I Should Dress Like Cyrus Paice

Caspar wrote:

Oh, and rock music. Rock musicians are effeminate (long hair, high voices, prancing and mincing on stage in flamboyant costumes or skinny jeans, singing love songs, stroking their phallic guitars), all designed to stoke women into a sexual frenzy.

This reminded me of a post I never got around to writing. One of the many things I’ve learned from The History of England Podcast was about a societal change called The Great Male Renunciation:

The Great Male Renunciation is the historical phenomenon at the end of the 18th century for menswear to stop using brilliant or refined forms, which were left to women’s clothing. Coined by psychoanalyst John Flügel in 1930, it is considered a major turning point in the history of clothing in which the men relinquish their claim to adornment and beauty. The Great Renunciation encouraged the establishment of the suit’s monopoly on male dress codes at the beginning of 19th century.

That’s it; That’s the whole article about one of the greatest shifts–if not the greatest shift–in the history of clothing culture in Western Civilization. Before the Great Male Renunciation: Men wear furs, patterns, embroidery, various hats, and all sorts of garments which are now called (or derided) as “peacocking”. Afterwards: Every man wears nothing but what is efficient and expedient.

When I talked to Mrs. Caldo about this post she said it reminded her of a scene from the PBS show Victoria. She told me (from memory, not verbatim) of a scene where the troops are parading or being inspected and Prince Albert says that the plumes on the uniforms aren’t practical. Victoria replies that may be, but they sure are magnificent.

All that was left for men to display was efficiency and competence in work; both of which are difficult to display sexually, and neither of which are terribly attractive to women of themselves. I don’t mean they are ugly traits: I mean they don’t make women weak in the knees. Women are enamored of beauty and adornment. They are drawn to it because it is part of their nature. That’s not a bad thing.

It was stupid of us to go down this road. The result is that today straight men wear baggy shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, while the women wander around in sweatpants, spandex and ponytails. Only homosexuals and pop stars take men’s beauty seriously. That’s a mistake.

From a tactile perspective, men: Nobody has a desire to feel wool, but velvet is one of those materials you just want to touch.

34 thoughts on “I Should Dress Like Cyrus Paice

  1. It would be interesting to see what preceded this shift. Very often the pattern is that as women ape men, men retreat in ways calculated to make it difficult for women to follow. The (relatively) recent embrace of the beard would be one example of this. I wonder, were women’s fashions becoming too difficult to distinguish from men’s fashions, leading to men to retreat in such a way that women wouldn’t want to follow (at least for the period)?

  2. Adding a bit more. I may not be that women’s clothing prompted men to retreat to functional dress. It could conceivably been men responding via fashion to a general increased blurring of the lines between men and women. If women became more manly in any number of ways, this might spur men to focus on obviously unfeminine dress, in order to continue to show the contrast.

  3. Thanks for the shout out, even if it’s to disagree. Cool!

    I think that flamboyant dress showed a man who did not labor for a living and thus a degree of wealth. Now it’s the power suit.

    I’m reminded of Mystery the seminal (ha) pickup artist. Part of his reputed success was simply standing out, but he was definitely an effeminately clad cad. Not sure that didn’t cross some Levitical line, either. Maybe the Levitical line sets a standard for male modesty. After all, it’s not fair that the chickiwick at church can wag her miniskirted ass in my face without me being allowed to tag it; maybe it’s possible for a man to be analogously immodest in his attire. I’ve never been so attired as far as I know.

    I also hold that tattoos are feminine in the sense that they are decorative displays or marks of ownership. Could account for some of the female attraction to tattooed men.

    On Dalrock’s recently we discussed Clare, the “Fuck the Patriarchy” homeschool would-be prom queen who got kicked out of the homeschool prom for a dress that was too short. It’s always the girls pushing the dress code; the boys just want to look sharp. I think every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man insofar as the sharp dressing bespeaks wealth or status. If she knows you too well she knows your just pretending.

  4. @Dalrock

    Maybe. I haven’t seen any evidence of that but it could because I haven’t done a study of men and women’s dress in the 17thC.

    @Caspar

    I was taught basically the same thinking you expressed. It’s probably wrong just based on the fact that the last couple generations were wrong about everything concerning the sexes.

    If you’ve never put on a bomber jacket with the collar flipped up: Try it and tell me if you don’t feel more badass.

  5. @Dalrock

    My suspicion is that TGMR has more to do with the rise of what would become Enlightenment values. People such as Jim are quick to point the finger at Puritans because their information of Puritans is based on pop culture. Puritans were known for their colorful garb and relative wealth.

    It’s very hard to make scientific claims about beauty, but easy to make them about function and efficiency.

