Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Dalrymple on dress

Since falling in love with Oswald Spengler as a young pup, Lord Bassington-Bassington has had a penchant for cultural pessimists. And among his favourite writers in this vein that are still living is Theodore Dalrymple.

Like Spengler, Dalrymple should be enjoyed in small doses and taken with a liberal sprinkling of salt, but his powers of observation have rarely been more acute than in this essay on modern dress.

Considering the attention given to clothes in the press and elsewhere, and that many people list shopping (by which they mean shopping for clothes) as their principal pastime, it is astonishing how few well-dressed people one sees on the streets. On the contrary, most people approximate to the famous and apt description of the professionally bohemian poet Dylan Thomas: an unmade bed.

Having lived among really poor people in Africa and elsewhere, I know that to present a good appearance to others is for them a triumph of the human spirit and not just a manifestation of vanity or superficiality, much less a semi-intellectual pose like that of Marie-Antoinette playing shepherdess. The fact is that, given the laws of thermodynamics, it takes no effort to look like a slob; to be smart calls for care and attention, not only to one's clothes but to how one behaves. It also means that one must try to imagine what one appears in the eyes of others. Slobbery is the sartorial manifestation of solipsistic egotism; smartness is simultaneously self-respect and respect for others.

And of course, Lord Bassington-Bassington can't help but be reminded of the Congolese sapeurs.

(The picture at the top was shamelessly stolen from this blog).

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