uniform

Above All, Foreign.

"Meanwhile, he stands there. Slowly, deliberately, like a magician, he takes a single book out of his briefcase and places it on the reading-desk. As he does this, his eyes move over the faces of the class. His lips curve in a faint but bold smile. Some of them smile back at him. George finds this frank confrontation extraordinarily exhilarating. He draws strength from these smiles, these bright young eyes. For him, this is one of the peak moments of the day. he feels brilliant, vital, challenging, slightly mysterious and, above all, foreign. 

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From  Harvard Psych Dept. website .

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From Harvard Psych Dept. website.

His neat dark clothes, his white dress shirt and tie (the only tie in the room) are uncompromisingly alien from the aggressively virile informality of the young male students. Most of these wear sneakers and garterless white wool socks; jeans in cold weather and in warm weather shorts (the thigh-clinging Bermuda type; the more becoming short ones aren't considered quite decent). If it is really warm, they'll roll up their sleeves and sometimes leave their shirts provocatively unbuttoned to show curly chest-hair and a Christopher medal. They look as if they were ready at any minute to switch from studying to ditch-digging or gang-fighting. They seem like mere clumsy kids in contrast with the girls; for these have all outgrown their teenage phase of Capri pants, sloppy shirts and giant heads of teased-up hair. They are mature women, and they come to class as if dressed for a highly respectable party." (46)

 

Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.

 

Kids these days! A thoughtful and scornful observation of early '60s students. Made me think of Take Ivy, the highly idealized style book by Teruyoshi Hayashida. The distinction between professor and student is the pearl in the oyster here, reinforcing our nostalgic ideas about Berkeley, the American '60s, etc. Also: the word "garterless."

Bengal Lancer

"Wilson stood gloomily by his bed in the Bedford Hotel and contemplated his cummerbund, which lay uncoiled and ruffled like an angry snake; the small hotel room was hot with the conflict between them. Through the wall he could hear Harris cleaning his teeth for the fifth time that day. Harris believed in dental hygiene. 'It's cleaning my teeth before and after every meal that's kept me so well in this bloody climate,' he would say, raising his pale exhausted face over an orange squash. Now he was gargling; it sounded like a noise in the pipes.

Wilson sat down on the edge of his bed and rested. He had left his door open for coolness, and across the passage he could see into the bathroom. The Indian with the turban was sitting on the side of the bath fully dressed; he stared inscrutably back at Wilson and bowed. 'Just a moment sir,' he called, 'If you would care to step in here...' Wilson angrily shut the door. Then he had another try with the cummerbund.

Film still from   The Lives of a Bengal Lancer  , 1935.

Film still from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935.

He had once seen a film--was it Bengal Lancer?--in which the cummerbund was superbly disciplined. A turbaned native held the coil and an immaculate officer spun like a top, so that the cummerbund encircled him smoothly, tightly. Another servant stood by with iced drinks, and a punkah swayed in the background. Apparently these things were better managed in India. However, with one more effort Wilson did get the wretched thing wrapped around him. It was too tight and it was badly creased, and the tuck-in came too near the front, so that it was not hidden by the jacket. He contemplated his image with melancholy in what was left of the mirror." (61)

 

Greene, GrahamThe Heart of the Matter. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1962 [1948].

 

I like thinking of Wilson having watched many movies about Brits abroad in the great Empire and imagining how lovely and well-put-together and not-at-all-sweaty his life would be. The cummerbund, a British trope of Indian origin, is here representative of all of the struggles coiling around him, unavoidable but completely unmanageable.

Kings Of Leon

"So last weekend that happened, and I walked up to the bus and I said to the bus driver, like, 'Hey, the subway is off, but it said that I could take the bus to the subway, do you know where I can get off?' And the bus driver said to me, and I quote, he goes, 'I don't know anything about the subway.' I was like, You don't know anything about the subway? You're wearing the same outfit as the man running the subway! 

Nathan Followill from Kings of Leon wearing a Burberry t-shirt, 2009. What could he say about other tattooed men in snoods? Photo from  My Many Bags , where you can see many celebrities and models in this shirt.

Nathan Followill from Kings of Leon wearing a Burberry t-shirt, 2009. What could he say about other tattooed men in snoods? Photo from My Many Bags, where you can see many celebrities and models in this shirt.

If someone said to me, 'You see that guy walking down the street with the khaki shorts and the Kings of Leon t-shirt? You know anything about that guy?' I'd be like, 'Yeah, I'll tell you a few things about that guy. I know that he could use somebody.'"

 

Birbiglia, Mike. Excerpted in Episode #515 of This American Life, "Good Guys." Listen to it here--it's obviously much better when he tells it.

 

Occupational Dress vs. Tribal Dress. All the people wearing the same things know the same things! I wonder what he was wearing on that tour, maybe some khaki shorts?