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