RELIEF in SIGHT for Sweltering Males (Sep, 1930)
RELIEF in SIGHT for Sweltering Males
More Comfortable Fashions for Men Are Likely to Follow Present Agitation for Sensible Dress
By Joseph M. Adams
COME on, you fellows who are grouching about discomfort and enslavement of man’s conventional clothes. Quit talking and take something off or put something on that doesn’t conform to “What the Well-Dressed Men Will Wear,” in your theater program. I dare you and double dare you, but you dassn’t, because you’re afraid, that’s what you are!
We’re all afraid, we he-men with the bigger muscles and bigger bank rolls than the female of the species. And why? Because the women stole our clothes. They have appropriated everything possible in the art of dress or undress except the vary narrow range of prescribed garb in which men now suffer.
Bold bad thinkers a generation or two ago used to write articles entitled, “Why Don’t Women Dress Like Men?” Men thought then that women were the imprisoned sex, encased in hoopskirts, bustles, hour-glass corsets, leg-of-mutton sleeves, choker collars, and street-sweeping outer and inner skirts. How we once pitied them in their slavery to prudery and fashion! We bade them throw off their shackles and become free. They did.
And now who is the slave to fashion? We are. We males, the gorgeous sex of the world. Oh the roaring lion with his shaggy mane, the stag with his spreading antlers, the peacock and redbird and all the other he-birds with their fine feathers and their drab little mates! Nowhere else in animal life is the male the drab, gray, inconspicuous creature, except in the race of modern men.
But man was never so in the world till recently. The buck Indian at his war dance wore all the fine feathers while the squaws huddled around in blankets, abashed and admiring. So it was the world over till man got ashamed of hogging the vanity and began to dress up his women as things of beauty to show off to other men. And that was all a very lovely democracy of the sexes in the sharing of beauty. In Greece or Rome or medieval Europe or Japan or China, even in America in George Washington’s day, men dressed as gorgeously as they knew how and to suit their own changing fancy of styles of their day. But as they became more chivalrous and civilized they dressed up their women more and themselves less.
But then came Beau Brummell, Lord of Fashion; he strutted around Bath, England, a little over a hundred years ago trying this thing and that to make himself look differently dressed than the other men of his time. In an unfortunate moment he donned long trousers and we have all worn them for a long, long century. They are the one garment that has become so essential to man that a daylight burglar in New York hit upon the idea of walking into a store, pointing his gun and ordering the clerk to take his trousers off. The burglar wrapped up the trousers, rifled the cash drawer and proceeded to walk leisurely down the street as safe from pursuit as if he had bound his victim and locked him in a safe.
But finally this pants burglar robbed a hero who chased him down the street in his lingerie, crying “Stop thief!” and thus stopped both the burglar and the traffic.
Curses on Beau Brummell who made pants so essential to man that he would rather give up his bank roll than his trousers. Yet we might have found a beautiful substitute for creased and tailored trousers if we had started early enough.
But since the war in Europe our case has been hopeless. The women did it. They threw off their chains and walked out and left us tied to the bed-post of convention. It was a clever trick. They simply assumed the right to wear everything and anything and near next to nothing according to the weather and their own pleasure. And it left us with nothing to wear but what we had on at the time they stole this march on us, their former lords and masters.
Why doesn’t man change the enslaving uniformity of his long-trousered, coated, vested, tight-collared, year-round-wool, unclean and unwashable costume?
There is just one real answer which is that when any man makes any move in any direction toward a change of dress, it immediately suggests that he is moving toward something that is feminine! If there is any curse in this world wherewith to condemn a man utterly and hopelessly beyond repair, it is the accusation that he is effeminate!
So the ladies can give us the ha-ha because they have preempted every possibility of comfortable or beautiful change from man’s present conventional clothes. Think it over and you will see how completely they have us hog-tied in the garb we originally got from Beau Brummell when under his foppish leadership the silk-stockinged calves of George Washington’s gay days were abandoned.
If man puts on bright colors, save for the little string of silk he ties each day around his neck like a hangman’s noose, he is effeminate.
If he dons any kind of a skirt or gown or flowing robe like the Caesars wore, he looks like a picture of his grandmother prepared to retire.
If he puts on silk or any light weight fabric not covered with stiff wool, again he is effeminate.
If he exposes a few more inches of human skin at neck or wrist or knees— again he is effeminate.
If he exposes any portion of his body covered only with skin-fitting form-revealing knit fabric instead of form- hiding woven wool, again he is effeminate. Male calves are as good-looking as female calves but a man who wore them in silk stockings would look lady-like. The reason George Washington didn’t was because his ladies had no visible calves for comparison.
