Scott St. Clair: Dressing Right on the Right

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Fancy yourself a conservative man, do you? Someone who respects and upholds traditional values, public dignity and high standards? Then why not dress the part?scott well dressed

First, a hat tip to Troy Henley, a good friend of my oldest son, for sending Alan Cornett’s “The Well-Clad Conservative” my way — much obliged. Giving credit where credit is due is also part of the conservative credo. Cornett’s piece got me thinking, which, because I am well-ordered that way, got me writing.

A conservative mind is a well-ordered mind – it thinks reasonably and rationally. In paying attention to details and striving for accuracy, it is never slovenly or sloppy. It embraces classicism while remaining open to reviewing modernity while retaining a deep suspicion and bias against fad or anything shallow. It is witty without being wanton, sharp without being shady and tart without being tacky. As principles to govern your mind these are good and valuable to be treasured and handed down generation after generation.

Why, then, should they also not govern appearance? I’m convinced that a slovenly external appearance connotes a slovenly internal person — the sloppier you look, the sloppier you think. This is not to say a well-dressed look makes you a good thinker or anything of the sort. Nor does it suggest that all well-dressed men are always conservative men. Think of it the other way around.

 Just as they should be well-spoken, well-educated (even if self-educated) and well-versed on many topics, conservative men should be well-dressed men. If you think and behave with respect, you will dress with respect – it is from the inside out, not the outside in. There are many well-dressed men whose thoughts and ideas are wretched – you can see them on any Washington, D.C. street corner.

scott learned behaviorWe are talking propriety – a sense of dignity, proportion and perspective that says to the observer that you take care how you look and behave, so it is safe to assume you can be trusted to act carefully. Ask yourself: if more young men wore navy blazers than hoodies would fewer young men be in trouble?

This is not about fashion or style in the general sense, or even how to pick clothes (plenty of places to go for advice on wardrobe selection). Fashion is ephemeral, and nobody in his right mind wants to resurrect 70s-vintage wide lapels or heinous ties. Style, however, is personal and a matter of discernment – what look works best for you is your decision to make, but the man of action belies his image in a tweed jacket and vest.

But because fashion trends should be viewed with deep suspicion, sartorial splendor is best expressed when it is firmly rooted in tradition and inch and three-quarter cuffs.

 From Cornett’s article:

“I think we can (or at least ought to) recoil in horror at, say, wearing pajamas on an airplane. Or men wearing flip flops to church. Or anyone wearing crocs at any time. These are signs of cultural decay, manifestations of the same ills that lead to moral and political breakdowns.”

Moral and political breakdowns – is that extreme? Not if you look at the clear and convincing evidence of the past, say, 50 years. Until the mid-60s, men wore suits, or at least a jacket and slacks, and ties. They shined their shoes — some even continued wearing hats after JFK made them unfashionable. Public behavior was respectful then and men cultivated being gentlemen — not so much today. One reason why we are less civil in the culture, political discourse and in relationships is that the more we began to dress like hoboes, the more we became hobo-like in behavior and attitude.  

This had nothing to do with class or income distinctions. I remember seeing an old photograph of a meeting of the janitors’ union in Tacoma, Wash taken in the late 40s or early 50s where every man in attendance had on a suit and tie. The ladies Scott tacoma manall wore hats, too, but that is beside the point – I am addressing men here.

Contrary to popular myth, the conservative man sets himself apart from the herd. He does not “go with the flow” – if anything, he cultivates individuality and an air unique to him. He is, in the words of William F. Buckley, Jr. when he penned  the mission statement for “National Review,” someone who “…stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Rough going though it may be, the man who stands alone with the truth has the scott ronald reaganbest of allies and the strongest of armies.

“Because everyone else does it is no reason for you to do it — remember who you are and what you stand for.” This was a lesson my mother drummed into me from earliest memory until she died. I suppose that’s why I am not inclined to let “everyone” dictate appearance standards to me. I do not dress to satisfy a fashion maven or convey a hip image — I dress to satisfy myself and to show respect to the people and places I frequent. 

To paraphrase Scripture, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, I made mud pies and played in the dirt like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me, cleaned myself up and put on a tie.”    

Conservative men should set a high standard in all areas, including their appearance – Lord knows, the country needs every class act it can get. 

Scott St. Clair is a journalist, rhetorical pugilist, agent provocateur, aider and abbetor of Liberty Lovers and a former competitive Highland piper. He says what he thinks, means what he says and doesn’t suffer fools. He’s also a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce. His opinions are entirely his own, and you shouldn’t expect them to mirror yours.

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