Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Dressing like a Doofus

A good post by Old Oligarch is being noticed by lots of bloggers. That’s good. It’s shameful, the way some women dress for Mass. The "fashion" failings of women are bound up with sexual vanity. But the failings of men are bound up with a casual contempt for the duties of religion. The women preen, the men shirk. It resembles Eden, I think. There’s Eve, preening over her impending self-divinization. And over there we see Adam the coward, scuffing the dirt with his toe, shirking his duty to the whole freaking universe. A lot of women dress like Eve for Mass. And a lot of men dress like Adam. Herewith my comment on the male half of the phenomenon.

I get tired of watching T-shirted men sandal-flopping up to the altar like they were in line for beer and brats. I don’t understand why polo shirts and blue jeans are acceptable attire for an audience with the King of Kings. I don’t see why a man can’t take fifteen minutes to shave (or trim his beard) before going to Mass. These guys wouldn’t dress that way to bury their mothers, but they dress like that to see the God-Man die for their sins? Only adolescents and fools would treat the occasion so, and men who dress like that should never complain about the scant attention the Church pays to their masculinity -- they should expect instead to remain marginalized adolescents and doofuses.

Take a moment to consider the clothing of powerful men, men who are doing significant public things. They don’t wear T-Shirts, cargo shorts or sneakers. When and if they ever do it’s only because they want to reassure you that it doesn’t matter if you’re average and they’re not. When it’s important, when their reputations and positions are on the line, they wear jackets, ties, and dress shoes. Because that, my brothers, is the clothing a man wears when his reputation and position is on the line, the clothing that says that he’s a man, he’s serious, and he’s doing something significant. The difference is that in the Mass none of us are average and all of us are doing something important, significant, and public. Chosen generation? Royal priesthood? Holy nation? Any of that ring a bell, doofus?

I’ve heard all the predictable replies to this complaint. "Some people can’t buy fancy clothes." Buddy, this isn’t about the quality of your clothes, but the message sent by their form. If you can’t afford a $1,500.00 suit, then by all means don’t buy one. Buy the $70 blue polyester jacket at Target. If you can’t afford a $70.00 jacket at Target, then try and get one from Goodwill or some similar outfit. And whatever you do, spend $5.00 on a tie and wear it with a collared shirt. Wear real shoes. Wear a belt or suspenders (but never both), and pants which aren’t blue jeans. You can even ditch the jacket if the temperature’s over 80 and the Church doesn’t have air conditioning.

"I don’t want to clutter my religion with all those status symbols and rules." Yeah, friend, sure -- that’s why you’re wearing Birkenstocks and fashionable golf shirts. It’s why every item on your person has a label: You’re completely unconcerned with status. When you dress like you’re going out with your buddies for a beer, you’re telling me that Jesus is one of your beer buddies. I know guys who think that way. They’re all doofuses. And rules? I hereby give you ALL the rules. Jacket. Shirt with Collar. Tie. Pants which aren’t blue jeans. Belt or suspenders, but never both. Socks in any color except white or colors of the rainbow. Brown, black or burgundy shoes that cover your toes. Those are the rules. The rest either comes naturally, or not, but either way you’ve got more dignity than somebody who comes to Mass in clothes he bought at the Pro Shop.

"Jesus doesn’t care about things like that." Yes He does. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." If your clothing says you don’t need to impress anyone, even Him, with care and attention to your person and the most dignified clothing you can find, then you’re not in love. If your clothes say the Mass is nothing more than a dinner and a movie, then you’re not showing much awareness of your soul. And if you really do want to live up to Him, and you really do think the Mass is a big deal, but you’re dressing to give the opposite message, then you’re not worshiping Him with your mind.  Any way you cut it, your cargo shorts and "This T-Shirt Was Made from Hemp" getup is a proclamation of an individual, personal failure to pay respect. Be faithful in the little things, like your clothing, and you might just get a chance to be faithful in larger things, like being the spiritual head of a marriage.

"Oh, so you want us to wear suits for daily Mass, and then change into work clothes?" Through an imaginary pharisaism, one can turn any obligation into a ridiculous burden and then shrug it off, confident that Jesus doesn’t want all that "mindless and oppressive formalism." No, I don’t want you to don a suit for daily Mass and change at your workplace, although I’d be impressed if you did. Worn before, during, or right after work uniforms, scrubs, and work clothes are honest. They’re St. Joseph’s clothing. They say you’re supporting your family but have taken time from your day to worship the God who gave you a family to support. But on Sundays and Holy Days? On days when you don’t have to work? I don’t see you wearing Dickies or Timberlands then. I see you wearing the teenager’s sockless shoes, the little boy’s baggy shorts and -- perhaps worst of all -- golf clothing, the "regular guy’s" sartorial paean to blandness and mediocrity. I see you choosing to dress like a doofus.

"In other cultures . . . ." Oh, shut up. Just shut up. Or move there. I don’t give a damn which it is, just pick one or the other.

"This is perfectly acceptable attire. Men do wear polo shirts and blue jeans to callings, funerals, weddings, and public celebrations of all kinds." Yes, that’s true. And I know men who chew tobacco at all these events. I have nothing against chewing tobacco. I chew tobacco.  (Snuff, actually.) It’s relaxing, and conducive to good marksmanship. But indulging the habit at such times is wrong. It’s wrong because it says that what’s happening "HERE" and "NOW" is not enough, not sufficiently riveting, to completely involve one.  It says he has a capacity for interest and participation which isn’t quite being filled by the funeral of a friend’s loved one, a wedding, or the unveiling of a war memorial. Or it says that his limited capacity for interested participation is so consumed by chaw that he can’t really notice that people are grieving, new lives are beginning, or that communal allegiances are being forged and renewed. It is simply not done, and the man who does it is a hick, clod, berk and a boor. He's a doofus, and he's a doofus even if he's surrounded by other doofuses who’re also toting expectorated fluids around in  little styrofoam coffee cups. Blue jeans and polo shirts don’t display the best and highest in a man’s interest, attentiveness, and respect. It doesn’t matter how many other guys are giving less than their best.   Manliness is what you do when no one else has your back.

Before it’s said I’m being snotty, I’ll say it first. I’ve dressed like a doofus for Mass. It’s not something I’m proud of. Fortunately, it’s something I haven’t done in a while and don’t intend to do in future. In fact, writing this has made me aware that I’ve been . . . well, not slipping, but on the verge, so to speak, of slipping. If I don’t watch myself, and don’t make a conscious effort to put that Land’s End polo back in the closet, then someday my guardian angel will take a spiritual picture of me in flip-flops, parachute shorts, and a SexWax T-Shirt preparing to receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. Then I’ll have to spend one or two hundred years in purgatory staring at that picture, being whipped with the leather belt I didn’t wear, agonized at how I could ever have been so nonchalant in the very presence of God. Don’t let this happen to someone you know.   Suck it up, and knot the tie.  Friends don’t let friends dress casual.

1 comment:

Llew Kaufman said...

Unfortunately, these are tired old arguments that are trotted out far too often to justify the type of snobbery that Jesus condemned everywhere he went. God really does not care what your style of clothing is...He sees your heart and accepts you unconditionally. Dress shoes, socks, a collared shirt, a tie, and slacks are merely a style of clothing, not by any stretch the signature of a man of power.