless and usually very subtle ways - and it continues to reverberate in updated forms and behaviors, especially among those young people who seek to be perceived as cool and hip by their tribal peers.

Formality is important because there is no dichotomy between mind and body - i.e. because it is proper for one's values to be reflected in one's actions, behavior, demeanor and existential surroundings. Formality is one of the ways in which we integrate value significance with our behavior and surroundings. I will provide a couple of examples.

Any person who has been married for any length of time has almost certainly seen his or her spouse in circumstances which were probably quite the opposite of elegant, glamorous and dignified. If one cannot be informal in the most intimate ways possible with one's spouse - well, then there is definitely something very wrong with the marriage. So why do many married couples on special occasions such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries go through the bother of getting all dressed up in expensive clothing and jewelry, buying expensive flowers, perhaps renting a limo, to go to an expensive restaurant where everybody else is dressed up and behaves with a significantly higher than usual degree of formality? Why not just slap on tee shirt, sweatpants and sneakers and hop in the jalopy and go to some hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the food might actually taste better? After all, it's not like they haven't ever seen each other in grubby clothes before. And they can fornicate afterwards just as efficaciously regardless of how they dressed at dinner. Isn't the reason that married couples sometimes get dressed up and go out for an elegant dinner based on the fact that they do regard their marriage as something of significance and importance? After constantly seeing one's spouse in commonplace daily settings and having seen them at their very worst and most unglamorous, isn't it sometimes desirable and necessary for a couple to do certain things to remind themselves and reaffirm that that their relationship is significant and special in certain profound ways?

A few years ago, I refinanced the mortgage on my house. Since I was refinancing through a bank owned by the same company which held my original mortgage, most of the process took place over the telephone or by snail mail. The convenience of being able to do all of that by phone is one aspect of modern life that I very much enjoy. However, once everything was in place, I had to go to the bank to meet with, for the very first time, the person I had been working with and sign the necessary paperwork. However, when I actually went to the bank itself, which was in an unfamiliar neighborhood on the opposite side of town from where I live.... well, it turned out that the bank was actually located inside a Kroger supermarket. Not just in the same building, mind you, the bank was located in the supermarket itself. As I was sitting inside a pathetically small cubicle signing papers to pay off my mortgage and to initiate the new loan, it occurred to me that I was entering into what is likely to be one of the larger financial transactions I will ever be involved in - and yet only a few yards away were frumpy looking housewives in cut off shorts with screaming kids going up and down the aisles picking up cans of soup and twelve packs of stale fried pies from the bakery's day-old mark down bin. Contrast that with the breathtakingly stunning and very formal looking pre World War II banking lobbies, some of which still survive in big city downtowns. They were places where people spoke in hushed voices and where a Captain of Industry would have looked at home. By virtue of the setting, one's transaction, however routine it might have been, took on an aura of importance. One was more than just some random slob who walked in off the street - by having legitimate business in such a place, one felt part of the most mighty and powerful financial system and economy in the world. One might be able to make the case that the need for those old time banking lobbies has passed. But the fact remains that getting a mortgage is a transaction that deserves to be accorded more significance and grandeur than buying a roll of toilet paper at a grocery store. I mentioned this to the banker - and she said that quite a number of customers had voiced the same complaint and, for that reason, the bank was planning on relocating the mortgage part of the business to a traditional stand-alone branch. When the bank made the initial decision to close mortgages in a grocery store, officials were probably not motivated by a nihilistic desire to destroy the significance of their institution and the overall experience of their customers. They probably just figured it was more efficient from a cost standpoint. Being a product of a post counterculture world, it probably never occurred to the person who came up with the idea that customers might feel that way - and, indeed, for many customers who have never experienced or discovered the pre-counterculture world, getting a mortgage at a grocery store probably doesn't strike them as being odd at all. To them, the only real difference between buying a mortgage and buying a roll of toilet paper is likely to be the amount of hassle one has to go through.

This brings us to the issue of deciding what degree of formality is warranted for any given situation. Unfortunately, this is a very broad subject that one could easily write an entire book about. It is not possible to adequately cover in a brief posting. I will merely make a few observations.

