Built-in Slump

KEN W. PURDY, formerly editor of ARGOSY, TRUE, unit PARADE, is now free-lancing. His book, KINGS OF THE ROAD, was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1952.

A milestone in the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens passed quietly, almost without notice, when a Ford Motor Company engineer said that the shape of the seats in the new Edsel was meant to conform to “the modern slump.”

Heretofore there have been only two schools of thought in the design of motor-car seats: the American and the European. The European masters have favored a seat back with a soft, indented center surrounded by a firm, shoulder-gripping roll meant to brace the upper arms and shoulders. The Americans have remained true to the original horse-drawn carriage concept of a flat surface, upholstered to uniform tension throughout. Both have assumed the passenger to be an upright biped built around a straight, vertical spine, and therefore best catered for by a straight seat back.

But modern man does not have a straight spine, and all credit to the courageous Ford technicians for abandoning the pretense. The seat backs of the new Edsel do not rise in an unbroken vertical line: six inches or so from the top they bend sharply forward. The round-shouldered, hollow-chested Edsel rider thus will know comfort denied his brothers in lesser vehicles. He will not need to press his shoulders into the seat back under the delusion that they belong there, nor will he have to sway in mid-air, his modern slump unsupported anywhere.

Now that ground has been broken, need we stop with automobile seat backs? Will not the manufacturers of household furnishings, theater seats, and the like have the courage to junk their comparatively puny inventories and come proudly if belatedly into line? The modern slump is here to stay, men. Don’t fight it.

And who will be the first among the cutters and tailors of clothing for men to face up to reality? (The ironhanded aesthetes who dictate women’s wear need no urging; yearly the haute couture announces the shape of women to come, now hipless, now bereft of bosom, now shapeless altogether. They conceded the modern slump in the early 1920s.) What is needed now is comparable courage among purveyors to men. I look forward to the day when every three-pane fitting mirror in America will mount a sign: “Our suits are designed for men who stand naturally. Do not force your shoulders back. Slump!” Unimagined benefits will follow. Pitilessly delineated fore and aft in the all-seeing mirror, the average man pulls in his sagging abdomen, puffs his chest, forces back his brittle shoulders, and holds himself so, at whatever cost, while the fitter measures and marks and pins.

Naturally, when the suit is delivered and he slips into his true stance, the modern slump, the garment fits like a hand-me-down. Think of the pain, the heartache, the economic waste that would be avoided if he would stand before the fitting mirror as he stands waiting for the bus: shoulders slumped forward, chest caved in, abdomen drooping, all his weight hanging on one hip. Fitted thus, his new gray flannel would become him like something built for Lucius Beebe or William Powell the Elder.

Euphemism is horrid, disaster lies in the denial of truth, and Darwin was right. Let a deluded rear guard of gymnasts and physical education fanatics fight on, if they will, but as for you and me, let us slip our hands trustingly into the firm grasp of such as Mr. Ford’s anonymous mahatma. They have proved that they know the True Way. Are they not even now planning for the day when the leg will be a mere vestigial appendage? Certainly. Where is the clutch pedal of yesteryear? Designs for accelerator and power-brake controls built into the steering wheel lie safely vaulted in Detroit. Que sera. . . .