Dressing For The Prepidemic

What role does clothing play in an epidemic, where we’re supposed to be distancing from each other? On one hand, traditional clothing is inherently about signaling. But without an audience, there is no need to signal – no need to establish allegiance, aspiration, or identity when one is home alone. On the other hand, on those brief moments when one is outside, there is a sense that dressing up somewhat preserves a sense of calm and normalcy in the midst of this pandemic. A slight sense that – seeing someone who, say, took a moment to put on a necktie and sportcoat (and is perhaps using that fine silk Drake’s scarf as a makeshift N-95 mask) – isn’t quick ready to go Mad Max when the markets are out of toilet paper for three days in a row. 

One historic parallel that keeps being mentioned to our current situation is England during the Blitz, when the citizens of London would quickly don inexpensive siren suits (essentially, workwear onesies) when the alarms of a pending bombing would sound, and run to shelter. The inimitable Winston Churchill won the hearts of the Britons by making nighttime rounds in siren suits of his own, to show that he was there with them, in the trenches. 

However, his siren suits were tailored by Turnbull & Asser, and had subtle details to connote a sense of dignity and authority. Whereas the high street version was made of simple canvas, Churchill’s had some bespoke of gray chalkstripe wool, subtly evoking the dignity of a suit in an otherwise pragmatic garment. He so enjoyed his siren suits that he had others made out of bottle-green velvet as a variation on a smoking jacket. 

Indeed, these became such a part of his public identity, that he chose to wear one when he sat for an official portrait – a way of reinforcing the central role that he played in the Second World War. — ANV

Virus necktie via Ties.com

13 Comments on "Dressing For The Prepidemic"

  1. elder prep | March 29, 2020 at 7:10 pm |

    Actually, I find this velvet garment rather comfy and appealing looking in its softness and the emerald green color relaxing. Add the monogrammed slippers and you have an elegant ensemble in which to spend time in the tube.

  2. whiskeydent | March 29, 2020 at 11:11 pm |

    Those slippers appear a bit delicate for the muddy streets of London, especially during the blitz. Nonetheless, they look pretty damn cool with the cape.

    They never make that sort of thing in my Big Foot size, probably because they’d look like clown shoes. Cheery-oh!

  3. Not to go full princeton, but I completely disagree that traditional clothing is necessarily about signaling other than to oneself. If one likes the color of a sweater or texture of cloth or whatever, that is reason enough. It needn’t have anything at all to do with a desire to make impressions on others.

  4. It should be noted that to the extent one insists upon sociologizing everything, ironically this method of analysis is the furthest removed from most of the ivy league in its main currents of thinking, notwithstanding certain sociologists. It is akin to the difference between osteopathy and non-osteopathic medicine. There is definitely truth and insight in it, and lots of blind spots in the more traditional mode, but it can also obscure rather than clarify, and create differences and distinctions that aren’t felt or acknowledged by the parties involved, or at least many such people. One aspect of this is noting contingent aspects of what you’re describing and not making them into essential features.

  5. Victor Danton | March 30, 2020 at 12:30 am |

    If I put on a freshly ironed shirt an trousers every morning whether self isolating or not, it’s for the same reason that I brush my teeth, take a shower, shave, and comb my hair. It has everything to do with self-respect, and nothing to do with signalling.

  6. Too Much Johnson | March 30, 2020 at 5:00 am |

    I wear what I wear because, not unlike Rousseau’s savage, I live/exist within myself.


    Sounds seriously depraved. Is there a twelve-step or support group for that?

    @ Tom – So lemme get this one straight Doc – what you are saying is that we as a society and a culture have become fundamentally neurotic?

  7. “However, his siren suits were tailored by Turnbull & Asser, and had subtle details to connote a sense of dignity and authority.” Did Churchill actually pay for them? He treated T&A better than Henry Poole – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p039z9c9.

    “The ledgers of tailor Henry Poole & Co, the founding business of Savile Row, are being made public… The ledgers follow the entire political career of Sir Winston Churchill, until the tailor lost his patience with the great war leader because he didn’t pay his bills”. That sense of entitlement was typical of Churchill’s hubris, egotism and selfishness.

  8. Henry Poole on Winston Churchill – https://henrypoole.com/individual/sir-winston-churchill/

    “His last order had been minor – repairing a Trinity House uniform in April 1937 for five guineas and renovating a yachting cap in May 1937 at a cost of seventeen shillings and sixpence. But his outstanding bill amounted to nearly £197, and a clerk in the company counting house wrote to him so frequently to Number 10 Downing Street about the arrears that, like the Prince of Wales before him, he took umbrage and quit. But unlike the prince, he did not return’.”

    What a cad! They should have sued him.

  9. York Street style probably could’ve emerged at Georgetown, or for that matter elsewhere in the world during the period of its evolution. Such was the influence of Oxbridge et al. Why do we associate tweeds with schools at all? Do I remember that the polo match that inspired the button down shirt had something to do with Argentina? Suppose an Argentinian tailor had taken the idea and run with it instead of Brooks Brothers.

  10. Christian, I am alone at home and keeping myself busy. I wash, shave, dress and make my bed at the start of each day of confinement. In fact, while I have no one to impress nor check on me I make a spécial point of dressing exactly as I would any other day. Chinos and an OCBD. Washed and ironed.

    I do have one question for you though:

    Is the tie you have illustrated (really) appropriate in these times ? When I saw it I ‘didn’t feel so good’. Mainly, I think, because of what I thought others who might be suffering, might think. It’s not exactly an IVY tie in the best of circumstances.


  11. ^ Here here Victor D.

  12. I totally agree with David. I think the tie is rather tasteless given the fact that thousands of people are dying every day because of this virus. This is nothing to be taken lightly or to be joking about.

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