There is nothing we can do about it except to keep what we have or adopt a coat of steel armor and a sword—and . then like as not some swine would say we were imitating Joan of Arc. Even these street pajamas which a few martyrs tried last summer throw man into the effeminate class. The pajama was originally a man’s garment, but the women stole it too, at first to sleep in and later to lounge in on the beaches.
Only in his bathing-suit has man today any freedom to dress as comfortably or as sensibly as women. And there he has it because he got it first and the women slavishly imitated it. And they may yet run us out of that refuge. In another decade the man may be moping on the beach in coat and long trousers with the women doing all the swimming and the sun-bathing also.
The present grumbling of revolt is merely man’s weak protest called forth at last by the full realization of how cleverly and completely the women have driven him into a corner and locked him in his present outfit, seemingly for all time. And the bars that keep his freedom-loving soul incased in coat and vest and trousers is this threat that any move he now makes in the direction of anything that is light and gay, airy and cool and comfortable in clothing will immediately prove him to be imitating some phase or freedom of woman’s dress, and therefore brand him as womanish. About all man can do is to leave off his undershirt—and not tell anybody.
But you know what they said to Columbus and Lindbergh and all the other heroes of the past. Just because it can’t be done, some man may decide to do it. Spurred by Bernarr Macfadden’s defiance of the theater manager who tried to put him out because he took his coat off on a hot summer night, the writer of this article decided to run to his lair this awful tyrant, old man Grundy, who says that man must be conventional to the last button on pain of being ejected from civilized society.
00 ARMED with photographs of some of the proposed dress reform garbs that adorn this article (and quite conventionally dressed myself), I made the round of a few prominent factotems of civilization on Manhattan Island. The first man I interviewed was a policeman.
1 asked him what he would do in line of duty if he saw a man on the street that was not conventionally dressed.
”Well,” said this servant of the well-dressed Jimmy Walker, “I’d have to run him in if it was a case of indecent exposure.” Pained at his surmise that I should propose such a thing, I then showed him my photos of the proposed dress reform. “No,” he said, “I don’t think I could pinch that unless it caused an obstruction of traffic.”
So by law a man is safe enough unless he goes without a hat in Wilkesbarre, Pa., where an ordinance was recently introduced making a man’s failure to wear a hat prima facie evidence of insanity.
But strange to say with all our overburden of too numerous laws we have very few actual legal enactments saying what a man must wear. All the law holds is that he must wear something. It is lack of clothing and not any given kind of clothes that the law proscribes. But that does not mean that a man is free to go about his business in any garb that he chooses. The liberty allowed him on the street may be useless to him if the necessities of his daily life take him into such privately owned yet publicly patronized places as railroads, hotels, theaters and churches. A man denied entrance to such places cannot live a normal social life with his fellow citizens, though the hermit in his cave in the mountains is of course free to dress any way he likes.
To find out just what reception a wearer of unconventional clothes would meet in these semi-public places, I made a survey of a few of the important ones. And this is the result: The Publix Theaters, which control hundreds of motion picture houses throughout the country, issued a statement from their office in New York, saying that if a man was decently dressed, no matter in what style, his money was as good as anyone else’s at the box office. By decently dressed they said they meant no indecent exposure.
Even if a man wore an ordinary suit and decided to take off his coat in the theater, they knew of no law to stop him and they would not dare to force him to put it on by making his stay in the house uncomfortable. They told me that in summer men often came up to the box office of the big Paramount theater on Broadway with coats on their arms and were admitted. They classed the theater manager who tried to put Macfadden out as stupid.
Mr. Lee Shubert, who, with his brother J. J., controls many of the “legitimate” theaters on both Broadway and in the country at large, also said he would not object to men unconventionally clad.
“Any man who wears a suit of the ‘dress reform’ type,” he said, “will have no difficulty in gaining admission to any theater under our control. That is, of course, providing that his presence in such a garment will not be the cause of a serious disturbance, and providing that the other members of the audience do not object to him.
“I should have no wish to interfere with people who make themselves more comfortable. If the men’s suits pictured in your article provide greater comfort and ease, I see no reason why anyone should interfere with the men who choose to wear them. A comfortable audience can certainly appreciate a performance in the theater far more than an uncomfortable one.”
Ascertaining Mr. shubert’s views recalls to me that sometime ago, when Raymond Duncan visited in this country, I took him to a New York theater.
