Jewish World Review April 20, 2004/ 30 Nissan, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports


The scruffy society


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I see them at 7:30 AM in the older neighborhoods around a local junior high. They are the women in "housecoats," those cotton, floral, flowing, knee-length robes with snap closures that are the perfect antidote for sexual harassment. These are the women who still sweep sidewalks, carports, and front porches. God bless them. They believe in clean. Studda bubbas, who know how to wield a broom or slosh a bucket of water about a floor, are a vanishing breed.

Today cleaning involves only easing a Swifter about with one finger, pulling disposable cloths from plastic cans, and spraying smell-good mists for superficial results. This cleaning is but a finger in the dike that holds back the mighty pool of accumulating mess. Swipes from manufactured cleaning tools are slipshod efforts. Nothing beats a good hands-and-knees scrubbing. Dirt catches up and germs do their dastardly deeds. It will ripen into the grime that ate a continent.

Generations X, Y and Z have made clean antiquated and sloppy avant garde. Society, from its houses to its inhabitants, has a scruffy look. Like the prepackaged dust cloth once-over, men shave in gloss-over fashion. They sport a look that involves lurking stubble. We used to take pity on them as bums. Now they are our leading men.

I was studying Ben Affleck in an airplane movie. Mr. Affleck could be the Cary Grant of his generation, if he would shave and develop some sartorial savoir-faire. No matter what his role, he comes across as a college kid doing a stint as a lifeguard. When Affleck walks, he clumps. How could he not? Like all the heifer-footed souls of his generation, he wears Herman Munster shoes, even with a tailored suit. Cary Grant commanded the screen with a stride, a confidence that comes from being a grown-up and looking like one. Perhaps it's the shoes.

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Our scruffy juveniles of all ages have only two clothing designs: too tight with the body's middle peeking out or too big with shirts hanging down to knees, pants beginning at hips, and hems landing beneath the shoes. We used to call these ill-fitting clothes. Children of bums wore them. Now Abercrombie & Fitch sells the pants for$100. The look is nouveau messy, and the tattoos don't help. Their skin cries out that phrase we inscribe in the dust on cars, "Wash me!"

They can only play dress-up, wearing what seem to be Daddy's and Mommy's clothes that don't fit. They don't know neat and clean isn't an issue when you buy old clothes. Since the dot-coms collapsed, we have managed to bring ourselves back from the precipice of the backpacking look at work. But sloppy is relative. Dressing up is nearly vanquished. We look and live like a nation of bums.

But, dearest reader, hope springs eternal. Clean and pressed may enjoy a resurgence. The airlines, the folks who have given us hot pants on stewardesses, tennis shoes on flight attendants, and go-go boots on Howard Hughes' planes, have drawn a line in the sand. They finally see things my way: sloppy is as sloppy does, and it's a mistake not to dress up for work.. Airline execs have concluded that the well-dressed man and woman enjoy a boost to the spirit, a lift to the morale, and, accordingly, offer better customer service.

Ironically, the budget airlines have taken sloppy by the frayed pants and demanded clean and tailored. Jet Blue started it all with Stan Herman-tailored flight attendant uniforms. Kate Spade will design for Delta's Song. The men will wear suits. Praise be, the tattoos will be covered and no baseball caps! Air France will bring back hats for its flight attendants. British Airways already has the hats courtesy of Julien Macdonald. Air France has also added ruffled blouses with high collars, no navels. And that's just for the male flight attendants. It is France.

Granted, these splendid flight attendants will look out of place among their flip-flop clad passengers with exposed midriffs. But, is it possible that their tailored presence will shame the passenger dregs of society into a spruce-up? The clothes make the man and woman, and for the past decade, it's been hard to tell which is which. The friendly skies just got more formal. At least on flights, scruffy is out; clean and tailored is back.

So, for the women in housecoats who sweep and take pride in even the outward appearance of your homes, fight the good fight. Scruffy is as scruffy does. Clean is clean. The signals from the heavens, or at least the jets close to them, is that clean and pressed are back. Storm the dust in your abode with renewed energy for next we shall conquer the stubble and from there banish the tattoos. Clean and cleaning grown-ups may inherit the earth yet.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Marianne M. Jennings