Monday, October 22, 2007

Sundays with Stendhal 4.5 (special midweek edition)

Professor Erik Jensen, Case Western, has posted a much discussed essay on SSRN, here, addressing that vital question of the law professor dress code or dress non-code. It has elicited some comment among the law professoriat, including this rather decisive thumbs-down from Professor Stephen Bainbridge, UCLA, here, and a more agnostic referral over to the apparently even worse dressing among philosophers by Professor Larry Solum, Illinois, here. And Althouse, here.

Well. I am afraid that I live a few blocks from my law school, often ride my bike, almost always walk back and forth between my campus and office a couple of times each day ... and when I'm not teaching class, I do indeed frequently show up in shorts and a T-shirt. In the classroom, I usually wear nice denim and a button down shirt or a polo shirt. I have tried experimenting this year with a sports coat to see if the students are somehow more respectful of my age and experience - well, they are still basically surfing the internet, so answer is no. My dean once told me years ago, only partly tongue in cheek, that I had singlehandedly lowered dress standards at the law school. It is often hot and muggy in DC - today it is over 80 degrees on October 22, though the humidity is low - especially if you grew up with the humidities on the West Coast that are currently contributing to the burn-down of southern California, and rather than scruffy, I regard myself as environmentally correct by walking and biking to school. So there. Of course, even if I didn't have environmental virtue to fall back on, I'm sure I would do exactly the same thing anyway.

But as to the question of neckties ... well, I was reminded of this passage from The Red and the Black. Julien has been on a secret mission for his employer, the Marquis de La Mole, to London, and is on his way back via Strasbourg, when he runs into his old friend, the Russian Prince Korasoff - I will post bits of their charming conversation over time, but for the moment, a special midweek Stendhal post - per neckties, which began their sartorial existence as cravats:

"Come into this shop," the Prince said, "look at that charming black cravat; you would say it was made by John Anderson of Burlington Street; do me the pleasure of buying it, and throwing right away that dreadful black rope which you have round your neck."


The Russians imitate French ways, but always at a distance of fifty years. They have now reached the days of Louis XV.

(The Red and the Black, part II, Chapter 54, Strasbourg.)

(The last quoted bit about the Russians is, naturally, directed at the Volokhs - all of them! Even the ungenetically-linked co-Conspirators!)

ps. I fully understand Althouse's and Jensen's Tom Wolfe description:

[H]e had worn a plaid cotton shirt and pants -- nothing remarkable about that. The shirt had had long sleeves, and the pants had been long pants. But this morning he had on a short-sleeved shirt that showed too much of his skinny, hairy arms, and denim shorts that showed too much of this gnarly, hairy legs. He looked for all the world like a seven-year-old who at the touch of a wand had become old, tall, bald on top, and hairy everywhere else, an ossified seven-year-old...

Quite right and likely applies to me, ossified seven year old. And yet, when it comes to some level of comfort ... I just can't seem to much care. Probably I have a certain circuit loose - my older brother the neuropsychiatrist points out that a sign of senility and dementia, and depression, is lack of attention to personal appearance, a loss of vital interaction with the world and an awareness of how the world sees you. But the fact is, I was never able to write a comprehensible word in a suit, back in law practice - all of it waited, or a whole lot of it waited, until I got home and was able to change into something comfortable and get out of the suit and actually write. I have no idea why.

Althouse mentions comfort in a suit. I pulled down Hollander's two superb books on fashion, Seeing Through Clothes and Sex and Suits. Hollander talks about how suits look great and are comfortable and all that. Hmm. Possibly if you not an overweight middle age guy with a paunchy stomach. They do indeed make you look better than a lot of other clothing, true. But I don't find them comfortable.

However, more interesting to me is that suits, and semi formal, uniform clothing for men homogenize in a different way - they make younger men look older and older men look younger. They equalize the underdevelopment of youth and the coming decrepitude of age, in each case by covering them up with the same standard uniform, and therefore convey a certain equality of power across generations.

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