The conventions of formality do need to evolve to take cognizance of changing social, economic and technological conditions. For example, the customs that well mannered males in Victorian times were expected to adhere to when in the company of or addressing a female would be worse than absurd in a modern context.

Inspector made a great point about how traditional business clothes can be extremely uncomfortable during certain times of the year in places such as Texas or Arizona. Unfortunately, because of the utter contempt that the counterculture and its ongoing aftermath had for things such as elegance and formality, when people today wish to express and display such things, the only point of reference they have to go by is what people did in bygone days when such things were valued by the population and popular culture as a whole. A a result, our popular conception of what it means to be formal or elegant has largely remained frozen in time and has ceased to evolve.

Business suits are an excellent example. As Vladimir has pointed out, a good quality modern business suit is not much different in any fundamental respect than a similar suit from the 1930s. Sure, there have been changes - but they are mostly in minor details such as cut, lapel size, how high on his waist a man wears his pants, etc. We are talking about a passage of time of over 75 years. By contrast, if one goes back in time merely 30 years before 1930 one will see that there was a significant amount of evolution in men's clothing. Going back 75 years to 1855, the differences are VERY striking. Modern business clothes take as their point of reference a period of time when warmer climates tended to be either culturally or economically backward and merely followed the trends set by the social and economic movers and shakers who lived in cooler climates. Today, New York businessmen in town for meetings and such suffer through the Texas heat just like the rest of us do. Despite what the hippies and their modern heirs assert, there is a rationally valid need for people in certain types business dealings to project and implicitly communicate an image of success and seriousness. Thanks to New Deal era assaults on the successful and the counterculture which said that nothing should be taken seriously, the images that we use via our clothing to project such things has not been allowed to evolve with changing circumstances.

Is there a modern need for the grand banking lobbies of the past? Probably not. Back then, banks would occasionally fail and depositors would lose all of their money - thus it was essential for banks to project an image of wealth and rock solid stability. Because banks that fail today are bailed out by the taxpayers, they don't feel as much need to spend large amounts of money in order to convince the public of their stability. As long as there is the FDIC logo on the door, the public simply does not pay much attention. But, for reasons already mentioned, I think there is a need for some level of formality above what one would find in a fast food joint or grocery store.

What level of formality should there be in college classes? Well, one has to keep in mind that going to college was a much bigger deal and something that far fewer people in the past did than do people today. College classes back then were much more difficult and more academically focused. Today, many colleges function more as vocational schools than their traditional, and I submit, proper function. The only advantage a college has over a pure vocational school is that it will at least attempt to teach, through the core curriculum, the material that students should have and once did learn at the high school level. Today, there are a lot of people out there who never either went to or finished college. One hundred years ago, there were a great many people who ended their education after the 8th grade or who dropped out of high school - and most of them were just as, if not more, literate as the typical person today who never continued his education past high school. Clearly, attending college is not as "elite" and "significant" an experience as it was in days past - and, it would make sense that standards of formality evolve accordingly.

What Megan describes with her college experience is disgusting. What she describes is a mindset towards the students that seems little different than that which a bureaucrat views a waiting room full of people waiting their turn to be given their food stamps handout. At best, it is the application of the business practices of a fast food joint to the context of education - which is even worse than signing a mortgage at a supermarket. I can understand why Megan and others might have trouble with the notion that they should display respect in such a circumstance. But what she describes is an institution that has been debased. In a rational culture a college classroom would be a place worthy of a great deal of respect and seriousness - and, yes, it would be appropriate for such respect to be reflected in one's dress.

My understanding is that when Vladimir dresses nicely to class and is frequently the only nicely dressed person present, it does not necessarily symbolize his personal respect for every teacher or every aspect of what his school has evolved into but rather his profound respect for his vision of what such an institution and the experience of going to college might be and ought to be and, to a much greater degree than today, once was. One of the things I really admire about him is his loyalty to that vision and his refusal to give it up and shrug it off simply because most of the rest of the world has.

As for how clothing should reflect the differing degrees of formality - well that, too, is a subject one could write an entire book about and one where there is room for a great deal of debate. Again, I will only make a few basic observations.

