We Are What We Appear
It’s always interesting to watch old footage of sports meetings—you know, the clips from the old black-and-white 16-millimeter newsreels. The pleasure comes not only from viewing sport generally played in a more gentlemanly and sportsmanlike manner, but also from noting the elegance of the dress of the spectators.
There was a time when the British peoples were admired and copied by other nations in their form of dress. It was, as Luigi Barzini commented, “a spontaneous homage, a flattering imitation” (The Europeans). Barzini observes that the typical English gentleman of the 19th century was “well-educated, well-behaved”—largely attributable to “good upbringing.” Aldous Huxley said that what made the typical English gents of the time so admired as models for the rest of the world was “their confidence, their ease … their prestige which the other people would like to deny but can’t” (Antic Hay).
It’s no coincidence that the time of the well-dressed, well-mannered, well-educated English gentleman coincided with the time of British greatness. We simply are what we appear. Just as “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), so the image we project of ourselves and the social or national group to which we belong will be reflected in our outward appearance.
There is such a thing as a right type of pride. Not that ugly, self-centered expression of ego so often seen in our so-called celebrities. But a natural, humble pride vested in a real confidence stemming from knowing truly who and what we are and what is our true destiny in life. If we know that we are the progeny of a far higher Power (rather than believing that we are descended from dumb apes), children of a more supreme Intelligence, created in His image, after His likeness, and we apprehend—to the degree that a human is able—the revelation of the brilliance of that Creator’s appearance, we shall do all in our power to dress ourselves so as to reflect a degree of elegance after that image.
Unfortunately, as Stanley Marcus wrote even a couple of decades ago, the age of elegance is long dead. That demise of elegance has coincided with the post-World War II breaking of our national pride, even as it was prophesied by Almighty God (Leviticus 26:19).
In her timely book The Death of the Grown-Up, columnist Diana West refers to the baby-boomer generation as “chucking maturity for eternal youth,” creating a “culture of perpetual adolescence.” West is astute enough to make the connection between state of mind and state of dress. She observes that the post-World War ii baby boomers are now “grown-ups who haven’t left childhood.” Consequently, “father and son dress more or less alike, … both equally at ease in the baggy rumple of eternal summer camp. In the mature male, these trappings of adolescence … reveal a state of mind, a reflection of personality that hasn’t fully developed, and doesn’t want to—or worse, doesn’t know how.”
To judge by the speed with which the population has taken to the standard of the ugly, the slatternly and the downright unkempt, few there be indeed who are enlightened sufficiently to make the connection between how we appear in public (and for that matter, in private) and the state of the nation. Hence, it is a joy for those who do care to see the matter taken up in an article from American Thinker by Steve Amoia and Andrew Durham. They made the same connection as Diana West between the way we dress and the broken moral fiber of the nation. “In the United States, there is a general lack of respect and civility for other people. We convey that by how we dress. Sadly, the standard has declined in massive proportions” (July 6).
The authors pointed to the trashy example of “adult men wearing baseball caps backwards and indoors, failure to comb their hair properly, and wearing dress shirts outside of their trousers. Adult women showing inappropriate bare skin, undergarments, tattoos in an office setting or in public.”
In parallel with the descent of general standards of manners and dress to street level, there is no doubt that the institution of the American presidency has been subject to a deliberate process of denigration over the past 15 years. This is the chief office of the nation that, of all Anglo-Saxon nations, has exemplified the pride and prestige of the English-speaking world since World War ii. The deference that we show to the office of commander in chief of the world’s once most powerful nation is a reflection of our degree of national pride.
Amoia and Durham give one example of our loss of pride in that office: a championship women’s college lacrosse team visiting the White House in 2005—many wearing flip flops. The authors rightly pose the question, “Is it too much trouble to teach them to show the president of the United States a modicum of respect?”
Broken pride, broken morals, broken will, all go together. We are what we appear.
Are we too inured to reality that we still cannot see Isaiah’s great prophecy for these times slamming us in the face? “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable” (Isaiah 3:4-5).