The Best-Dressed Nation

WITHOUT wishing to take issue with this recent, statement in a Sunday magazine: ‘The American man, considering him in all the classes that constitute American society, is to-day the best-dressed and best-kept man in the world,’ — it is nevertheless an interesting and surprising revolution that has made such a statement possible. For most of us it is easier to accept the notion, with whatever national pride it implies, than to verify it by personal observation. If true, we must be proud while we can, for it is only a question of time when the American clothing manufacturer will be addressing the Young Turks, in easy colloquial Turkish, as ‘you well-dressed young fellows,’ — and so on, nation by nation, until even the blond Esquimo will be snappily arrayed in our own ’Varsity models. And in this activity of the clothing manufacturer we have, perhaps, a more potent force for the creation of a uniform world-civilization than has ever before been set in motion. With all the well-dressed young fellows in a welldressed world, getting their latest ideas in style, cut, and fabrics from the same fountain-head, war would become practically out of the question; unless, indeed, it was provoked by the rivalries of our American outfitters in some vital matter of lapels or buttons.

Ten years ago, or fifteen at most, men prided themselves on something closely approaching an indifference to dress. The attitude, we now see, was either hypocritical or based upon complete ignorance of latent possibilities. It assumed a superiority over womankind that has failed to stand the test of submitting it to what was then held a purely feminine temptation. Styles, fabrics, the modish ness of this det ail or the smartness of that, were essentially for the female intellect — and especially bargains! The male who thought seriously about these trifles, — and there were such, although many of them did little credit to the exercise as a mental stimulant, — was easily classed as a ‘dude,’ and none but other dudes admired him. There was a wellknown axiom that a man was not to be judged by his clothes. Sex was differentiated not only by clothing, but also by its attitude toward clothing: on the one hand, an anxious, fluttering, feminine ambition to be becomingly attired; and, on the other, a stern, masculine indifference. Then a man, putting gain before tradition, began advertising clothes for men in the same way that clothes had already been advertised for women — and behold us, each arrayed in his ’Varsity model!

Human nature was, of course, responsible, and the irresistible appeal to the imagination. We young fellows (and in this matter there is really no age-limit), although not at that time the well-dressed young fellows that we have become since, saw ourselves with new eyes. The artist, enlisted by the manufacturer, showed us a vision. We became members of the leisure class; we sailed our yachts; we played tennis; we flirted in ball-rooms; we progressed to motor-cars; we shall in due course guide our own aeroplanes back and forth between our offices and our country clubs. In this new life the modishness and mannishness of our attire — especially the mannishness, wherein we forgot how short a time ago we should have considered womanishness the proper word for this new-born interest in our personal appearance — became vital considerations. We learned to know our collar by name, to appreciate autumn effects of coloring in our autumn garments, and to realize the subtle distinction that marks the underwear of a gentleman. To-day, or rather to-night, many of us still blush in our pajamas to remember that we used to wear night—— No, it is one thing to remember, but another to mention.

Men did not wear pajamas then.
In reading history
It’s hard to think of famous men
Each in a robe de nuit!

And as a matter of fact we kept the leisure class sartorially on the run, for as fast as the unhappy leisure class invents ‘something different’ in the way of clothing, the lively manufacturer copies it for the rest of us. More than that, we resemble the advertisements. Nature again seems to be imitating art, for many of us are beginning to look like the heroes of popular fiction, made over by the same illustrators to be the heroes of popular advertisements. More than that again, we pursue bargains and are not ashamed to be caught at it. Inform us of a reduction sale of cravats and we are there in a hurry, some of us trying to match the delicate shade of our bargain neckwear with the half-hose at the next counter.

Truly a remarkable revolution! whose material proof lies in the fact that any Sunday magazine can proclaim us nationally the best-dressed and best-kept men in the world without arousing our immediate indignation. So far, however, we have not been referred to advertisingly as ‘milord in his boudoir.’ Probably, too, in the secret designs of Providence, it is well that we should eventually all look alike. The idea, scornfully repudiated when advanced by some of the earlier socialists, is in visible process of acceptance, and even the ‘something different’ in our clothing helps the movement when we all wear it together. The number of tailors which it now takes to make a man is beyond computation, but their tendency is unquestionably to make one man very like another. Life, it has been said, is the greatest University, and we are all college boys together. Fortunately we have no college yell.

As the revolution now stands, however, the wonder is that the penetrating mind of the suffragette orator has not got hold of it. Without arguing that this national male interest in dress marks an effeminization (akin to the effeminization, according to some critics, of our drama and literature) of our entire male population, it must be evident to any thoughtful observer that it gives the sexes one more characteristic in common. Neither man nor woman is less physically courageous, less masculine, or less feminine for the possession of this common characteristic. Napoleon, it will be remembered, appealed to masculine love of finery in equipping his army, but he was certainly not looking for an effeminate soldiery. And if the clothing manufacturer of the twentieth century proves himself as wise a judge of men as Napoleon, we may fairly enough take it for granted that the average manhood of us well-dressed young fellows (of all ages) is just as it was before we discovered how much our clothes really might interest us.

But even so it remains difficult to follow the clothing manufacturer so far as to agree that the young man in search of a job should begin by purchasing himself a new suit of clothes. Being well-dressed doubtless inspires self-confidence, but unless we can afford the expense there remains the fact that it ought not to; nor, as a rule, are the employers of labor accustomed to limit their observation to the cut of a young man’s jacket. Some employers of labor are still old-fashioned, and distrust swagger and smartness in the young man in search of a job. The theory that clothes make the candidate under such circumstances is somewhat akin to that other theory, advanced by the merchants who sell the imitation diamonds, that the young man in search of a job is more likely to get it if he wears a diamond. Something, a great deal in fact, still lingers of that sound old notion that the character of a man is independent of the style of his garments. Presidential candidates, for example, when they appeal to the entire electorate of this well-dressed country, have not yet found it necessary or even wise, to garb themselves in the latest ’Varsity model. And a presidential candidate who was known to spend time matching his cravat and his half-hose would be generally rejected by the electorate as a man who was already too busy to assume the cares of office.