Despite the fact that for many Objectivists, including myself, the term "conventional people" is somewhat of a pejorative, dress and manners are two areas in which there is a proper place for convention in rational society. The reason this is so is that manners and dress are powerful and effective methods of communication. But they can only be so if everyone speaks the same "language." Think what you will of business suits - a person who wears one walking down the street is going to make a very different impression on you than would his twin wearing baggy jeans with the top of his underpants exposed, a backwards baseball cap and a tee shirt and lots of chains around his neck. Who would you be more likely to ask for directions if you found yourself lost?

Because of this need for a "common language" clothing which is considered "formal" or "serious" or "elegant" is not something that is can be determined strictly by one's personal taste. There is, however, a great deal of room for expression of personal taste within the context of many conventional forms of dress. There is not a great deal of room for it with formal clothes - but business suits offer a great deal of room for personal expression. I, for example, usually wear French cuffs (ahem....change that to Victory cuffs!) when I dress nicely - and for the Ayn Rand Centennial activities I went to in New York City, I even purchased pair of dollar sign cuff links. Socks, ties, pocket squares, collar pins, suspenders, hats and even vintage styles all offer ways to add a personal touch while adhering to a commonly understood convention of the business suit. In the realm of casual clothes, there is even greater room for personalization while still adhering to commonly understood conventions.

As for my love for the 1920s and 1930s which is where I turn to when I wish to experience pop culture type things - I most certainly do not suggest that we should turn back the clock and go back to the conventions of the past. Not only is that impossible, it is undesirable. I am for a popular culture that is better than the one of the 1920s and 1930s. Things should evolve - but for the better and not in the opposite direction as I submit has most definitely been the case.

I discovered the early 1900s when I was a kid and it provided me with a breathtakingly refreshing and inspirational alternative to the 1970s ugliness that was still very much in force around me and which I simply could not relate to in any significantly way whatsoever. Thankfully, things have become better since the dark, bleak days of the 1960s and 1970s. To the degree I find things in today's popular culture that I can relate to, I tend to become VERY enthusiastic about and savor them simply because it is such a rare treat for me. But I refuse to give in to the notion that a world with a styrofoam soul is the norm or something I should accept because that is all that today's pop culture has to offer.

The nihilism of the 1960s, just to name one example, destroyed all of the things about music which gives it value to me - melody, beauty and the ability to express a very wide range of emotions such as unadulterated joy, unapologetic excitement and even sadness. I am not a musician and do not know how to create my own music - so the only alternative I have in today's world besides turning to previous eras which did offer those things is to give up music altogether. Thank god for Thomas Edison and the fact that I don't have to. That is the pattern I have followed in all areas of aesthetics that are important to me - and my life is vastly richer because of it.

Edited by Dismuke

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Good points.

This reminds of the passage in AS, where Hank realizes that he found reasons to buy things and dress up for meetings with Dagny.

The bottomline is: clothing/manners matters if it has reasons behind it.

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According to their lowest common denominator form of egalitarianism, going to a job interview, buying a house, getting married, graduating from college, the occasion of somebody's birthday or wedding anniversary, being a guest of or being granted an appointment with a stranger who is, in some way, accomplished, attending a gathering of highly accomplished people, going on a date with one's girlfriend/boyfriend - all of these things fall into the exact same common category of "things that people do" as does going to the bathroom. As such, they are all of equal existential significance and require no additional degree of awe, respect, emotion or ceremony whatsoever.

Putting it like that really exposes what a vast amount of the simple pleasures of life nihilists deny for themselves (ie, the pleasure of pomp and circumstance, and getting dressed up in your best clothes for a formal event, and to enjoy seeing people you like and care about do the same, etc)-- and concretizes what a prudish, ascetic way of life nihilism really is. How ironic and hypocritical those cynical egalitarians are, on so many levels. Thinking about it this way almost makes me feel bad for them. I guess there is some justice in things, after all.

