Reading Note: This essay is based on the 10th Grade writing prompt: If you could bring back any style from any period what would it be? and why?
The American Golden Age, or AGA, Which spans the 1950’s and early 1960’s has many defining characteristics: prefabricated suburbs, the rise of youth culture, rock and/or roll, wars initiated by executive fiat, a robust and optimistic middle class and most importantly ATOMIC SCIENCE! While Atomic Science might be narrowly defined as science surrounding the study and manipulation of the Atom, I am using it as a synonym for Super Science AKA GeeWizardy, the boundary pushing fields of science whose casualties and collateral are politely ignored in order forward the cause of humanity, capitalism and the American way, not to mention sticking it to Ivan. Ah, those vodka swilling, bear loving, wayward revolutionaries certainly gave us the incentive to strive and sacrifice in a race to compete with our own existential intellectual insecurities, the need to prove that our way of life, our revolution, both Political and Social, were superior, drove us to the brink time and time again forwarding the triumphant American Dream. To reach these lofty heights, without risking the lives and ire of the noncombatants in this struggle, vast tracks of land separate from the cities, town, villages, hamlets and unincorporated settlements had to be found. Testing ranges for unknown devices, both secret and often lethal were essential, the trial and error style approach a hurdle into the unknown often requires, without the embarrassment that catastrophic public failures so often entail. The Commies had the Siberian wastes, frigid, sterile ranges only suitable for scientific testing and the reeducation of political prisoners. The warm fur lined great coats and other snug winter garments spoke of a class not aligned with the common man, but of a manicured social elite set apart and cultivated in a manner not commensurate with any egalitarian principles. America had a far better, warmer, but still stark and only semi habitable zone for the cultivation of the Atomic Sciences, the American South West. Whether a nuclear testing sight, launching UFOs, building a to scale replica of an American city, the construction of a sin Mecca or some combination of the above, ones imagination could run rampant, free of recrimination from weak willed and small minded civilians. Though, when the time came to unveil the newest wonder, we had average men, with crew cuts, birth control glasses and the Short Sleeved Dress Shirt or SSDS explaining in pained laymen’s terms what they had produced to a patient, beloved newsman who would help us digest and accept what our fathers once believed impossible.
Unfortunately our capitalist tendencies, to homogenize, standardize and mass produce all that is appealing and successful gave way to the anarchy of individuality and the dissolution of our national team spirit in a metaphorical and, occasionally, actual orgy composed of variable quantities of drugs, sex and rock and roll, the levels of which depended on the caprice and abilities of the individual to acquire them. It should be noted that there was an attempt to homogenize, standardize and mass produce drugs, sex and rock and roll during the Regan Era, though such attempts broke down after the end of the Cold War, during the ”anything goes” Clintonian period. Government installations were shut down, downsized and mothballed in the name of peace dividends and where experimental aircrafts once roamed and mushroom clouds sprouted in otherworldly glory, planned communities sprout and suburbanite slobs chew their cud of overpriced processed foods and unscripted images mirroring their own hedonistic listlessness. Pop icons, sports figures, business leaders and even politicians have dissuaded generations from healthy competition, team spirit and the cultivation our intellectual wealth in favor of individual aggrandizement, consumption and a wariness of authority. This trend has created a frustrated, restless, and obese herd slowly falling prey to the forces of social entropy. What is the answer to this malaise? The complex answer requires vast computing power, field testing, an Army of like minded individuals working in concert for the greater good and the testing of our civilization in a crucible of Iron and Blood to fully answer, the simple answer is the SSDS.
While one might ask how simple apparel can change the course of a civilization, I wouldn’t give some butterfly/domino effect type answer, since, if that would satisfy you, I would be preaching to the choir, which, while enjoying heavenly sanction, is just mental masturbation. No, I will instead propose the image of conformity, anathema to popular culture, allows the only true and healthy individuality, as some one of base spirit and simple mind would be unable to differentiate themselves from the crowd, their lack of talent and personality loosing the plumage that slavish attention to trends and media obsessions can provide. Skill, wit, strength, decency and intelligence could once again establish their social worth. Instead of arbitrary high school clicks such as the nerd, bully, jock etc. The playing field could be leveled at the point that a youth transforms into an adult and incidentally a fantastic time for indoctrination. Fitting in based on social utility, instead of cynical marketing that promotes, condones and breeds the mental and physical weakness that keeps us in fear of relinquishing our social clichés in lieu of an honest life, of course we would have to mandate some other garb for youngsters to wear in order to make the SSDS a symbol of maturity. The adult world claims over and over that High School is temporary condition, its confinement aberrant and fleeting, yet its pull is tidal in every waking thought and impulse in our adult life, its psychological effects evident. While we might change our life’s trajectory from the course decided in our early steps to maturity, its subconscious pull will always warp our thoughts to the impressionable template formed in the pupa like confines of the American High School, making it the perfect place to begin the reformation of America, as generation XYZ attempt to mimic the youth in a vain attempt to reclaim their own fading formative years, and sense of juvenile freedom, together, in collusion they can stand up to societal forces which seek to keep us in a perpetual state of childhood and instead turn our schools into a battle ground for the respect, responsibility and privileges a mature human demands and should be accorded, along with a uniform to denote this transformation. What about the baby boomers? They are a Detroit-like generation, mostly a burnt out husk, flashes of washed out glory and naïve optimism, with pockets of intense energy, genius and skill maintaining their generational pride, but as a cultural force, their time has passed.
