That old observation from the Pogo comic strip comes to mind.
Had George Washington joined me outside a Chili’s at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport recently, he would have shuddered at the sight. There, a nation of slobs paraded through the crossroads of America. Frayed denim hems swept the filthy floor. Cleavage poured out of T-shirts bearing vulgar messages. Big bellies flowed over the waists of jeans. Mature women waddled in stained sweat suits. Some passersby stuffed their mouths with pizza as they walked.
Another quote from a Warren Zevon lyric also fits quite well: “It ain’t that pretty at all!”
Washington was a stickler for good manners, and that included dignified dress. As a youth, he hand-copied a text called “Rules of Civility&Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” They included: “Wear not your Cloths, foul … or Dusty but See they be Brush’d once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any Uncleaness.”
At the cost of betraying age, the Chief recalls when he flew on airlines for the first time…in the mid 60′s. Wearing a “coat and tie” was considered de rigueur.
Some observers suspect that a collapse in grooming and attention to dress has contributed to the decline in civility on our streets and in our politics. People don’t care what they look like in public because they don’t care about the public. They have little notion of, or interest in, playing a supportive role in their civilization.
Attire, like anything else that humans do, can become an abusive obsession…whether carried to excess, or it’s opposite. But this certainly goes along with the premise that “The barbarians are through the gates.”
We must concede that this is a big country with different expectations for proper attire. One person’s ostentation may be another’s good manners. But a modicum of care in dress and grooming would seem a basic minimum just about everywhere — or it used to be. Cowboys might get muddy on the job, but they were clean and pressed for the Saturday night dance.