COLUMN: Take some pride, dress the part

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 12:24 p.m. CST, Friday, December 18, 2009

Not a day goes by that I am not alternately amazed, amused and appalled by the sartorial inelegance that has so permeated society. I am not one for enforced dress codes, stifling individual innovation, or imposing my obviously antiquated ideas of style and taste on the public at large; however, when compared with today’s “standards of attire,” Maynard G. Krebs, a character in the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and Gravel Gertie, a recurring character in Dick Tracy, would be fashion plates.

I am not so “not with it” as to realize that the youth of each generation feels obliged to make its own unique fashion statement – I have lived through the ‘Zoot Suit,' bobby sox and white bucks, the macho “greaser” look of the slicked back hair, T-shirt with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve and motorcycle boots, courtesy of Marlon Brando and The Fonz. 

Likewise, I remember the beatniks, hippies, the “grunge” with their outdoorsey flannel shirts and boots, the outlandishly freaky punks/goths and today’s hip hoppers with the chains, hoodies, and baggy, low slung pants which, must strain even a mother’s love.
The downside of these “generational statements” is that each leaves its own indelible mark which, when combined with the recent moves to dress down, e.g. casual Fridays and relaxed rules governing formal, informal and casual attire, have left us with a worst case scenario. 

I do understand that nothing remains the same but, in my youth, we did not hop off the tractor, crawl from under a car or finish slopping the hogs and pick up our dates and go to town. 

We showered, shaved and dressed appropriately as did the young ladies – I resent going out to dinner and being seated next to a “Larry the Cable Guy” look alike whose female companion’s garb is more suitable for shooting rats at city dump.
Blaming the younger generations for this phenomenon is easy and readily acceptable – the young are a soft touch, a target with an extremely limited forum for defense. They are a minority whose often rebellious behavior and disdain for authority accords them little sympathy or respect. 

This is utter nonsense, a cop out of shameful proportion – youths are but a product of their environment and will respond to a better example if provided.

This does not advocate everyone dress as lawyers, legislators and bankers; however, dressing in a manner appropriate to the occasion is hardly rocket science. For example, sweat pants, blue jeans, tie-dyed or other T-shirt (regardless of its cool message), flip flops, football jerseys and tank tops are highly inappropriate for church, weddings and funerals. 

And, for veterans and wannabe veterans, camouflage is okay for hunting, fishing, barbecues or low crawls to escape law enforcement detection, but a no-no for civilized outings.

There was a time when our armed forces personnel offered quality examples of sharp and snappy appearance with meticulous attention to detail in uniform.  Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, three of the four Department of Defense arms authorize the wear of field uniforms (fatigues or utilities) off-post, virtually without restrictions as to where or when appropriate.

This is not to disparage that uniform; I wore it proudly for more than 30 years.  Nevertheless, the “Uniform of the Day” was not and should not be the attire worn for combat or combat training, repairing equipment, or working parties no more than the lawyer, banker or other professional should wear bib overalls to meet the public. 

We remain blessed with one service though, which bars field uniforms as off post apparel – I will admit to prejudice – but, the Marines are still Marines.

We seem to be at an impasse in agreeing on the what, where, when, why and how of appropriate dress. Any attempt for an entity or a group of businesses to establish a customer dress code can expect accusations of racial motivation, violating individual rights, or political incorrectness – all fodder for the American Civil Liberties Union. 

This has occurred in the Kansas City Power and Light District where a reasonable dress code is being challenged on an almost daily basis.

I am not sure what the answer is, or if we have strayed too far from the days of yesteryear when adults did not board aircraft in tank tops and shower shoes and revealing one’s underwear publicly was the antithesis of good taste. 

As previously stated, a mandated dress code is as un-American as it is immoral and unconstitutional–a national uniform of Mao suits, Nehru jackets or even dress shirts, khaki trousers and sweaters and skirts with white bucks and saddle shoes as we wore in the 50s is unacceptable and unenforceable.

Perhaps we could tap into the “stimulus plan” funding and provide mirrors in every room of every house, in every business and on every street corner. Who knows–if we were to see ourselves as others do--it just might make a difference?

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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