Now, normally I like George Will. I may not agree with everything he writes, but he’s usually got some interesting perspective on politics and culture. But with all of the issues arrayed in front of conservatives at the moment, what in the world got into Will to make him write this?
Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves.
Do not blame Levi Strauss for the misuse of Levi’s. When the Gold Rush began, Strauss moved to San Francisco planning to sell strong fabric for the 49ers’ tents and wagon covers. Eventually, however, he made tough pants, reinforced by copper rivets, for the tough men who knelt on the muddy, stony banks of Northern California creeks, panning for gold. Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed for driving steers up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead in Abilene.
This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don’t wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.
Edmund Burke — what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted “the decent drapery of life”; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim — said: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” Ours would be much more so if supposed grown-ups would heed St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and St. Barack’s inaugural sermon to the Americans, by putting away childish things, starting with denim.
Did I miss a memo? Have we solved all of the world’s problems? This doesn’t even make for an interesting blog post, let alone a nationally-syndicated column from an erudite political commentator. This is a Seinfeldian “What’s up with all the denim?” piece of elitist fluff.
I’d say Will needs to get out of the DC cocktail circuit more and meet the people whose motives he pretends to comprehend. This isn’t a proletarian pose. People don’t wear denim as an affectation to seem indifferent to sartorial splendor. They wear jeans because they’re (a) mostly inexpensive in comparison to other sportswear choices, (b) remarkably durable, and (c) resistant to the whims of fashion. They match almost every kind of shirt or blouse, and they work in almost every kind of weather.
Fred Astaire? Gene Kelly? Why not just insist on wearing what Burke wore? It’s about as relevant to 2009 as either. I’d wear what Thomas Jefferson wore, only my breeches and high stockings have been at the dry cleaners all week, and my tricorner hat needs blocking. Those buckled shoes are murder, pal.
And I seem to recall a period during the Cold War when the Soviets banned the importation of jeans as a symbol of capitalism. In 2005, they became the symbol of protest for Belarussians against their Soviet-style government, based in part on that association, in order to show solidarity with the free-market West. Not a bad pedigree for denim, that.
James Lileks has a brilliant takedown of Will’s irascible fuming:
In this installment he decides to go after “denim,” a newfangled fabric that has been scaring the horses and causing scandal on the Boardwalk. Adults shouldn’t wear “demon denim,” as the title calls it. Gentle advice: when you have a pointy head, donning a dunce cap just doubles the problem. …
I love Fred Astaire, but I’m not going to wear a tuxedo to the grocery store. Fred was a paragon of style, yes; Fred never had a job that required a camera, a cell, a video camera, extra batteries, and other items that need many pockets. I hate to say it, but Fred’s job consisted of dancing, a profession for which “roominess in the seat and leg” is important. Does this mean I can blame him for the moral decline that lead directly to the Zoot Suit Riots? As for Grace Kelly, yes: loveliness, great style. It helps to be Grace Kelly, of course. My wife wears suits to the office. Minnie Pearl wore a dress. Guess who looks more elegant?
Michelle has a picture of Will in all his sartorial splendor … wearing yellow pants [which she got from Allahpundit, as it turns out — Ed]. Rachel Lucas thanks Will for informing her that she’s a childish, calculating — well, read Rachel’s post.
As for me, I’m about to leave the house in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, since it’s 73 degrees out. At least I’m not wearing denim! I’ll await Will’s profound gratitude.
Update: I used to wear Sansabelts when I worked in the clothing biz. Somehow, I think jeans look better ….
Update II: Allahpundit posted about this yesterday. D’oh! Also, in Will’s defense, I have been feeling pretty curmudgeonly about the latest fashion for young women, which is apparently to wear pajama bottoms in public. Until now, I’ve kept it to myself, but finally I can vent ….
Update III: From Jennifer Rubin via e-mail: “Next up for George Will: White Shoes After Labor Day: The Downfall Of Western Civilization.