Those who have read of Mr. Duncan know that he is a devotee of the ancient Greek manner of dress. He wears a robe made of coarse linen which he weaves in his Paris studios and sandals which he also makes himself. With his hair long and head bare he presents the exact picture of a contemporary of Aristotle, weirdly come to life. His arms are bare, his legs are bare and sometimes part of his chest is exposed; yet, in this exceedingly unconventional apparel there was no trouble or embarrassment when he went to Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theater. We sat in a box, and though everyone in the audience within range stared at us as often as they looked at the stage, it was merely the stare of curiosity restrained by good manners.
Mr. Duncan subsequently went to other places of entertainment in New York; to other theaters, and to a Broadway motion picture house, without either being molested in any way or creating even a mild disturbance among the audience. There was interest in plenty, but not the kind that leads to trouble.
This recalls another occasion of some years ago. It was about the time I learned by experience, as have many other young men coining to New York and trying to work in sultry weather in the public library, that one must keep on his coat or remain unliterary. But the next day I saw a man sitting at peace in the library without a coat and with his shirt-tail outside his trousers. Incensed at the inequality of the treatment I followed this man out and asked him how he got away with it. “Why this isn’t a shirt,” he said, “this is a Russian smock.” The wearer was as American as I am, but the librarians seeing him sitting there thought they were honored by the visit of some great Russian novelist and maintained respectful silence. So if you want to wear an embroidered dressing-gown, tell ’em you’re from China.
L. F. Vosburgh, who is Vice President of the New York Central Lines, in charge of passenger traffic, said that his great railroad would carry a man in a dress reform suit as courteously as any other. Such a person could travel in any of their cars, or go into the diners without any interference.
There was no clause in their rules and regulations covering such a contingency, he said, and he saw no reason why one should be inserted. A passenger can only be ejected from a train if he makes himself violently objectionable to the other passengers. So long as these do not object, a person has the right to travel, eat and sleep on a train no matter how differently he may be dressed from the others.
The hotels, however, were not so liberal. The manager of the Biltmore Hotel, in New York, Mr. Schuyler, told me that a man in such a suit would not be permitted to enter the hotel. The Biltmore is one of the Bowman chain, which has hotels in many large cities. Mr. Schuyler said that this policy would be followed by these other hotels too.
He did not care to discuss why a guest unconventionally clad would be refused admittance. Such would be the rule.
My inquiry at the office of the Statler Hotel chain brought a noncommittal reply. They would neither say that such a man would be admitted or barred. My personal impression was that admittance would be denied if the suit was very radical.
I also questioned a churchman as to whether a man dressed in a reform suit would be welcomed at the church services.
THE clergyman was the noted Dr. Karl H. Reiland, the rector of St. George’s Church, in New York, a Protestant Episcopal institution. Dr. Reiland is nationally known for his radio talks.
In answering my question. Dr. Reiland said: “The church will stand for any suit that the public will stand for.”
So in my brief survey I found no one willing to stand up openly and say the reformed dresser would be barred except the hotels. Hotels are peculiar in this respect. It is essential as a business problem for them to keep up a prestige that has in it the quality of social snobbery. If a man goes to a first class hotel in clean new overalls and tries to register he will be told there is no room. There isn’t for his overalls. If the Prince of Wales came and registered in his shorts I guess they would take him in. And if he did think what would happen to long trousers!
By strange coincidence a few hours after the above paragraph was written there came to hand a newspaper article headed, “Dartmouth Takes to Shorts.” Six hundred undergraduates of one of America’s far-famed colleges appeared simultaneously in abbreviated breeches, the remaining students excusing their delinquency on the ground that the local supply of scant pants had been exhausted. So a prince can do no wrong and among the Dartmouth hoys who followed suit were mentioned Nelson Rockfeller, grandson of John D.. and Walter Chrysler, Jr., son of the man who manufactures motors and built the world’s tallest building.
And all this, mind you, with six inches of bare leg exposed to the weather and exposing, too. what some disdainfully proclaim to be the least beautiful joint possessed by man. Recalling the opinions of liberalism just expressed by theater managers, we must pause to wonder if that reference to “indecent exposure” has not been made as a mental reservation in anticipation of protruding knees.
That the knee should be chosen to be first revealed by man may hark back to this same fear of being considered effeminate or wishing to display persona) beauty. A young man who went sleeveless and exposed his biceps might well be accused of a vain display of personal pulchritude. Not so the masculine knee. It is not a thing of beauty, its exposure can only lead to its being bruised and barked and calloused. The sole argument for shorts seems to lie not in the beauty of the unclothed knee but in the difficulty of keeping Beau Brummell’s long trousers from losing their creases by stretching and bagging over this utilitarian but uncomely hinge.