  6. Cane, if this happened at the end of the 18th century, then it wasn’t the Enlightenment which did this- it was the Romantic movement. Which doesn’t surprise me. The Romantic era is right where sex distinctions started to blur in places. And where our understanding of the sexes, their nature and what was proper became warped.

    I don’t remember who did the post, but I know someone in the ‘sphere examined this shift, using Mozart and Beethoven as examples of the change.

  7. I ain’t wearing no faggety skinny jeans. I don’t care what anyone says. But, if a man wants to stand out without looking like a clown, suit up.

  8. @DG

    That could be; though I always keep in mind that these shifts take time and have earlier influences than can be tied to contemporary ideas. That’s not to say you’re wrong: I just don’t know. Apparently it’s all down to Beau Brummell according to InfoGalactic, but there was something in the water that made it take throughout the West.

    @Oscar

    if a man wants to stand out without looking like a clown, suit up.

    I somewhat agree, but more disagree. The occasion matters. You’ll look silly wearing a suit to an informal event.

    On suits: I have several. They are (more likely now were) properly tailored and fit, and I liked to wear them; along with my fairly large assortment of ties, pocket squares, belts, and shoes [1]. But as noted in the blog post DJZ linked, suits are a modified copy of 19thC military uniforms. The last word is key to understanding why the suit doesn’t make a man stand out as much as he thinks he does. If you’re at a semi-formal or formal event every man is wearing a suit. He’s competing over fit and quite small accessories; ties, cufflinks, shoes, pocket squares…that’s about it.

    I think it’s hard for us to imagine what it used to be like before TGMR. In that way I think it’s similar to imagining how things used to be before the invention of romantic love.

    You don’t want to be a metrosexual or a dandy, and I don’t either. The thing is: There used to be a lot more leeway before you ran into that ditch.

    [1] I’m a bit of a clothes horse compared to most working class men. I have 16 pairs of shoes. Only 3 of them are sneakers. Good shoes last longer.

  9. @Dalrock Unlikely. If there’s one arena women want to have a monopoly on, it’s attention and beauty. It would make more sense for women to intentionally drive men out of looking good. (and the Romanticism-weakened men complied)

    That men would settle on just looking efficient (suits) only reinforces this point. Women have made turned men from the image of God into mere workers.

  10. @White

    A cursory overview of the topic basically gives all credit (or demerit) to Beau Brummell and his influence over his friend Prince George, who copied him. That makes some sense. European monarchies had become thoroughly and familially entangled by that point. Still, it seems likely that the conditions had to be there before Brummell. It’s interesting that Brummell wasn’t a noble, for example. I don’t know. I just know that

    1) the decision to avoid magnificence in dress has led to modern women swooning for celebrities, but settling for efficiency.
    2) it has led to acceptance of sloppy and prurient dress because there’s no purely logical or scientific reason men should wear long pants, or women dresses, etc.

  11. The cavalrymen who rode into cannon fire in the Napoleonic wars did it while dressed as flamboyantly as just about anybody short of Louis XIV, and I don’t believe they were in much danger of being seen as effeminate.

    IIRC the transition from flamboyant to drab dress in men in England, at least, took place during the Napoleonic era. Fighting a world war turned the UK into the first managerial state (Bonaparte adopted the recent innovation of staff command at the same time, also to cope with the grand scale of the war). Solemn bores gained power and set the fashion. Men like that didn’t like having to compete with strutting military peacocks, I’m sure. The managerial state required men to be a standardized product.

    That’s a theory anyway.

    The modern managerial state doesn’t expect women at work to standardize in dress, but then it doesn’t expect them to add very much value either.

  12. I have a friend who used to be part of the RenFaire crowd in SoCal, and is kind of a history geek. He notes, or perhaps asserts, that prior to the automobile, and when men rode horses regularly, men wore tights to show of the development of their legs and calves.

    To what degree any of that supposition is true, I’ve found no data to support the point.

  13. @A_ng

    Henry VIII was infamously vain of his legs. A French diplomat accused him of flexing his legs while he was supposed to be listening to an important topic.

  14. Probably one of the most interesting articles you have posted. I am not a clothes horse, probably am socio-economically placed higher but have a single pair of shoes that are “dressy”. Another with holes in them I wear to work.

    I view this as a defect and not a feature. Its true we have to, as a class, get better at this. Its interesting that some of the most famous clothing in the Bible is flashy, the Coat of Many Colors, and inspires jealousy in other men. I don’t think that’s the coats fault as much as the other men knew they looked bad.

    Dressing up is _hard_. Caring about it in this day and age more so. Yet we need to.

    And yes, you dress very well.

  15. @GKC

    Its interesting that some of the most famous clothing in the Bible is flashy, the Coat of Many Colors

    I’d never thought of that! Good point!

