The Big Top


CRARY MOORE has written stories for the Atlantic and is now at work on a book-length fiction scheme.

CHALLENGED by “the new American leisure,”we are a nation grimly rededicated. Horizontal, crammed with Miltown, we will relax or bust. Our emblem, in fact our uniform, is a politer pajama.

It just caught on, like rabbits in Australia or t.b. among the Eskimos. You can’t blame Mr. Truman for the sport shirt. Nor is the dervish at fault who designs it; nor the woman who buys it; nor, certainly, the reclining American who wears it. (For anything strenuous, like lawn mowing, he wears a demoted white button-down; his sport shirt is too “good" or too fragile.) When he puts it on, he is not of sound mind. Lately mangled and extruded by the subway, railway, or parkway, he is weary, desperate, prone to grab at straws — in a word, suggestible. He sheds his working get up and is reborn in another ritual garment, of spinnaker cut this time, and radioactive hue. He feels fine, now: comfortable, attractive, emancipated, off his feel.

He is off his head.

Comfortable? He may think so, but consider how he has swaddled his waist. He wears shorts (which have a thick waist band, to keep them up), an undershirt (if his sport shirt is cobweb-thin; many are), pants (another waist band, at least three layers of heavy material), belt, to keep the pants up, and finally the shirt proper. Five lay ers, ihree of which are heavy and tight.

Is he attractive? Not at present. Supposing him to be the optimum specimen, a man normally splendid as Apollo, ibis is what you see of him. Arms, etc., check. Feet, ditto. Voluminous pants are de rigueur with the Shirt, but you assume they contain legs. Head, check — though it stoops like a turtle’s, out of the graceless collar. Adam’s apple, double check his most prominent feature, apparently. Hut you wouldn’t recognize the rest of him. Those T-square shoulders are rounder than muffins. Chest, subsided; stomach, assertive insistent, really, with that great palm tree, sailfish, or whatever, slap in the middle. Waist; what waist? (Though in Boston, where the Hoover collar has come to die, the sport shirt is, occasionally, worn inside.) Our man looks pathetically jaunty or else plain gaumless. Who wouldn’t, lost in an elephant cooler? The thing is a great levoler.

Which brings me to emancipation. We have left armor, smallclothes, and le frac behind, but we aren’t there yet. Short of woad or tattooing, what about the coverall? There is ample precedent, and English too, which should comfort conservatives: Sir Winston Churchill’s “siren suit” and its dashing Tank version, which looked so well on General Montgomery. And there are babies and flyers and gas-station men.

It’s comfortable and practical; quick to put on, easy to take care of, the coverall has no belts, buttons, or tight places. The vestigial waist band is no necessity; has been, in fact, eliminated from flyers’ coveralls. There need be only one layer underneath, and that thin, if the wearer will consent to a short-handled cotton union suit, rather than ordinary shorts. Without ventilation, I admit, there is too much dead-air space for comfort in hot weather; but why not cool the waist with a modest ring.of portholes, like a Buick or a sola topee? On winter evenings a woolen coverall would be wonderfully cozy, and smart too, with braid on the pants in case of a sudden sortie to the opera. Or an astrakhan collar in case of a Homburg.

Thanks, I suppose, to its economy of line, the coverall is universally becoming. Those seriously afflicted with Adam’s apples can resort to scarves or bow ties; though fat men might find it binding, they need only have good tailors. A man who can induce a tail coat to stay with a conductor can certainly handle a coverall. It’s adaptable to a degree. Its variations, especially of the pockets, could be infinite. I foresee the extinction of brief cases and overnight bags.

The coverall actually does what the sport shirt is supposed to, and it has one special advantage: a large unbroken area. At last the madmen of Seventh Avenue, or wherever it is for menswear, will claim their birthright: to paint, as Kipling put it, with brushes of comet’s hair. Repetitious patterns are done for already, consistency being the hobgoblin it is; and it is easy to foresee the epics, the heroic conceptions of the future: the Creation, for instance. Chaos at the cuff; suns splitting about knee level; mountains, jungles, and, perhaps, to border the collar, a little parade of one-celled animals. Or, in the Adamand-Eve version, the serpent going up the zipper. Or Heaven from the collar downward to Hell at the cuff. But why stick at the Renaissance? There’s the post-office art of the thirties; politically conscious people could emblazon themselves with the entire body social, meaningfully at work in front, culturally at play behind. Men of vision will certainly adopt the abstract manner. And that’s not all. I don’t know much about contemporary art, but I do know what I don’t like: the apocalyplic prospect of the collage school hard at work gumming up our coveralls.