Elegance, Fashion, And Reverence
An interesting comment appeared in my combox related to the proper way to dress in church. The gist of the message was that at times people “dress so far out of the fashions that it draws attention to yourself and distracts others from prayer”. In contrast, simplicity should be preferred, then the well dressed person is also a simply dressed person.
I agree with what precedes, if we first agree about definitions.
I call elegance the way a person of both sexes, but particularly a man, dresses in order to enhance his appearance in a stylish but traditionally accepted way. Elegance changes only extremely slowly, and the well dressed man of 1913 did not dress – considering the time which elapsed – much differently than the well dressed man in 2013 does. In fact, even elements like morning suits and frock jackets are still seen, even today.
The matter is a bit different for women, as the Downton Abbey lady would dress much differently than her modern counterpart; but in every age, men and women were able to distinguish between a well-dressed woman and a gaudy, inappropriate one. Similarly, whilst fashion always played a role in female dress, there has always been an underlying standard of beautiful modesty and simplicity. A good girl of today might appear in church dressed not much differently than the girls in the “little house in the prairie”, and kudos to them.
It is generally said that elegance is for men, and fashion is for women and homosexuals. Fashion changes continuously, and has elements of flash that can easily be misplaced in a woman, and look outright disturbing in a man. The “faggot look” you see so often today among boys and young men (those strange faggoty trousers, the v-shirts, and the generally effeminate look and demeanour) is a prime example.
The elegant man never follows fashion, because fashion is not manly. The elegant woman always pays attention that she follows a conservative, decent, modest fashion, though her sex will be allowed some more leeway.
This, elegant men and women do because, having been properly raised, they know that proper appearance is a way we show respect to other people. Whilst the modern slob ideology puts comfort and the self before everything, the old mentality gives right of way to proper appearance as a way to show proper manners. This is, I was raised to believe, a matter of basic respect and decency. Decency fully forgotten in times in which people think they can walk around in flip-flops “because it's more comfortable”; and if one is not ashamed of the flip-flops on the road, it won't be long before the flip-flops visit the church.
At the same time, I do not believe much in the modern rhetoric of “overdressing”. In a world in which slob is the new elegant, no man should be cowed into uniforming himself to the general decay in appearance. A man should be always properly dressed according to his means, instead of following the modern fads of “leisure Fridays” which end up meaning jeans and t-shirt in the office, or worse. Least of all should a real man be persuaded to go around like a bum because “nowadays everyone does it. Don't be an “everyone”. Be a proper man.
Now, we live in times when the general flattening towards the worst of everything may let one appear “overdressed”, who simply cares about proper appearance. More power to him, say I, and may his clothes always fit him well.
This does not mean, though, that elegance should be confused with bad taste. The Earl of Grantham will always be appropriately dressed for church, exactly as Elton John will never be. Extravagance isn't elegance, and it indicates bad taste, if not outright faggotry.
My conclusions are therefore as follows:
1. The elegant man will always be appropriately dressed in church, and the more elegant, the better. No one would say one could be overdressed in the presence of the Queen; the more so in the presence of Jesus.
2. Elegance doesn't mean being unduly flashy, or outright vulgar.
3. If an elegantly dressed man is considered “overdressed” in church, this is more likely to say something about how underdressed the people around him are, and about the extent to which slobbish dressing has become mainstream.
Proper appearance is a matter of respect for our neighbour. Proper appearance in Church – according to one's means and basic common sense – should go without saying. I find it very good – and very natural – that such a beautifully conservative mentality should find expression among the supporters of the Mass of the Ages.