Last night a TV commentator opined that one of the dominant strains in Western lands at the moment is that the “elites are rising up to overthrow the masses.” Right on cue, humorist and former Harvard Lampoon scribe PJ O’Rourke came out with a piece in the Washington Post this morning arguing that it’s time to make the rich uncomfortable again. As a self-described “blazer and club tie duffer” — or, in other words, a trad — O’Rourke links the morality (or rather immorality) of wealth with dress. Rich people are obligated to dress uncomfortably, like feudal kings weighed down by robes and crowns, or Gilded Age tycoons suffocating in three-piece suits in summer:
Lately there has been a lot of anger and indignation about income inequality. Some blame this on … income inequality. I blame it on rich people in T-shirts.
I won’t mention Mark Zuckerberg by name. But, honestly, young man, you’re almost 35 years old, worth $72 billion, and you’re wearing your underwear in public.
Yes, I’m also going around in an untucked “My Kid Went to College and All I Got Was This Lousy …” But I’ve earned it. Or, rather, I haven’t. I can’t afford a Savile Row morning suit, Turnbull & Asser dress shirt, Hermès cravat and pair of bespoke John Lobb Oxfords. And – taking out the trash, gassing up the car and ordering an Egg McMuffin at the drive-through window – I wouldn’t be comfortable wearing them.
But Zuckerberg in his Fruit of the Looms seems too comfortable. And this makes us mad.
There was a time when wealth was distributed far less equitably, but we weren’t as resentful of the rich. We resented our poverty, but we were relieved that we didn’t have to put on striped pants and spats to have breakfast.
Being rich looked very uncomfortable. Rich people’s clothes were stiff and starchy, and they wore lots of them. Rich men were choked by tall collars and pinched by high-button shoes. Rich women were corseted to the point of kidney failure, constrained in so much crinoline and brocade that they might as well have been wearing off-the-shoulder burqas, and encumbered by bustles large enough that they couldn’t turn sideways without knocking over a footman and the parlor maid.
Also riffing on our recent theme of what are today’s socially acceptable forms of elitism, an op-ed today at Dartmouth’s school newspaper addresses the “genuine desire to dethrone elitism while simultaneously perpetuating it.” Again, learning to navigate an age of perpetual contradiction has become a necessary survival skill. — CC
I love Pat and his books but this is one of his poorest pieces.
The rich dress poorly in public to fool gullible people into thinking “they’re just like us”. In private, they still wear expensive clothes and enjoy “champagne” lifestyles. They sneer at “ordinary folk” at dinner parties and look down on them as stupid and gullible idiots.
The “ordinary folk” are more intelligent. They are rebelling against the politicians, MSM and new rich who despise them and their values. Pat, ironically, now hates them for electing Trump. He’s now just like the t-shirt wearing rich but without their money and that really upsets him.
My beloved Republican Party Reptile has tragically morphed into an envious New England Trad. Can whoever stole Pat’s great sense of humour please give it back to him? If not, just buy him a few Turnbull & Asser shirts that he can’t afford.
Kenny, I can confirm we look down on you.
“Being rich looked very uncomfortable. Rich people’s clothes were stiff and starchy, and they wore lots of them. Rich men were choked by tall collars and pinched by high-button shoes”.
And then came Edward the Prince of Wales,and his tailor Scholte.
Our Red mayor and pretend presidential candidate, Bill de Blasio, says there is plenty of money out there, “but it is just in the wrong hands!” Meaning it belongs to the people or the families out there who earned it.
Income inequality misses the point; oppressors can be dressed in a monolithic sea of Kohl’s just as much as the latest Cali organic Ts (which they purchase off the income of tech stocks driven by the labor of automaton workers in cog factories a step from suicide). It’s what they do, and the structures they uphold, that matter. Post-new-left dress merely disguises them and allows them to see themselves as distinct from archaic images of archetypal “bad guys,” whereas in many respects they are far worse. Certainly a half-century of populism and “democratization” of dress has not improved the Republican party from its earlier “establishment” incarnation, when significant elements of it used to support key aspects of major social reform, including the New Deal and Great Society.
Except he isn’t wearing Fruit of the Loom. He’s wearing Cucinelli shirts and hoodies and Kiton jeans.
O’Rourke wrote for National Lampoon, not the Harvard Lampoon.
Sidestepping the politics, if I may, I thought the P.J. O’Rourke piece was funny. I wish there were still a few plutocrats around who wore morning coats, stripped trousers and toppers. A nice look that, sadly, is rare these days even at daytime weddings and Easter on Fifth Avenue.
Morning suit = weddings etc solved. Forever. No clothes are beyond the reach of average earners, it is simply that some things that cost a fair bit are plain stupid and normal folk don’t see the point. As for sneering at the little people, a blazer, club tie and proper shoes achieve that quite adequately oh, about 95% of the time.