  16. I somewhat agree, but more disagree. The occasion matters. You’ll look silly wearing a suit to an informal event.

    [1] I’m a bit of a clothes horse compared to most working class men. I have 16 pairs of shoes. Only 3 of them are sneakers. Good shoes last longer.

    After reading this it strikes me that there is still one subculture where men are (relatively) encouraged to peacock, and that is western wear. Cowboy boots are flashy, expensive, and often feature bright colors and/or exotic animal hides. Pearl snaps are decorative. Even plain looking cowboy hats are quite expensive. Giant belt buckles resemble the codpiece in look and purpose. And you don’t have to be going somewhere formal to wear these things.

  17. @Dalrock

    After reading this it strikes me that there is still one subculture where men are (relatively) encouraged to peacock, and that is western wear.

    I tried your trick of “leaving some meat on the bone”. Thanks for coming back for it.

    Excellent observation! In addition: Boldly patterned shirts are not only acceptable, but very common. Google the typical western wear shirt, the brushpopper and look at the images.

  18. Also, I wish I knew what gave rise to this idea that the only people who dress well are gay men, women, and celebrities.

  19. I have to hand it to you: You have a knack for making me go, “Hrmm…that’s doesn’t sound right,” but then when I go to craft my argument, I find that I don’t know the subject as well as I thought I did.

    I’d never heard of The Great Male Renunciation, but that is absolutely fascinating. I’ve always been a clothes horse too, though more in a quality and cut sort of way, than a flashy way, for which I had smugly considered myself superior before considering your point.

    That said, what is the Christian context for this? Can we really condemn bedazzled jeans but encourage touchable fabrics for men?

  20. @Ryder

    That said, what is the Christian context for this? Can we really condemn bedazzled jeans but encourage touchable fabrics for men?

    I was a bit cheeky about the velvet pants just to link in the song, but truly I don’t see a problem. Jeans are–and should be–men’s clothing. Can I change that? No. Chicks are going to go on wearing some men’s clothing. Why does that mean that in the meantime men need to be dressed perfunctorily?

    The second part of the spangled-ass jeans issue is that the spangles are on the ass. It’s overtly sexual. I think it would be progress to get everyone to admit that modern women basically go through their whole lives either:

    1) Overtly tempting men to lust,
    2) Slobs,
    3) Dressed like men.

    Men aren’t going to wear (for example) velvet pants to work. There’s a place for sexiness (yes, even for women) in society larger than family. Specifically with clothes, what we deal with in the modern era is that women’s sexuality is rampant, feral, and unmentionable; while men’s is diminished, perverted, and shamed as sodomy or proof of the possession of a small dick.

  21. Good points, especially on the location of the spangles and refusal to deal with female sexuality while male sexuality is perverted and shamed.

    Though I don’t have a good grasp on the how, when, where, and why, I agree that there has to be a place for sexiness in society. The alternative is a Harrison Bergeron-style repression of beauty, which cannot possibly be reconciled with Christianity.

  22. @Cane Caldo

    ”The result is that today straight men wear baggy shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, while the women wander around in sweatpants, spandex and ponytail”

    It looks like women aping what men are doing. Was this always the case?

  23. @Cane Caldo

    The ideal male clothing should serve the dual purposes of aesthetic excellence as well as functional excellence in the role that he is in. With functionality taking precedence.

  24. @Cane Caldo

    The military arms and armor in the ancient and medieval world for example is both highly functional as well as aesthetic.

  25. @Cane Caldo

    “but there was something in the water that made it take throughout the West.”

    That may be the industrial revolution which often led to uglified landscapes in its wake.

    That and the loss of craft as a result of mechanization which due to standardization may have helped lead to drabness of fashion.

  26. @infowarrior1

    It looks like women aping what men are doing. Was this always the case?

    I would say that men set and/or hold the standard. Of course women will at times push against it, but men and their standards are the It.

  27. @ Cane

    In my extensive world travels (thanks, Uncle Sam!), I made an observation years ago. The more backwards and uncivilized the culture, the more peacockish the men.

    I don’t know if causation exists between the two, but the correlation is too strong for me to ignore.

    That being said, Americans are unusually casual in multiple ways. For example, when my family first moved to the States, I was appalled that children here refer to adults by their first name with no preceding title. I still feel weird calling my elders by their first name, and never do it in Spanish (it’s more natural in Spanish to refer to an elder as “don” or “doña”).

    The same is true with clothing. My wife and I aren’t slovenly people, but when we traveled through Italy we looked like complete slobs compared with the Italians.

    You’re right, I don’t want to look like a dandy. I’m all for Americans behaving more formally – in manners, in dress, etc. – but I’m not in favor of men dressing more flamboyantly. The cultures where men do are not cultures I want to emulate.

  28. Pingback: Sure, Codpieces are Over the Top | Things that We have Heard and Known

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