However, this invasion of shorts encourages us in the belief that if we get anything radical in the way of dress reform it is likely to come to us from Europe.
With all our boldness and progress in many phases of life, we Americans still wait for European society to move in anything that affects those arts in which the poor imitate the rich and the rich imitate the nobility and the nobility wait for royalty to lead them as of yore.
The American flappers bobbed their hair and cut their skirts but it is Germany and France and even England where sunbathing is making progress. It takes an old-time aristocrat to set a style. Our American rich are too newly rich and far too afraid of showing it to do anything but imitate.
IN ENGLAND there is today a dress reform movement more solidly founded than these few sporadic attempts so far registered in America. These Englishmen have actually banded themselves together in a society which they call the “Dress Reform Party,” and they have offices at 39 Bedford Square. London, from which a campaign is being conducted.
The society has enlisted the help of many physicians in their cause, as well as a number of prominent men, and they put their case to the public in the following sensible declaration: “Men’s dress is ugly, uncomfortable dirty (because unwashable). unhealthy (because heavy, tight and unventilated). The Committee believes it would be premature to offer fixed and final views; indeed, the men’s dress reform movement should have as -one of its aims the encouragement of a somewhat greater range of individual style than is possible with men’s present very stereotyped costumes.
“Only through wider individual choice and variation will men’s clothes be capable of healthy evolution and reasonable adaptation to progressive social, hygienic and esthetic ideals. At the same time it is desirable to guard against the danger of mere change for change’s sake, such as has often occurred in women’s fashions. All change should aim at improvement in appearance, hygiene, comfort or convenience.”
This view was favorably received and no less a personage than the Dean of St. Paul’s endorsed it.
The reasons for the medical approval of dress reform for men Is expressed concisely by another member of the party, the distinguished apostle of sunlight. Dr. C. W. Saleeby, who says: “MY CHIEF objection to men’s clothes is their uncleanliness. We carefully dye our principal clothes lies so as not to show the dirt and then we count ourselves clean because shirt and collar are fresh from the laundry.
“When were our coats and trousers at the laundry last and when will they be there next?
“They are dirty from without and they are dirty from within. A man dances in his dress clothes and perspires. Then he does so again and again. These clothes are brushed and pressed but they are never washed.
“The dinner table, the ballroom and the drawing-room accept a standard of uncleanliness which would never be tolerated on the tennis court or cricket field.
“The most urgent reform is one that will make men’s principal clothes as thoroughly and frequently washable as a pair of flannel trousers.
“Most men are like the infants of misguided mothers. They are absurdly and even dangerously overclothed. Their clothes paralyze the natural functions of the skin and render them more— and not less—liable to catch cold and other infections.”
Here and there some bold American may make a stab at inventing the next century’s garments for men. Real inventions that the world adopts pop up in the most surprising places. So if you have an idea, get your tailor to work it out and then try it on the neighbors. It may make you the next Beau Brummell to set the style for a century.
But the uninventive remainder of us can only wait for progress, unless like the women we begin to play strip poker by taking off a garment a year, hoping to get cool and comfortable before we die. Most of us who feel that way left off our hats last summer. This year how about abandoning the vest? There is a garment that men started to make war on twenty years ago. But the thing slipped back on us and in New York City, at least, is in full vogue again, even in the hottest summer weather.
The vest, like the dicky or fake shirt front, is not a complete garment. It is merely a false front placed there to permit the coat to remain unbuttoned. The rear half of the vest is only to hold the front half on, and so to wear one is proof that you have no intention of removing your coat even if the day grows intolerably warm. A man with a coat on looks dressed and a man without a coat looks dressed also provided he has no vest. But a man with a vest on and no coat looks like the devil because the garment was never intended to he exposed. It is a patch made of the remnants of the coat put on for fear the coat, the shirt and the undershirt will all chance to come unbuttoned at once and reveal to the world that the wearer has no hair on his chest. It’s the hairy-chested guys that don’t wear vests!
The vest was the worst mistake ever made in man’s clothing and has no excuse for existence. So if you want to rebel against the tyranny of fashion, begin by boycotting vests. When you buy a suit, hand the vest back to the dealer and tell him you have no use for it. If a few million men would do that the dealers would quit making them and after a while we should get our suits two dollars cheaper.
And one final proof that the vest is the most worthless and useless of all garments worn by man is that the women never tried to steal it. I have seen women wear every other kind of garment man ever had on except a vest—and like the purple cow I never hope to see one. So hang your vest on a hickory limb and if any one calls you a sissy, swat him in the nose with a good masculine fist.