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Dismuke,

I've greatly enjoyed reading your posts - I quite agree with you. I was wondering what your thoughts on evening wear are? My own experience is that it has decayed near to the point of extinction - I've noticed that the expected proper dress for a gentleman at the opera, the theatre, or the symphony is a lounge suit, whereas in other days it would be white tie. White tie now seems almost extinct, and black tie is reserved for 'very formal' occasions where few people even bother to wear it correctly - I've noted people without waistcoats or cummerbunds (which are in themselves infinitely inferior to waistcoats, in my opinion) on numerous occasions, and I won't even mention clip-on ties.

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Putting it like that really exposes what a vast amount of the simple pleasures of life nihilists deny for themselves (ie, the pleasure of pomp and circumstance, and getting dressed up in your best clothes for a formal event, and to enjoy seeing people you like and care about do the same, etc)-- and concretizes what a prudish, ascetic way of life nihilism really is. How ironic and hypocritical those cynical egalitarians are, on so many levels. Thinking about it this way almost makes me feel bad for them. I guess there is some justice in things, after all.

You are absolutely correct. But the people I feel sorry for is not the nihilists. They have miserable lives from the get go as a congenital condition. The people I have always felt sorry for is everyone else who came of age during and in the aftermath of the counterculture and never got to enjoy or discover the emotional richness and texture that the popular culture in decades past was once able to offer.

Last August 4, Bob Tracinski in his TIA Daily linked to and quoted from a Los Angeles Times article which, unfortunately, is no longer posted on the web. The article was about how there has been a recent boom in the number of people signing up for ballroom dancing instruction. One of the people mentioned in the article was quoted as saying: "Somehow, ballroom dancing offers a place of civility and comfort.' People feel a nostalgia for something lost... Things now are so fast-moving, so unsure, I think that it brings us, in a wistful way, to a place we wish we had known. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but somehow it's resonating."

Here is Tracinski's commentary based on that article. The title he gave for his posting was "The Great Re-Learning: 'A Place We Wish We Had Known'"

The past century was an era of cultural destruction, in which cultural institutions, values, and knowledge developed over a period of centuries was smashed to pieces by the nihilistic subjectivism of the leftist "counterculture." Now some people have begun a slow process of cultural re-building as they grasp--without being able to say exactly why--the need to reclaim elements of the culture that have been lost.

When I read that posting and the title he gave it - well a chill went down my spine and I felt a very strange emotion. Tracinski had summed in a very short paragraph a very central aspect of my life since childhood. When I was a kid, I thought of it in terms of "I must have been born in the wrong era." Later on, I came across Ayn Rand's term "cultural value deprivation" which very aptly described my feelings about my relationship to the popular culture in which I grew up. But "a place we wish we had known" - well, ever since I made the childhood discover that there actually once was such a place, a very important and profoundly personal part of my life has been the indescribably exciting and adventurous, though sometimes poignant and terribly lonely, process of discovering that place through its surviving artifacts and ruins and the precious elements which have somehow managed to survive and, in some cases be revived, in today's world. That process of discovery continues. And after all these years, there are still occasions when some subtle nuance of what life back then had to offer but no longer does will occur to me - and the best way I can describe the feeling is of having been "cheated."

There are things that I LOVE about the today's world. The widespread availability of air conditioning here in Texas is wonderful. Thanks to mp3 technology, whenever I go out of town on a lengthy trip, I can bring with me hundreds of hours of music in a very small amount of space. I used to have to lug with me boxes and boxes of CDs. Before I owned a CD player, one of the things I dreaded about long trips is that I would be completely deprived from my much needed spiritual "fix" of listening to "my kind of music" which I had less than a snowball's chance of hell of being able to find on AM/FM radio. It is kind of hard to drag very many 78 rpm records, which weighed a half pound each, along on a trip. The advent of the Internet has been indescribably wonderful for me and has ended great deal of the isolation I once felt. Today, I barely have time to keep up with all of the postings to the Message Board on my own website, let alone the many, many others that are devoted to some aspect or another of the early 1900s decades. There are countless websites out there that have enabled me to speed up my process of discovery in a very significant and rewarding way. Thanks to the Internet, new generations of young people are embarking on that same discovery. I hear on a regular basis from teenagers who stumbled across and have become big fans of Radio Dismuke. Thanks to the Internet, now more than ever, it is possible for me to selectively ignore the aspects of the modern life that I dislike and immerse myself in the aspects of the past that I admire and interact with a small but growing like-minded subculture.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about when I refer to "1970s ugliness" you can find some excellent examples at: http://www.lileks.com/institute/interiors/index.html Click on "next" to see the various examples - and be sure to read the commentary in the captions as it is hilarious.

