Oscar Madison, played by Walter Matthau, is supposed to be a slob. But if you lifted his character off the screen and put him into everyday life in 2023, he would be considered well-dressed. He wears a suit, white dress shirt and tie for a date. In one scene, he goes to a restaurant dressed in a T-shirt and a sport coat — something that probably raised eyebrows in 1968 but would be acceptably stylish today.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate had to pass a resolution to reinstate its dress code because Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania, insisted on coming to the Senate wearing shorts and a hoodie. Hop in a time machine and try explaining that one in 1968.
Meanwhile, a recent survey by the American Bar Association found that 85% of Americans believe incivility is worse today than a decade ago. Every week, it seems, someone acts out dangerously on an airplane. Political rallies often have an edge teetering on violence.
Is there a connection?
For an answer, I turned to Judith Rasband, author, consultant and founder and CEO of the Conselle Institute of Image Management. She is a former Deseret News fashion columnist. She wrote a universal dress code to help people project themselves confidently in any situation, and she has started a podcast called “clothes matter.”
Her answer to the question is an unequivocal “Yes.”
“It’s the slobs who are winning, absolutely, now,” she told me in a phone interview. And the trend toward more casual dress, which accelerated during the pandemic, affects a lot more than clothing.
“Casual means sloppy,” she said. “It takes everything down. Language immediately goes down. Manners go down, morals go down, confidence goes down, ambition goes down, productivity goes down. Everything goes down.”
“The only thing that goes up is your weight.”
The tagline at the end of Rasband’s emails says it all: “The way you look affects the way you think, the way you feel, the way you speak, the way you act or behave, and only then…the way others react or respond to you.”
Clothing may not be the sole reason why people act poorly in public or why so many treat others with disrespect, but it is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored.
This doesn’t mean Rasband would have everyone in tuxedos and formal dresses. She wants people to dress intentionally and strategically, in a way that is “accurate, appropriate, authentic, attractive and affordable.” Sometimes, it’s appropriate to dress down, but Rasband believes what we wear ought to reflect our core values and personality — a difficult goal for people who may never have explored those before.
No, the world’s problems won’t be solved by a quick trip to the clothing store. But if it ever became fashionable again to dress in a way that conveys self-respect, it follows that more of us might treat others with respect, too. Until then, on all sides we face the irony of a generation that conforms to bland mediocrity in the name of self-expression.
As I end the interview, the internet tells me about another disruptive passenger, this time on an Air Canada flight, who apparently kicked and screamed for more than an hour after being restrained onboard.
I wonder, would this have happened if everyone onboard was dressed nicely? I don’t know, but I do know such things were rare when I was a child and people actually did dress nicely for air travel.
The global trend toward the far side of Oscar Madison must be maddening to Rasband. She doesn’t show it, however. Instead, she talks of the opportunities a Senate debate over dress codes can bring. She talks about new editions of her book, her new podcast and her daily work as a consultant.
“I’m going to get loud and large,” she said.
Yes, the slobs may be winning, but they need to beware.