Edward Southerland: Fashion sense and nonsense
By Edward Southerland
May 12, 2017
Print this page
Email this article

Recently, I saw a man wearing a pictographic tie. The fact that he was wearing a tie at all was a bit unusual, since casual cloddishness has replaced sartorial sensibility in much of American life. But the real kicker was the tie itself.

It carried a picture of a Wild West scene, a cowboy on a bucking bronco. I haven’t seen a tie like that since the mid 70s. They were big for a while then.

I had a bright blue cravat with a Gibson Girl gracing the bottom half. She was surrounded by some sort of turn of the century—the 19th Century mind you—frame entwined with flowers and vines. I have no idea what I was thinking when I bought that tie, but it was not the only one of its ilk in my closet.

My favorite was dark brown with a scene from a painting by Frederic Remington. It featured an Apache warrior waiting behind a boulder to ambush a covered wagon. When I was wearing it, all I had to do was take a quick look in a mirror and I had the makings of a good story to fill the brain when things got slow. Of course if one were practiced in viewing things upside down one could have just gazed down one’s front. But I preferred to see things right side up.

I also had a green tie with an oarsman rowing a scull, but the tie was too long, it was difficult to make a proper knot with the right dimple, so it stayed on the tie rack more often than not. The pictographic ties went to the Goodwill long ago, and even if they returned to fashion I doubt I would buy one again.

My taste is most conservative now, traditional stripes, small, repetitive figures, and little dots. Winston Churchill usually wore a dark blue or black bow tie with small white polka dots. My favorite ties are non-bow versions on that theme; if it was good enough for Winston, it’s good enough for me.

A crumb from the cake of knowledge: Polka dots have nothing to do with accordions, cabbage rolls, or dancing. The term is thought to have come from the phrase, “Poke a dot.”

Not that I wear a tie very often. I’m as big a casual slob as the next guy, and more’s the pity. Ties, and suits too used to be as much a badge as the ones worn by a policeman. Huey Long, said that his supporters thought that if you were better dressed than they were, you probably were smarter too.

In law school I had a friend who was walking down the steps of a rural courthouse wearing a white, three-piece suit when he was approached by a stranger who wanted to hire him. The stranger said my friend just looked like he knew what he was doing.

Another crumb from the cake of knowledge: Three piece white suits made a short lived comeback in the late 70s bolstered by John Travolta and the movie Saturday Night Fever.

The double-breasted suit has been in and out of style several times since it was banned by the exigencies of World War II. It’s latest incarnation was in the low cut European style, but the more traditional American Midwest version—the Clark Kent look—may be just around the corner. These days about the only men who wear a suit and tie everyday are lawyers in court and undertakers.

All of this tie and suit business goes to highlight the circular silliness of fashion. What goes around comes around, and if one has the patience, the back of the closet will, sooner or later, move to the front.

All in all, men’s styles change less radically than do women’s. Much of a man’s wardrobe, if it was well made and well designed in the first place, will still look pretty good even if it is not on the cutting edge of cutter’s table.

Occasionally men fall for lapses in good taste and common sense, the Nehru jacket, the polyester pastel leisure suit, and tuxedos in any color save black or dark navy blue come to mind. But over all, men get suckered into trends a lot less often than the women.

For the fourth or fifth time in the last sixty years, girls and women, who ought to know better, are climbing onto thick cork soles, where they teeter precariously, in constant danger of falling off their shoes and into traction. These products of some demented mind are not only dangerous, they’re ugly too.

And what about pants? Men wear trousers. They come in one basic style. They fit around the waist, more or less, or, sometimes well under the waist. This latter look is known as the Dunlop syndrome, where the spare tire done lopped over the belt.

Women’s pants, on the other hand, fit above the waist or at the waist or below the waist or the latest teen rock sensation look, a bare inch and a half above the line of decency.

Men’s pants reach down to their shoes, period. As to length of pants for women, well, one day it sweeps the floor, the next day it’s at the calf and on Wednesdays it’s pedal pushing time in East Cupcake. Ignored is the most basic of all apparel rules, if your ankles get cold when the wind blows, your pants are too short.

Some styles cycle at a slower rate than others. It took forty years for the straight, no waist look of John Held, Jr.’s flappers of the Roaring 20s to return as the shift of the 60s. Another fifty or so springs on the runways of Paris have passed, so it may be time to rediscover that venerable fashion statement.

Fashion statement, that’s the term the couturiers use when the idea just doesn’t work. Of course, say the fashion gurus, it looks like she rolled in tar and ran through a chicken pluckers convention, but she’s just making a positive fashion statement.

The irony is that males foster many of the fashion foibles forced on females, more or less. The average man, American, English, Spanish, what ever, has a very limit view of women’s fashion. His idea of well-dressed can usually be summed up in two words, tight and short. How these words are applied may differ, but for most guys that’s close enough.

Kids present a totally different fashion conundrum. Used to be, kids were junior grown ups and they wore scaled down versions of what mom and dad wore. No more.

High school girls, apparently following the guy’s guide to female fashion (see above) appear in public in outfits that would have landed their mommas in jail. The boys wear a variety of outfits brought to the fashion fore by style conscious dope dealers, drive-by assassins, and gang bangers.

And despite what others may think, there is no excuse for wearing a baseball cap backwards unless you are wearing shin guards and a chest protector at the same time. If you don’t believe me, you can look it up, so help me Roger Bresnahan.