So why the Short Sleeved Dress Shirts? Why not a speed suit, short pants, a leotard or the garb of a 16th century Polish lord? Because none of those things lend the image of social, intellectual and generational cohesion while comfortably mastering the North American elements, besides the aforementioned American Southwest, the last contiguous region of our now extinct frontier to be conquered, whose red rock mesas, parched deserts and brush lined riverbeds still excite the imagination with their austere, hostile beauty, the SSDS is universally suited for summer wear allowing a full range of motion, aeration, and the rapid transformation from formal to informal by the simple act of tucking and untucking. As for other locations and climates, well, coats, jackets, sweater, svesters, vests, undershirts, aprons awash with culinary humor and any manner of over garments can still be applied for outdoor comfort, where appropriate, and the maintenance of a single indoor garment will help decide a generally accepted interior temperature. This will allow the phrase “Is it hot in here? Or is it just me?” to indicate embarrassment, rising tensions both sexual and hostile, instead of simply asking if it’s okay to change the thermostat, as a racial, gendered and idiosyncratic median sets the appropriate indoor temperature at a universally tolerable 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and if you are still having a hard time of it try a cold or hot beverage to manage your wacked out sense of what is comfortable. Let’s also mention the obvious plus of additional pocket space, pockets, the home of all we generally need on hand without the need of constant awareness that an external pouch requires when one moves from place to place. Protected or not, the shirt pocket can contain things that one wants immediately evident without the need of memory or forethought, it is on your chest for G-d’s sake.
So we have established the social and utilitarian reasons for the SSDS and its cultural connection to the AGA, so why not? What possible argument could someone have against such a national uniform being instituted at a voluntary, but socially mandated, level? Some might call such a homogenous and cohesive group a bunch of Nazis, but since these half-sleeves are not, in fact, actual Nazis, the people who made such a statement are attempting to dilute the term, which is the first step in defanging a great historical tragedy, such people should go back to Iran, were Holocaust deniers are accepted by those self proclaimed Aryan peoples. Nazi loving Mohammedian sympathizers aside, only base consumerists can really complain, as their trending ways would be put on the path to extinction making their vain obsession with riding cultural waves a more complex task that would actually require self improvement and development. Perhaps they could take up a new hobby, Civil War enthusiasts and Renaissance Fair tailgater might be suitable, fulfilling their need to dress up in silly costumes and pose on terms that are not their own. The last and mightiest foe of a stylistic return to sanity is the Industries which rely on fickle, capricious consumers to live it large on their yachts, skyscrapers and in their gated communities. A standard garment, while seemingly only targeting shirt manufacturers, would likely influence the SSDS wearing public, begging the question why further standardization isn’t instituted so we can repair our own cars? Why not keep the same vehicle for as long as it functions and is functional for ones purposes? Isn’t furniture that will last a life time cheaper in the long run than Nordic trash only suitable for the most transient of domiciles? Shouldn’t a trademark be an indicator of quality, not something of worth in and of itself? Shouldn’t the dialogue, humor and content of my entertainment enrich my mind? Develop my faculties? Shouldn’t entertainment be more than mindless escapism numbing me into mental impotence? Why aren’t simple answers better than esoteric, relative and pedantic ones? The social snowball that such a change in our practices could, possibly, theoretically, leave us happy, content and in control of our lives. Such a shift would leave the marketing and retail world in the lurch, they could no longer manufacture markets for their products, they would either need to adapt, find new markets abroad, sell to rich and poor alike, customize their products and services to the actual needs of an enlightened consumer base or quit the biz entirely and become carnival workers, moving from town to town grifting rubes till the marks get wise and chase them out onto the open road in search of greener pastures. They, of course, will fight this tooth and claw, heads twisting around spewing pea soup like filth from every media orifice in all directs as they scuttle about on grotesquely bent limbs lashing out with bureaucratic and legal strength, but in the end, if the SSDS clad army of common sense can maintain, it will triumph, inaugurating a new AGA of empowered citizens bent on refining their civilization instead of being degraded by it.
The road ahead is simple yet difficult, but the first step is only a change of clothes away, so link hands, bare forearm to forearm, and let us march forward to a bright future where flying cars are feasible, though we don’t produce them for public use since that would be impractical and unsafe. Where the American flag is planted on increasingly distant terrestrial bodies as an exercise of our intellectual prowess, the scientific rock stars known as the “Astronaut” space trekkings’ wisely assisted and guided by an army of typically dressed NASA men from Cape Canaveral once more. Brave and confident Americans empowered to do thing because they are hard, taking the atom in hand, playing G-d as he looks down on his sandbox hurdling through the void, nodding approvingly as his American primates cease their petulant self obsession and glorify his creation with all that is noble, honest and true in humanity, the buttoned down, collard, American Dream in bloom, pollinated by class blind freemen, living as Americans have always sought to, E Pluribus Unum.