What ever happened to the well dressed man or woman? Part III

Good taste, bad taste. If there’s one thing of which a person does not like to be accused it’s of having bad or poor taste. Unfortunately, since the 70’s good taste is a concept whose paucity becomes more and more evident every day. Poor taste in art, music, fashion, writing have become the norm, coin of the realm. I mean, have you read or heard what passes for poetry nowadays? Case in point: Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural piece of prosaic blather. It’s a testament to the general malaise of standards (which set the criteria for good & bad taste) that someone can conceive such tripe and be considered worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. Robert Frost she ain’t. Maya Angelou she ain’t.

Why the 70’s? Because it was in the latter half of that decade that industry decided to capitalise on the hipness of being “radical;” when long hair, tie-dyed shirts, peace symbols and other nonconformist forms of apparel went from being political to profitable. So, we ended up with corporate execs and lawyers wearing polyester leisure suits with bell bottom pants and lapels out to the shoulder and either tie-dyed or flower print shirts to show that they were “with it.” If a tie was worn it was as wide as a bib. And let us not forget the granny dress and the ultra-short miniskirt in which 99.99999% of women then, as well (Oh Lord) as today, should never be seen.

Yes, it was in the 70’s that began the long precipitous decent of taste in style. But that was just the beginning; the stage was set for the next great decline: Punk followed by Grunge, from which society never recovered. All anyone has to do is walk around any city, or college/university metropolitan area, or any public high school and see the remnants of the waste laid by the pop culture of the 80’s.

Then when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, along comes rap and hip-hop with its foul language and glorification of the criminal life. As soon a the “music” became commercially viable so did the corresponding “fashion” of low rise wearing baggy jeans and oversized clothing. Oh, lets not forget the jock/frat mentality of the middle class with their backwards baseball caps and faux hip-hop clothes and scraggy beards.

My generation has no one to blame but itself. We raised a generation (along with the ensuing generation) of kids who were told that they were all just great, that everyone was special and each every one was entitled to whatever he or she wanted and that instilling some form of discipline would damage their self esteem. So, our society is blessed with two or more generations of people who can’t be told anything, even how to dress. Fresh out of school (either graduation or dropping out) they expect to be paid whatever they want, come to work whenever they want and work as much or as little as they want because that’s how they’ve been conditioned to think. Our colleges and universities have become little more than glorified trade schools whose only purpose is to make sure that what is taught are those things which are going to get junior or sis into a good MBA programme. That is all that matters. It has become the primary focus of both private and public education. The well rounded liberal arts and humanities education has long been discarded in favour of pure avarice. So how is one supposed to know how to dress appropriately when the whole of society is bent on the expedient?

Good taste, like any skill, is learnt. Good taste is a by-product of the understanding of those things which are reflective of a society taught that there is more to life than the temporal high of instant gratification.

When one has learned to appreciate –– to relish –– the complexity of T. S. Eliot, Dante, Guillame de Machaut, J. S.Bach, Jan van Eyck, Frederick E. Church, Gerhard Richter, etc. then one can learn to appreciate the subtleties of the deceptive simplicity of a tailored suit by Joseph Abboud or a simple belt cinched shift by Kenneth Cole.

There’s good taste and bad taste.Good taste simply reflects a discerning mind as manifested through a well exercised intellect and a highly developed sense of cultural history. Things which with our current education and child rearing practises are woefully in short supply in today’s society.


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