Funny Business Casual

     Postcard cartoonists in days of yore held strong opinions, or anyway expressed strong opinions, about clothes.  They were cartoonists, after all, and whether clothes make the man or vice versa, they found clothes a very easy way to establish character.  The way a character was clothed told you what the cartoonist wanted you to think about him.  We are, as I think I have hinted in those last few sentences, going to look at how men dressed in postcards, as women’s dress had to carry a variety of messages, from what the cartoonist thought of some new fashion to whether we were expected to take the postcard home and pin it up somewhere the ladies of the house wouldn’t look

     We are excluding, with some regret, golf clothes, which are also an entirely different matter, both on postcards and in life generally.  Froggy,. At the top of this column, will have to wait for some other blog.

     We have discussed, hereintofore, some fashions in men’s clothes, particularly the stiff collar a man could attach to his shirt.  The height of one’s collar had said something about one’s status as a man in polite society, and it was argued from the beginning of the nineteenth century until World War I.  A very high collar signified high fashion and wealth to some people, and stupidity and uselessness to others.  To some cartoonists, the four went together anyhow, as seen in this scene, which, in case you didn’t know you were supposed to laugh at these blokes, monocles and a kind of male bustle have been added to the scene.

     At least their clothing is the right color. Going back in men’s fashion, we find that it is prince Albert who, by his sober example, changed men’s fashion in the direction of dark hues.  A Regency buck in, oh, 1808, would have thought nothing of light blue trousers or a forest green jacket (probably not together.)  But Prince Albert’s dark suits led to five or six funereal generations in men’s clothing.  Men could, and did, wear colors, but the cartoonists recorded what the rest of society thought of them.

     Such men were suspected of donning flashy dress to make a stir, which the proper gentleman did not.  (This fellow is succeeding in making a stir, but, the cartoonist feels, not a really good one.)

     The artist of the Mollycoddle series could have indulged in worse name-calling than that, but preferred to express opinions through wardrobe.  The central figure here is wearing a gaudy striped sweater with spotless white pants (known universally as “white ducks”), the marks of a weekend athlete, if that.  (Striped sweaters were fabored by muscular members of college football teams—in pre-uniform, pre=helmet days—and he’s not exactly showing off a football physique.)  And any sport you could indulge in while wearing heels that high was not considered much of a sport.

     This mollycoddle goes in for fashion faux pas of another sort.  His watch fob (if he has a watch) is prominent, and adorned with a popular good luck charm.  His tie is broad, his mustache is thin, and his pants are baggy.  Once again, the mollycoddle has dressed to impress, but is not impressing us favorably.  (Quick quiz: list three words the cartoonist may have wanted you to think of instead of “mollycoddle” while looking at these pictures.  Very good.  Now go wash your brain out with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)

     Dressing so people notice you is to be avoided.  People may not be thinking of you what you think they should.

     As an antidote to all these encouragements to dress soberly, we shall close with the always reasonable Walter Wellman, who warns us that fashions change, and wishes us to be mindful of that.  After all, it is now the twenty-first century, and if you wish to wear a plaid jacket with a striped sweater and polka dot trousers, you just go ahead and be you.  (As a precaution, though, you might want to add a bag of golf clubs.)

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