Yesterday an amusing message landed in my inbox. A Danish student at the University of Connecticut had seen our piece on school dress codes and said he had recently written something similar. The student, Simon Jønler, had been asked to write a piece for the school paper about his impressions of the college from a Danish perspective. What they got was a caustic rant against political correctness and a fogeyish take on slumming sartorial standards.
Jønler gave Ivy Style enthusiastic consent to publish relevant excerpts from his piece. In his email, he wrote, “Somehow [the newspaper editors] had gotten the idea (probably from Bernie Sanders) that Danes are ‘progressive’ and edgy in the accepted Jacobinian fashion, so one can sympathize with their disappointment in the outcome.” Jønler said that while the paper published the piece, it did not upload it to its website, which is customary.
First, the passage that rants against PC, setting the reader up for the sartorial sermon to follow:
Common to most American universities is some kind of political correctness policy. This is not unique to UCONN, and therefore in itself deserves little treatment. The obvious and inherent stupidity of such policies aside, one thing strikes the foreigner as particularly confusing. It seems that the UConn campus decorum guarantees that you can be as rude as you want, but as long as you are not offensive. That means you can use all the profanity you can muster, as long as you don’t use it to say anything about sensitive political topics. Bury your face in your phone during a conversation? Go ahead. Interrupt the person speaking? Sure. Raise your voice if you are being contradicted? By all means. But go ahead and call a cold October day “Eskimo-Monday” and there’s a good chance an innocent bystander will faint with indignation. Ironically, the idea of political correctness is the sign of a country with well-exercised freedom of speech; because only in that environment could such a revolting idea persist.
Now the sartorial passage, in which Jønler uses the term “dinner suit” unironically. His fellow students must’ve thought it was a Danish thing:
Different clothes are made for different purposes. In the arts, this is known as sartorial teleology. If I were to go to a black tie gala, I would make sure to show up in a dinner suit. Conversely, if I were to go mountaineering I would acquire the necessary hiking and hoisting gear for such an expedition. This much is obvious to anyone. It is therefore beyond the realm of my imagination, why yoga pants, sweat pants, running shoes, baseball caps etc. should not be regulated by this most exacting standard of common sense. Chances are that if what you are wearing has an activity specified in its name, it should be designated to that specific activity. Otherwise, everyone would be wearing raincoats in the sun and shades in the rain, and that is exactly the kind of nihilistic anarchy civilization was built to avoid.
A common response to this infallible argument is that people just wish to be “comfortable.” I ask first, is it worth being comfortable yourself if it makes everyone else uncomfortable? The worst of these crimes against humanity is the calamity of combining socks and sandals. For the love of God, when you dress, decide if you think it will be warm or cold, and then stick to one cohesive footwear strategy. Secondly, when people say they wish to be comfortable they usually intend to mean some kind of physical comfort, feeling snugged, soft and cosy, but if this is the highest standard of clothing why don’t we all buy a cashmere-lined onesie and wear it as we bury and burn centuries of art, culture and tradition. The argument is often advanced, that if everyone dresses carelessly it forgives the transgression. The reply is obvious. A sin is not made less sinful by being popular.
The only comfort one should be concerned with is the comfort others. Dress to respect other individuals, knowing that by putting something on in the morning you are forcing the world to endure it for the rest of the day. The fact that some fraternities have realized this insight ought to demonstrate that it is not that difficult to grasp indeed.
As with the Yale op-ed, it warms the heart of us older guys to read these quixotic fogey rants, even if they’re accompanied by heartburn at the deplorable slide in standards of dress. But as I stated recently in a comment thread, I find the notion of dressing for others in this day and age to be insincere, and I’d suggest that others drop this line of argument. You can’t use an archaism like “dinner suit,” invoke concepts such as “nihilistic anarchy” and the burning of centuries of culture and tradition, and then claim that your lofty sartorial standards do not stem from pride and defiance but in fact are some kind of begrudging duty to your fellow man, even as he does not show you the same respect. There’s a line in Edith Wharton’s “The House Of Mirth” that goes something like, “It’s foolish of you to be disingenuous, and it’s not like you to be foolish.”
Finally, to those who think that Jønler’s opening rant against PC is just more much-ado-about-nothing, there is this from his email to me: “It might also entertain you that upon receiving the final edit I was asked whether I was sure I wanted the phrase about yoga pants to be kept in. I of course asked why that specific sentence was objectionable, and I was asked in a voice of sincere incredulity if I wasn’t worried people would interpret it as supporting rape culture.”
For your own amusement and incredulity, go back and read the passage above. Jønler doesn’t say a single thing about yoga pants, simply mentions them in a list of clothing items that also includes baseball caps. Apparently on today’s sartorially lax but verbally uptight campus women are allowed to wear yoga pants but men are not allowed to even say the word. Honi soit qui mal y pense. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD