Accent on Living

THE men’s outfitters don’t seem at all alarmed by the trend, so it might be that a little pressure from the women would be helpful, but something ought to be done about the V-neck shirt and pajama effects now being palmed off on the American male. A line in a novel of some years back sums up my own misgivings on the subject. “All men with their collars off,” remarked the wife in this novel to her husband, “look likepicked chickens.”The novel was written in the days when men wore detachable collars, yet the force of this woman’s utterance has impressed me ever since. She was right, and all who are tempted by sport shirts, V-necks, and shawl collars should take thought before indulging the picked-chicken motif.

The shawl collar, for instance, is now standard on dressing gowns. This may be all very well for a man who is inordinately proud of his manubrium— wouldn’t Narcissus have fared more happily in a shirt that buttoned all the way up?—and there may be a physical culturist or two whose sternoclavicular peculiarities are worth a second glance, but few of us are at our best in such exposures. The shawl collar gets together with itself somewhere around the tenth rib. This obliges a man to keep clutching its upper folds together by hand, while ministering to the needs of the unexpected guest or writing a check for the cleaning woman and al the same time smoking a cigarette.

The men in the advertisements solve shawl-collar gape simply by never wearing a dressing gown except over a shirt, or by swathing themselves in elegant silk mufflers, or stocks, which are far too warm to wear around the house. These men show no understanding of the dressing gown’s emergency value — a utility to fling on in a hurry while bolting from the shower to the front door, a bed-to-breakfast coverall which needs to say nothing at all of what other garments, if any, it conceals. Why bother with a dressing gown if one has to get dressed first?

The useful dressing gown, up to a few years ago, had an ordinary collar with lapels or revers, like a pajama jacket, and buttons. For the men in the catalogue cuts, who preferred then as now to wear shirts in addition, it did not have to be buttoned, but the buttons were there, including a crucial top button which protected the wearer from even the most hostile scrutiny. The effect was neat and absolutely noncommital.

But buttons have gone, replaced by the “wrap-around” theory, and to ask for them on today’s dressing gown is like asking for the raiment of an Indian prince: it would have to be made to order, one is told, and the price would be grievously high. The V-neck pajama is even worse than the wrap-arounds — a sack, with sleeves, and a bole in it for the wearer’s head, surely the unloveliest piece of merchandise ever offered (sealed in cellophane) even by the haberdashery department of a cigar-store chain.

There is small likelihood that most men wearing the open-neck style of garment are going to be mistaken for Greek gods; neither do they conjure up the portraits of Lord Byron, the great sport-shirt man of his day. More probably — and their womenfolk ought to tell them so — will they be found to resemble Andre Francois’s Tattooed Sailor, only lacking, unhappily, the tattooing.