Thankfully, much of that extreme degree of visual ugliness was in full retreat and had largely disappeared by the time I was a teenager - though it continued to linger on for a number of years afterwards in places such as the dining room where I went to college which would have fit in perfectly with the rooms on that website I linked to. I basically came of age in a culture which was in the beginning stages of a popular backlash against the counterculture which continues to this day - though with the nihilists still in full charge of those aspects of the popular culture which are considered "trendy" and "hip."

While the ugliness and much the active destruction had receded in many areas, the best description I have for the world that was left is "sterile and emotionally sanitized."

A few years back, a fellow at work confided to me that he had once been on medication for anxiety attacks. The doctor never was able to adequately adjust the medication and, against doctors orders, he quit using it because, while it did stop the anxiety attacks, he considered the side effects of the medication to be worse than the attacks. His description of the effects was that it basically cut off both ends of his emotional spectrum. He remained fully in control of his mental processes but experienced a constant a feeling of indifference towards anything, good or bad. If one of his kids misbehaved badly, his only reaction was: "well, I guess I am supposed to do something about it." If his wife came in with especially good news about something, his reaction was merely to take cognizance of the specific facts and say "ok, that's fine."

His description of the effects of that medication have remained with me because it occurred to me that it was also the best description I have yet to find of a great many aspects of the post-counterculture world into which I came of age. While no longer no longer explicitly nihilistic, those aspects of the culture, nevertheless had been stripped of their ability to evoke the range of emotional reactions which had once made them special.

Given the nature of nihilism and the nature of emotions, I think this makes perfect sense. As mentioned in a previous posting, the nihilists' revolt against reality in the realm of other people and human achievement takes the form of an assault on and a hostility towards values - not just particular values they do not share but values as such. And exactly what is an emotion? It is essentially an automated, subconscious value judgment. And while emotionalism - i.e. being guided by one's emotions instead of one's conscious, rational judgment - is a bad thing, emotions are a profoundly important part of a successful and happy life as they are the means by which we experience our values. Of what importance is a great work of art, a novel, one's romantic partner, of success in one's career, of earning any money beyond that which is necessary to one alive except for the emotional satisfaction one will achieve as a result?

It is not that nihilists are anti-emotion - they are the very worst and most out of control emotionalists one will ever encounter. But by their constant assaults (usually through sneers and ridicule) on our very capacity to value and, through their stranglehold on the popular culture, by making a great many values all but invisible to young people raised with mainstream upbringings, the result has been an entire generation or two of people with stunted emotional lives and an inability to experience and/or feel comfortable expressing in any intense sort of way a great many wonderful and positive emotions. (Negative emotions are a different story - people today are very capable of expressing those. Just look at any member of the Angry Left) This, in turn, impacts the sort of art and other aesthetic endeavors that people today respond to or create. When they do encounter art and other aesthetic works that do project those positive emotions which were most brutally assailed by the counterculture, a great many moderns find it to be very strange and foreign. They are unable to relate because they have never learned and are unable to understand the emotional "language" that the creater of the work took for granted and which is essential in order to properly appreciate it.

Strong displays of negative emotion are accepted as a given in today's popular culture. Equally strong displays of positive emotion, however, tend to be regarded with suspicion and sometimes even derision.

I will try to give a couple of examples of what I mean by "emotionally sanitized" in areas which are of personal importance to me: music and architecture.

