I just switched to a corporate gig, and the jacket-and-tie requirement is a pain in the neck (pun intended). Should I convince my bosses to adopt Casual Mondays-through-Thursdays? Wear a T-shirt with a tie on the front? Help!
—TRAVIS IN MOBILE
Here's some advice, Travis: Stick a cashmere sock in it! Let’s take a quick look at the agonizing history of men’s clothing to give you some perspective. (I’ll save the horrors of women’s wear for another time.)
Let’s start with the classics. Think the Roman toga was Italy’s precursor to the Snuggie? Not exactly. The toga was, as scholar Barbara McManus puts it, “costly, heavy, and cumbersome to wear.” A proper toga required yards of wool, an expertly trained slave to help with the elaborate folding, lead weights in the hem, and your left arm holding it all in place. I’m guessing 90 percent of your average orgy was spent getting in and out of clothes.
And you want me to pity you for the tie? Try wearing an Elizabethan ruff, those decorative lacy neck braces that made your head look like it was on a platter. Not only did the collars reach nearly a foot in radius, but they required starched linen and a wire contraption to hold them up. Puritans cried that the neckwear—worn by men and women alike—was invented by the devil in the “fullness of his malice.” It’s a sure sign that something’s seriously uncomfortable if a Puritan is complaining about it!
Also, be thankful that you can oversleep and still be ready for work in a hurry. Beau Brummel—the early-19th-century dandy who is often called the father of the suit and tie—claimed it took him five hours to get dressed in the morning. That routine included polishing his boots with champagne, making his footwear drunk but never disorderly.
Oh, and one more thing: Be thankful that you are even allowed to wear fancy clothes. Throughout history, the ruling classes have issued stern dress codes preventing lower classes from sporting certain finery. The John Q. Aztec who dared to don cotton faced a quick execution. And Elizabeth I forbade a long list of duds, including purple silk, sable fur, and velvet coats—though she did say silk buttons were acceptable. What a pushover.
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