I used to like Bill Simmons. It didn’t take long for his schtick to become tedious, and the pieces on Grantland are often little more than what one finds written on the stalls of Hunter College bathrooms. But I liked this, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Wesley Morris.
The changes in men’s attitudes toward clothes in the last two decades are evident in Ryan, Reid, Mike Tomlin, the Harbaugh brothers, Sean Payton (God rest his season), and most men paid to pace sidelines: Athleticwear promotes the impression of a blue-collar masculinity of looseness and relaxation. These clothes foster the sense that American males are more comfortable with being guys than being men. In the way some grown women refer to themselves as girls and have become culturally indistinct from their daughters, so, too, have modern fathers become culturally indistinguishable with their sons.
The bronze statue that stands outside Cowboys Stadium enshrines Landry in those clothes posing with his arms folded and one hand gripping a playbook. It’s an iconic image of masculine authority and confidence. He looks like a newsman, like a salesman, like everyman.
Until the late second half of the 20th century, no great confidence was needed to put on those clothes, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. If you were a man, that’s more or less what you wore. At the end of the ’60s, great political upheaval and conflict pitted one generation against the children it produced. For a long time, no child wanted to resemble a parent. Men stopped dressing like Landry and Vince Lombardi partially because that meant dressing like their fathers.
With the unifying ubiquity of Internet culture and without the random obligation of a war draft or roiling, sweeping sociopolitical movements to put generations at odds, children who disdained their parents for reasons of politics and who were bound up in social concerns produced generations wary of their parents for reasons of vanity. They placed a premium on maintaining an air of adolescence. They didn’t want to resemble their parents even once they were parents. They wanted to resemble their children. A suit doesn’t make you look young, per se. Gym clothes do.
We might be more comfortable with that generational rejection, with that subsequent embrace of youth and the illusion of egalitarianism it fosters. But when no one wants to look like the grown-up, what’s chipped away at is a crucial air of respect.
It reminds me also of this good article by Tony Esolen, which I read some years ago.
I don’t dress this way to be respected, although it happens that I am respected more when I dress this way. I dress this way—and here’s why people respect me more in my jacket and fedora than they do when I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans—because it is an intelligible communication of my respect for them.
I’m not rich. I’m not a manager or a master or a governor. I’m not better than you. I’m just a man. A professional working for my daily bread. Just like you, dear reader. And I take you seriously, and I take my work seriously, because both you and it are good, and pleasing in the sight of God.