Noosa Main Beach is a prime promenade for the fashion-conscious, except at 7am when it belongs to the athleisure and wetsuit wearers, as the health-conscious crowd walk, run, surf, paddle, gossip and sip endless lattes. So it was an oddity when I passed an older man recently wearing a ‘Morning of the Earth’ t-shirt; no one under sixty will get this reference to a cult surf rock movie from 1969. On the way back down the beach I passed another older man wearing a shapeless Rolling Stones tour t-shirt from the Seventies. What was going on? I thought nothing more of it until the following week, when at a hotel in Bundaberg, the only other diners were two older blokes also wearing rock band t-shirts under jackets, one the unmistakable Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon prism graphic from 1973.
Had I stumbled upon a strange tribe of backward-focused men, involved in some sartorial secret men’s business? Actually, yes.
A friend who works in the US with one of the few surviving famous old rock bands said rock band t-shirts were indeed a matter of great pride among the male of the species — unless they were new ‘vintage’ t-shirts. ‘Yeah the fakey-fake classic t-shirts are worn by the same kind of guys that wear fake Rolexes. I have some old t-shirt classics that are so worn and fragile that I keep them in a special part of the closet, and they only get brought out for very special occasions. [My spouse] doesn’t quite appreciate the solemnity of such events! When Johnny Rotten toured here last year with his band Public Image I had my Public Image 1980 Australian Tour t-shirt that I brought out and wore, ceremonially — and I got a lot of respect at their Brooklyn show. Yeah I know, it is ridiculous.’
So there it is, clothing as a status marker for a certain tribe of older blokes, a way of saying ‘you might think I’m just an old fart, but actually I am cool, and I’ve been cool going wayyyy back’. My 22-year-old confirms that vintage rock band tees are cool for her age group too, so it’s not just oldies. And there’s big bucks in it. An original Woodstock 1969 t-shirt from ebay will set you back $10,000 so no wonder the copies have sprung up.
These reflections were prompted by the gutting news recently that Brooks Brothers, the oldest US men’s clothier, store of choice for US presidents and an iconic retailer of formal tailoring, was filing for bankruptcy. More upmarket than Australia’s once-ubiquitous Fletcher Jones, and a synonym for old-world quality and style, it isn’t drawing too long a bow to see the decline of this business as symbolic of, and yet another blow to, the traditional Judeo-Christian establishment values of the West. Standard suits and formal wear date back to Western European court clothing of the 17th century, and are both flattering and high-maintenance, hence relatively expensive. Clothes maketh the man, the old saw goes, and what we wear pretty much advertises who we are, and the values we represent. I wouldn’t cross the road to avoid a group of young men in button-down shirts and chinos, but I might if they sported baggy sweats, hoodies and tatts. Clothes tell a story and always have. When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wears his jeans and sweats, he’s saying I might be a zillionaire IT whizz, but I’m just an average guy, really. Islamic terrorists don’t pose with decapitated heads wearing jeans or suits, but in traditional robes or a military version thereof, underlining their non-Western values. Judges with their wigs, men of the cloth with their collars and robes, whores displaying their sexual organs, corporates in their suits, Antifa militants in ‘black bloc’ for anonymity and intimidation, all use clothing to signal meaning and identity.
The august Swiss sage Fritjof Schuon wrote: ‘The existence of princely and sacerdotal attire proves that garments confer to man a personality; that they express or manifest a function which transcends or ennobles the individual. By manifesting a function, dress represents thereby the virtues corresponding to it.’ For that reason he warned against people abandoning their own culture and copying the style of foreign cultures; if you’ve ever seen Western women wearing saris in India you would get his point instantly. It’s true that traditional clothing can be a uniform, but all tribes have their uniforms, and uniforms can be tweaked in all sorts of trivial, meaningful ways.
There’s a story about a group of senior Canberra bureaucrats gathering for their first meeting with the new minister. As they killed time, talk turned to how they had dressed for the occasion with one mind; not a single colored or check shirt was to be seen, all were in crisp white. White was best, they agreed. And then the besuited minister walked in —wearing a blue shirt (Reader, that minister may have been my husband.) Formal wear requires care and effort, it symbolises order, dignity, manners, self-respect and an adherence to established social rituals, and that whole way of life is now under attack.
Online retailing, cheap Asian competition and the growing casualisation of our wardrobes have all gnawed away at Brooks’ business, but so too have the culture wars of our dystopian times. One doesn’t wear a three-piece suit or a frock to a riot, and given that the leaders of the ‘mostly peaceful’ protesters declare they want to overthrow the system, that’s a lot of potential customers who won’t be wearing Brooks anytime soon, if ever. Even jeans are too uncomfortable for this set, who prefer drab sweats. When Black Lives Matter destroys community statues they are consciously attacking Western cultural symbols; that’s why they don’t care who they topple, be it Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln or a slave-trader; their real target is this society, which they clamour to overthrow. It’s disingenuous to argue that these are just objects of bronze and stone and concrete — they are symbols of our shared history and community, and their toppling is an aggression against us all. When whites are asked to ‘deconstruct’ their whiteness, it usually translates to walking away from established Western and Christian values. As Seattle city staff were told in a recent workshop, ‘perfectionism’, ‘objectivity’, ‘intellectualisation’ and even a desire for physical safety were part of internalised white oppression and must be abandoned.
Twin engines of civilizational destruction, both Marxist in origin, are bearing down upon us; there’s the Chinese Community Party virus pandemic, and the Antifa/BLM/leftist-generated culture wars. As society faces this threat, many of our cultural warriors already wear their values on their sleeve, as both statement and armour: there’s the multi-hued and ever-dapper peacockery of Alan Jones, the elegant European suits of Mark Steyn, Andrew Bolt’s polished pocket squares and ties, the exaggerated femininity of Daisy Cousens, and the saintly editor of this journal, whose initially raffish not-quite-done-up shirt collars and ties on Outsiders have lately given way to a more finished look. Peerless, however, is the late, great writer Tom Wolfe, who sported a patrician white three-piece suit for most of his career, summer or winter, and often with a white Homburg and cane. Others just go straight for the jugular, like the burly counter-protester seen on TV recently whose t-shirt was emblazoned ‘Guns, God and Trump’. So leave the loungewear at home, pick your style weapons and dress your best to face down the revolution.
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