While my favorite music is pre-1940 pop and jazz, I am able to appreciate and, to one degree or another, enjoy musical styles up through pre-Beatles rock and roll. I actually really enjoy some of the doo-wop music of the late '50s and early '60s. After the mid 1960s, there is very little that I can stomach. I have made attempts to explore and find some way of developing at least an appreciation for the musical genres of today that I at least don't consider explicitly nihilistic - such as soft rock, smooth so-called "jazz", country and western and the non rap, non heavy metal pop recordings. I am simply unable to do so. I can find isolated aspects and elements that I can say positive things about - but my reaction to the experience as a whole is slightly less than indifferent. I say "less than" because, after a while, it becomes very boring and monotonous. Melody is one of the primary means by which music communicates emotion and that is what is most strikingly absent from today's music. To the degree that melody does exist, it is watered down, smuggled in and apologized for and exists only in a very minimalistic sort of way. Occasionally, something will resonate a bit with me - but without exception it is because they have revived and smuggled in references to music from the pre-counterculture, such as early rock and rol or traditional music from the Caribbean or Latin America. It is very difficult for me to become too excited about such revivals because I can very easily access and listen to the original, non-bastardized versions. Listening to modern music - well, it is like I am listening to only a very tiny sanitized sliver of the emotional spectrum.

In architecture, the art deco movement of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which lingered on in increasingly watered down form through the 1950s, demonstrated that "form follows function" does NOT have to be sterile, minimalistic, bland and utterly lacking in ornamentation. Just look at the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings in New York City. Counterculture nihilism in architecture is best expressed by the school known as "Brutalism" which polluted the landscape with buildings that were harsh, cold, ugly and utterly devoid of any charm or ornamentation. Yes, such architecture followed the principle of "form follows function." But that principle can be used to create a form which is aesthetically pleasing or it can be used to create a form that is either devoid of and/or mocks aesthetic virtue. Brutalism and buildings influenced by it does the latter. One of my earliest memories is being fascinated by the Dallas skyline at the age of 2 - so architecture is something I have always paid attention to. When I was growing up, buildings influence by Brutalism to some degree or another were everywhere - and the contrast between them and the older buildings is one of several things that made me curious about previous decades. I fell in love with the grandeur, craftsmanship and attention to detail which was evident on the older buildings.

Happily, architecture began to experience a mini-renaissance sometime in the 1980s. There are buildings today that I can appreciate, some to a very significant degree. I see a lot of office buildings that have gone up and continue to go up in the Dallas area suburbs which I think are very sleek and attractive. Nevertheless, there is still fallout from the counterculture. My term for most of the modern buildings I like is "freeway architecture." They look great when one is driving by - but the moment one walks up close, one encounters the typically modern blandness and emotional sterility. Take an art deco skyscraper from the late 1920s or early 1930s. From a distance, they are frequently very striking and sleek. As you get closer, you begin to observe more and more subtle details which were not visible from a distance. As you get even closer, you begin to notice an incredible wealth of highly stylized details that are frequently breathtaking. Stand on the sidewalk right next to the skyscraper, and you will likely find that the metal borders around the windows, the doors, the light fixtures, even the door knobs are often splendid works of art in their own right. By contrast, even the best modern buildings tend to be one dimensional. If you see it from the distance, you have basically seen the building. As you get closer, well, all too often, all that happens is you have moved in closer. The buildings do not have the harsh ugliness of Brutalism - but the flat, empty blandness remains. And when there is detail, it tends to be smuggled in and apologized for. Rarely is it proudly and openly celebrated. Once again, it is another instance where the aesthetic experience is capable of appealing only to limited and sanitized sliver of the emotional spectrum.

There are, of course, a lot of architectural retro rehashes being built today - most of them very bad. Personally, I think it is very sad that the only way for developers to incorporate a feeling of substance, elegance and "soul" into their projects is to smuggle it in through borrowed references from a better cultural past.

On the other hand, the fact that people today feel the need to turn to the past and that there exists a growing number of people interested in all things "retro" is, I think, a very positive sign. I don't take it as an example of rabid Peter Keatingism as some occasional Objectivists I run across believe it to be. I view it as part of what Bob Tracinski called "the great re-learning." As was the case with the Renaissance many centuries ago, once our culture has gone through the process of rediscovering and developing an appreciation for all that was destroyed by bands of filthy savages and their heirs, maybe the best aspects of our culture can once again become forward looking and see new heights of achievement in areas other than technology.

