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Gum-Cracking Sacks of Potatoes with iPhones. . .

Why do so many educated "professional" adults look so awful now?  A possible, highly probable, answer hit me like a bolt out of the blue as I worked on my laptop early this morning sitting in the cafe that is tucked into a corner of our library here on campus.  It's a popular meeting place for students, faculty, and staff, and certainly somewhat nicer surroundings than my office, so I take every opportunity to spend time there as and when I can.  

I was joined in the otherwise empty space at that early point in the morning by a group of  seven or eight library staff, who convened for a small meeting of some kind a short distance from where I sat.  To a person, the mixed group of men and women aged roughly 30-50, more or less, resembled the sacks of potatoes pictured above.  All with the latest dinging, blinking, chirping, burping gadgetry in hand.

A few things occurred to me as I took in the group for a minute or so over the top of my glasses before returning to work.  One, the (over-) casualization of society at this point has resulted in lax attitudes not only about how we present ourselves to the rest of the world but also lax attitudes about what's appropriate for the workplace in general and (the biggie) the quality of work we produce while there.  No wonder it seems like so many people of all ages try to avoid anything but the least amount of mental or physical effort possible and, accordingly, work out the path of least resistance to get the job at hand done, so they can go back to their iPhones.  

Mind you, the prevailing attitude, as near as I can tell, is not necessarily a job well done.  It seems to be more a job done as quickly as possible.  Indeed, shoddy work on some team or committee project was the general subject matter of the meeting in question as far as I could determine, and no wonder based on the appearance of the people in attendance.  It's pretty clear to me that scant attention paid to details in one's life, for example personal appearance bleeds over into and has some effect on alacrity and related level of performance on the job.  

Didn't Woody Allen once observe that 90% of life was simply showing up?  No effort.  No skill.  No expertise.  No get up and go required.  I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the once prevalent idea of the 'can-do' attitude, for which the U.S. was once so famous, seems largely to have vanished from our collective psyche.  Cynical?  Pessimistic?  Maybe.  Sure, you might still find pockets of the can-do attitude here and there, but I'll counter that as a society we've become completely shiftless in our outlook and habits at  every step of the way.

Returning to the point at hand, dressing like the photograph above is easy.  It's also cheap, and clearly requires little to no thought.  No more thought than putting on a suit with a blue or white shirt and necktie each morning in all honesty.  

In contrast to presenting yourself well, however, appearing for public consumption while looking like a walking hamper of dirty laundry is highly egalitarian, an idea with which we are obsessed in the United States.  If everyone cannot be born into independent wealth, a life of leisure,  and enjoy the same advantages, then we can all at least look cruddy and crusty together and go on pretending that we're all the same.  In other words, everyone can look equally shitty.  Pardon my language, but there is simply no other word that carries quite the same weight here.  Even if people have the wherewithal to carry 30-year mortgages on four-bedroom houses in the 'burbs along with the obligatory two huge SUVs in the driveway and all of the most up-to-date personal technology on the dining table during meals, chaotic disarray as far as personal appearance goes is the order of the day.  

Neither, do people seem to be aware of the problem.  Instead, they look as if they sleep rough every night.  Even those with an expensive education -- which, oddly, does not seem to include much in the way of sophistication -- and a nominally white collar job.  Leaving the impression that, at best, they purchase their attire at Meijer's (a combination big box-supermarket chain here in the Upper Midwest of the U.S.), or that they have been given a bunch of cast off oddments at the local shelter, isn't seen as something that is embarrassing.  I will even wager that an awful lot of people don't know enough to be embarrassed by their slovenly appearance and related behaviors.

Without a doubt, I'll draw fire for that last observation, but why on earth would someone voluntarily want to look like they are completely down and out, when they don't have to?  Why would a person choose to look like he or she has fallen through the cracks of society when that isn't the case?  It really does seem like many (perhaps most?) in U.S. society have simply given up to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld's observation to his pal George about the latter appearing publicly in sweatpants.  Contrary to what some might argue, you don't need to be "rich" to present a clean, pulled together appearance and look relatively alert as you move through life.  A little soap and water, some forethought, and relatively few key pieces of clothing can go a long way.  What is so sad in all of this is that so many people apparently can't be bothered.  Anything that requires a little effort isn't worth doing it seems.

I'll wrap up today's post with some advice for everyone, which will very probably ruffle a few more feathers.  Ready?

Guys, how about tucking in your shirts, wearing a belt, and shaving Monday through Friday at least?  Ladies, how about a little color in your attire instead of the ubiquitous gray, tan, taupe, ecru, eggshell, coffee, or oatmeal?  A modest shade of lipstick would also help as might a tiny bit of eye makeup.  Everyone ought to do a better job of brushing his or her darn hair in the morning and checking his or her appearance briefly while in the restroom throughout the day.  A hot washcloth (face flannel) to clean off the visible sleep around the eyes and any remaining breakfast residue from around the mouth would, likewise, be a nice idea.  

Last off all, no one, absolutely no one looks good in a (usually pilled) fleece.  Leave 'em at home along with the Birkenstocks, Doc Martins, and worn out driving moccasins.  Who knows?  These very basic steps might help to get more of us off the anti-depressants and improve our general self-image in the process.  If more of us looked better, we would feel better.  Superficial?  Maybe.  But I think there is something to it nevertheless.  It's just a thought. 

Now, I hardly expect most people these days to take the same pleasure that I do in something as banal as "dressing up," but for the love of Pete, it's time to get with the program and get ourselves back on track.  No doubt about it.  As a society, we're a frumpy mess.  Our collectively bedraggled appearance, less than savory behaviors, and related attitudes are all part of the general malaise in which we currently wallow.  Still, the question begs.  How much lower can we sink?  On second thought, don't answer that.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


  1. Re: "Contrary to what some might argue, you don't need to be rich to look clean, pulled together as far as your attire is concerned, and relatively alert as you move through life",
    Giuseppe Timore of the now-defunct blog "An Affordable Wardrobe" put it succinctly: "Penury is not an excuse".


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All opinions are welcome here. Even those that differ from mine. But let's keep it clean and civil, please.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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