It is the beginning of a new year, a time when we often reflect on the past and contemplate changes in our lives, our country and the world.
It was during one of these mental ramblings that I recalled my last experience of jury duty. It was rather typical. I was empaneled, heard opening statements, and when my fellow jurors and I returned from lunch we were informed that the case had been resolved and we were released. We all stood up in the jury box, then filed out the door.
I was the last to leave, and as I approached the door the judge said, “Mr. Hoffman, we appreciate your sartorial splendor.” I stopped.
I was unfamiliar with the term “sartorial splendor,” so I assumed he was making a wisecrack. I turned to him and said, “Sartorial?” with a bit of a edge to my voice. He replied, “Your dress.” It all came clear to me then. I walked over to the bench. The judge said, “Your jacket, your tie, your topcoat.”
I said that I like to think that what we were doing there was more important than hanging out at the mall, and he complained about lawyers showing up to work in polo shirts.
Now, was this a case of two grumpy eccentrics finding each other, or is there something to be said for appropriate dress? I decided to consult with a clothing professional, so I asked Margo Susco to share her thoughts on the subject. For more than 20 years, Ms. Susco owned and operated Hydra, a retro clothing store in downtown Tucson.
Ms. Susco had some strong feelings on the subject. She said, “I believe we have become somewhat of a graceless nation. We have lost our self-respect, our respect for the planet and our respect for one another.
“I was raised that if you go to a funeral, you dress appropriately to respect the person that passed and their family.
“You dress appropriately when you go to church to respect the institution. Dressing properly to me shows the way you feel about yourself, your self-respect and again the respect for the person, the respect for the occasion.”
She continued, “Even in the ’80s and ’90s, when I was having all kinds of fun with dress, I always had a section in my closet with the proper clothing. I had the dresses, the gloves, the shoes, the hats because I just inherently knew that it was appropriate to dress for important occasions at the very least.”
Is Ms. Susco onto something, or have I just completed a trio of grumpy eccentrics?
I drew on my own experiences reaching back to my hippie days (yes, I am that old). In the late ’60s and early ’70s, we declared that dressing up was merely an attempt by individuals to make themselves feel superior to others and that character was important, not appearances. We would claim this while wearing the hippie uniform of bell-bottom jeans, tie-dyed T-shirts and long hair (men did not wear long hair before the hippies).
We see the same thing today with those who, after spending hundreds of dollars on tattoos and piercings, claim that it doesn’t matter how one looks.
In my case, I believe it was part youthful rebelliousness, but mostly misanthropic self-absorption. This notion of self-absorption might also explain today’s trend away from concern for appropriate dress, or even the broader abandonment of societal norms.
A final thought from Ms. Susco: “I believe that the decline in our clothing choices is simply, again, an external reflection of our decline as a well-mannered and civilized society.” I don’t know about you, but I think she’s onto something.