As for moderns who have never had a chance to discover the pre-counterculture world - well, I feel sorry for such people. But, then again, I don't necessarily pity them either. Think of a person who entered your life in adulthood (or, if you are a teenager, in the past couple of years or so) who you think the world of and your life has became richer as a result of knowing them. Now imagine, for a moment, that this person had never come into your life. What would your life be like today? Obviously, it would be diminished in those particular values that this person contributed. But then again, you would be totally oblivious of it because you would have never known that person and never experienced those particular values. Your life today would be less enjoyable and wonderful without your even having known it. And so it is, as well, with regard to the values which were wiped out or rendered obscure by the counterculture. It is very difficult to appreciate the loss of that which one has never known in the first place. And that is the sad and tragic legacy of the counterculture on all of our lives - some of us more so than others.

Edited by Dismuke

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Dismuke,

...I was wondering what your thoughts on evening wear are? My own experience is that it has decayed near to the point of extinction - I've noticed that the expected proper dress for a gentleman at the opera, the theatre, or the symphony is a lounge suit, whereas in other days it would be white tie. White tie now seems almost extinct, and black tie is reserved for 'very formal' occasions where few people even bother to wear it correctly - I've noted people without waistcoats or cummerbunds (which are in themselves infinitely inferior to waistcoats, in my opinion) on numerous occasions, and I won't even mention clip-on ties.

Vladimir would actually be a better person to direct the question to as that is a subject he is very knowledgeable about. Perhaps when he has a chance, he will post his comments.

As for me - while I very much have a strong appreciation for nice clothes, my own wardrobe is not especially special. I own a nice suit, two sports coats, a good number of ties from back when I had to wear one to work everyday, dress shirts, dress pants and things such as cuff links, suspenders, collar pins etc. But, since we have a very casual dress code at work (which, in some respects I do enjoy), I rarely get an opportunity to wear them these days. I occasionally go to the ballet or opera and that is always a chance to dress nice. But I don't own any formal wear and would really have to go out of my way to actually find an opportunity to wear it.

I would enjoy getting a few items of 1920s/1930s vintage clothing that I could wear for certain special occasions such as Radio Dismuke social events which I have hosted in the past and plan on doing again and some of the other social functions where "Dismuke" shows up. The problem for me is simply the fact that, at 6'2", I am quite a bit taller than most people were back during the "Golden Era" and, as a result, vintage clothes are kind of hard to come by in my size. Plus, of course, one is also dealing with used clothing - so condition is also a factor. In a way, I kind of think it is a shame to actually wear vintage clothing and subject it to wear and possible damage. If I ever get any, I would only wear it on very special occasions. As of now, the only vintage wear I own is a 1920s era smoking jacket, a 1920s or 1930s wrist watch I picked up on ebay and a very nice vintage Homburg hat that Vladimir found on ebay and let me have when he discovered it did not fit him. Still, I could incorporate the hat and the watch and any other items that I might stumble across with traditionally styled modern clothes and probably put forth a pretty dashing image.

Kind of a sad commentary on the modern world, however, that if I felt like dressing up, I would have to go out of my way to find to find a setting where I would not stand out like a sore thumb.

As for the decline in standards of formal wear - I suspect it is, in large part, due to the fact that most of the people who wear it these days do so only because they feel they have to. It is something that they never learned to appreciate and, therefore, something they are mostly ignorant of in terms of the finer points and details. I must confess that I, too, am largely ignorant of those finer points - though not as a result of a lack of appreciation but rather a lack of any practical need to have ever learned. Almost all I know about formal wear is stuff I have picked up in conversations with Vladimir.

What drives me crazy is the sight of so-called "creative" and "artistic" types who will commit acts such as wearing a nice suit with tennis shoes as some sort of fashion statement - something I consider to be very nihilistic. (Last time I was in New York, I saw people in business suits who put on sneakers for their walk home, presumably for comfort. While ridiculous looking, I wouldn't necessarily consider those individuals to be nihilists).

