June 03, 2010


El Cabrero has been wandering through Thoreau's Walden again lately and this time around particularly enjoyed his comments on clothing, a topic towards which I have been pretty oblivious.

The main things I look for in an outfit is that it not be too formal or dressy as such forms of raiment generally suck my will to live. Beyond that, I'm pretty content if what I have to wear is something I can run, kick or generally move around in. Old clothes work particularly well for these purposes.

For that reason, I've always loved this saying of his:

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.

(I did buy new karate gis for the Okinawa trip, but I think that would meet his criteria.)

Historically speaking, clothing has often been more about displaying social status than protection from the elements, comfort or even aesthetics. Some societies even had sumptuary laws, which specified exactly who could wear what. Thoreau once again had a great zinger on this point:

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case, tell surely of any company of civilized men, which belonged to the most respected class?

(That reminds me of an old joke which suggests that such a practice at weddings might lead to a re-evaluation of the term "best man.")

Here's one last jab at the world of high fashion, which may or may not have changed all that much since his time (not that I would know):

The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveler's cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.

AN OXYMORON? In the wake of the BP Gulf disaster, Presidenet Obama has vowed to push for a clean energy bill.

DISPARITIES. A new report highlights a huge wealth gap along gender and racial lines.

EDUCATION REFORM is all the rage these days. Here are some things to think about during the "race to the top." Meanwhile,it looks like the rush to reform has slowed down in West Virginia.

WONK TALL. West Virginia policy wonks have a new blog to follow. It's brought to you by the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

A GRAND ILLUSION. One study suggests that the morning coffee boost may be an illusion. Fine. I need at least three cups of illusion each morning.


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