Saturday, April 16, 2011

Public Attire

I grant that I am an Anglican priest of the high church variety, and we are notorious for being formal both in behavior and dress. Sometimes, this is to our detriment but often it serves us well. Personally, I believe the difference between a "priest" and a protestant "pastor" is that a priest has to keep a bit of professional distance from parishioners. My impressions of the more protestant pastor is that they tend to be largely "seeker friendly" which is good, but the tendency is for them to pole vault over that into pseudo-drinking buddy or moral cheer leader. To me, being a spiritual father is different than being somebody's spiritual buddy. But, this is neither here nor there.

I took my youth mentoring pupil to a South Dakota State production of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew last night. My pupil had never been to a real theatre production, much less seen a Shakespeare play. I was curious how he was going to react to it. I tend to err on the side of having high expectations for kid's learning abilities and not dumb down stuff or let them read the educational equivalent of a comic book, which is a pedagogy that seems to be all the rage in American primary education these days. I did decide on this version because the production was done with a Western theme. They stayed with the original Shakespearean dialogue, but the sets and costumes made it appear to be in the Old West. Instead of Renaissance cloaks and daggers, they used vests and holstered guns. As weird as it sounds given the context of Taming of the Shrew, it worked quite well. I think it was a good segway for someone who had never been exposed to either theatre or Shakespeare. He talked about it for the entire drive home; so, I presume the learning experience was a success.

One of things that shocked me was not the performance onstage but what was going on offstage in the audience. I have not been to a theatre production in a few years, as my daughter is just now getting old enough to be able to leave her with a sitter. I was absolutely shocked at the slovenly way in which people dress in public these days. I was wearing a tie and vest, as it would never have occurred to me to not wear a tie to a public performance.

Since this was the first occasion for my youth mentoring pupil to see live Shakespeare, I splurged and spent the extra five dollars and got seats in the front row, center state. I was shocked, even in the best seats in the house, at how completely bedraggled and unkempt everyone in the audience appeared. There were several older people who were no doubt season ticket holders, and I was the only one wearing a tie.

What took the cake for me was the couple next to me. They appeared to be grad school age and dating (no wedding rings, but these days that doesn't mean much.) The man was wearing Bud Lite pajamas and fuzzy house shoes, and the woman was wearing a skimpy spaghetti strap tank top, yellow flip flops, and a pair of jeans that appeared to which someone had taken a shot gun prior to the performance. Given that it was snowing outside, I cannot imagine how they were not cold.

I could not imagine not wearing a tie to a public performance where one is sitting in the front row; I cannot imagine wearing jeans to such an event, much less wearing pajamas in public. There is a difference between a culture of informality and being so informal that it is physically distracting to those around you.

I try to impress upon my youth mentoring pupil the idea that how one dresses sends message to those around you as loudly as if you were to walk into a room and starting yelling at people. If you dress with class, people will treat you with class; if you dress like a slob or a hooker, people will, likewise, treat you as such. This was a very basic concept when I was growing up (I'm not that old, mind you), but apparently this is news to a great many people today who have grown up in a world whose only mantra is, "Don't judge me!"

The woman commented on my tie after the show by rudely asking, "Who died?"

I simply responded, "Apparently Western civilization."

Ironically, my eleven year old youth mentoring pupil got the joke but the grad student did not.


caheidelberger said...

Guilty: I have not worn a tie to most plays I've attended... although I always wear one when I judge the State One-Act Play Festival! The state high school activities association also requires student actors to dress up for the State One-Act awards ceremony.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Ironically, I posted this on Facebook. My aunt from Georgia was flabbergasted at such public attire. She told me her 16 year old son's bowling league would kick out students who were wearing sweat pants or jeans. All is not lost!

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

Georgia is in the South, they're still a little behind the times.
I understand your angst over attire at something like this, however, the whole tie thingy is problematic. I haven't worn or owned a tie in 26 years. I wore a tie on a job for about a week, took it off, threw all my ties in the trash or donation box, don't remember which. I will never wear a tie again - not even dead! There is not a more useless piece of apparel for a man that I can think of. They serve absolutely NO purpose, they are aggravating, annoying, dangerous and cut off the blood supply to the brain. I am sure this accounts for all the brain dead politicians and business executives that screw everything up for ordinary people.
All this being said, dressing decently in clean, undamaged clothing is not too much to ask in venues like this or in church. Hopefully this too shall pass and take the ties with it.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Hopefully will stay behind the times, if it means that they keep a semblance of fashion taste.

I disagree with you on the tie. It is useful, as looking professional is always useful. I would refuse to do monetary or serious business with someone who had no respect for himself as to wear a tie. If you have no respect for yourself, then you have no respect for those around you.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

You are defining "Professional" as a Euro-American 19th century Western male. I prefer Middle and far Eastern attire - pre western influence. Western colonialism has destroyed fashion sense!

You'd never catch a Vulcan or a Bajoran in anything like that and don't even think a Klingon would look good!

Just funning with you. My point being it's a cultural thing and western culture is in the tank.

The Archer of the Forest said...

You just made my point for me. Western culture is precisely in the tank because we're reverting back to uncivilized attire.