Edited by Dismuke

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For those who have no idea what I am talking about when I refer to "1970s ugliness" you can find some excellent examples at: http://www.lileks.com/institute/interiors/index.html Click on "next" to see the various examples - and be sure to read the commentary in the captions as it is hilarious.

Wow, you're not kidding; neither about the awfulness of the 70's design, nor the hilarity of the comments! :thumbsup:

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I notice that a few here have objected to 1930's style on the grounds that it would be silly or out of place. I think the same thing (though I wouldn't put it in quite those terms), but had to do a bit of thinking on the subject because I agree with Dismuke as well. How, then, can it be out of place, and at the same time desperately needed?

My conclusion is that, stylistic though they are, these fashions are not meant for the 21st century. While we desperately need the kind of style that is borne of the values present in that era, it is not enough to merely revive it.

The context has changed in the last 70 years, and not only because the nihilists have wiped so much out. It has also changed because technology has progressed. Materials science has progressed. The objects of everyday life have changed; suit pockets no longer need to accommodate pocket watches. They might accommodate Ipods. Fitness has been discovered; people often walk further or work out during the day. New forms of entertainment have been created. The job landscape has changed drastically: people don't hold the same jobs they did in that era. There are entirely new jobs which did not exist back then. As unrelated to fashion as these things may seem, they all have their influences; fashion is built around the lives of the people who wear the clothes (it is that way in all utilitarian/aesthetic industries).

Yes, we need to revive the values of 1930's fashion - not 1930's fashion itself. That would be as out of place as Doric columns on Howard Roark's buildings.

(Also, as I said before, lots of people now live in Phoenix, Arizona, where temperatures are often over 110 degrees for months at a time. We need modern formal wear designed around our climate. Such a thing did not exist in the 1930's.)

Edited by Inspector

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Yes, we need to revive the values of 1930's fashion - not 1930's fashion itself. That would be as out of place as Doric columns on Howard Roark's buildings.

(Also, as I said before, lots of people now live in Phoenix, Arizona, where temperatures are often over 110 degrees for months at a time. We need modern formal wear designed around our climate. Such a thing did not exist in the 1930's.)

I agree that a straight reproduction of 1930s styles is not to be desired, but I disagree that 1930s fashion is not practical for today's world. In fact I think the opposite is true.

I dress in a 1930s style pretty much on a daily basis, and I live in Texas where the climate is about as terrible as you can find in the U.S. 1930s clothes are much more comfortable and practical than any modern clothes I have ever seen.

In summer, for example, my hat not only keeps the sun out of my eyes but also protects my skin from harmful UV rays. I wear light-colored seersucker and linen, which is very cool and doesn't absorb much sun.

Modern clothes, by contrast are usually terrible during hot weather. Synthetic fibers such as polyester don't breath, and make people sweaty and hot. Most moderns wear heavy, hot, denim jeans year-round. I see many people today wearing black as a fashion statement, even when it is over 100 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

Really, off the top of my head I can't think of any advance in clothing technology since the 1930s which has been an overall benefit to the individual wearer. Really the only possible benefit at all is that clothes are now cheaper, but since the quality has also fallen it is hard to say if even the drop in price is a good thing.

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I dress in a 1930s style pretty much on a daily basis, and I live in Texas where the climate is about as terrible as you can find in the U.S. 1930s clothes are much more comfortable and practical than any modern clothes I have ever seen.

Could you concretize that a bit? What precisely do you wear?

Also, what do you do about hat hair?

Oh, and there have been some advances. Wrinkle-free khakis are most excellent.

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The other day, for instance, I wore a straw boater hat, linen sportcoat, white cotton shirt, bow-tie, white duck trousers and white suede buck shoes.

I usually don't have much of a problem with hat hair because my hairstyle is also 1930s style and doesn't require much more than running my fingers through it to get it styled properly again.

I have found wrinkle-free fabrics to be a big disappointment. The feel of the fabric (usually cotton) I have always found inferior to a non-wrinkle-free fabric of equal quality.

Too, I have never been too worried about wrinkles on khakis anyway. Khakis are casual pants, and I don't really worry about wrinkles on my casual clothes.

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