Friday, April 12, 2013

The Style Of Dignity: Is This The Art Of The Dress?

                  During another of a series of fascinating conversations with my friend Henrique in Oakland,California the topic of style came up. Not style in the mass media context. But rather in terms of individual taste.  It was bought out, and quite truthfully, that the shared fascination within the 60's counterculture and hip-hop based fashion community of dressing down and generally not caring how they appeared rendered that particular manner of attire no longer a fashion statement-as so many were now following this as a trend. In fact the real moniker of "rebel cred" during the 90's onward actually came from dressing more formerly, such as in a suit jacket and a pressed hairstyle, or simply wearing clean and coordinated attire. The key word to this type of ethic would be the appreciation of dignity. 

              In its pure form,dignity is perhaps one of the most unknowable forces in the lexicon of the human race. Dignity is something you can't create,buy or sell. Its either a part of your nature or it isn't. Most people actually stand in between those two ends of the yardstick. Upbringing,specifically back round and economic level play strongly into a sense of at least subjective dignity. And that basically means a lot of people define dignity by how they appear physically. While this can lead to a good deal of narcissism if uncontrolled, dignity can be an accurate indicator outwardly if said person is fully in control of how they project their fashion sensibility. I am now going to discuss two public examples of this. Two examples who are culturally a lot closer aesthetically than one might think: George Clinton and Barack Obama.

           During the 1970's, George Clinton was the mastermind of the entire P-Funk musical cooperate  with several different bands operating under his banner and carefully in control of his highly conceptualized extra-terrestrial theatrical image. During the 90's however, his commercial fortunes plummeted due to years of poor business practices and substance abuse problems, he had begun to appear at alternative rock festivals wearing Lion King sheets and multi-colored shoe laces in his hair. In more recent years,however Clinton has developed a higher musical profile. As he has become more seriously iconic, his image has adopted a more stylized approach with a pressed suit,tie,hat and gold rings signifying  the more dignified nature of his current notoriety.
          Barack Obama's experience with dignity is rather different. On many levels, from his cultural back round to his campaigning methods, he is an historic president. One of his physical trademarks has been holding his head very much on high while addressing the nation in his speeches. Many of his admirers such as myself view this trait as very much in keeping with the attitudes of the great activists/civil rights advocates of the past few generations. Others, most of whom claim not to be his detractors, see this as Obama looking down on those he speaks to-more in the manner of a king or a royal figure than a president of a democratic nation. And further more that this gestural manner on his part should be reformed as for Obama to better relate to the American people. In particular I imagine younger American people.

           All of this brings to mind one of the key factors about dignity in the modern world: generationalism. George Clinton was part of what writer William Strauss called the "silent" generation-those who became trendsetters and whose carefully controlled egos inspired the sociopolitical and sexual revolutions of the 60's and 70's. Barack Obama is on the older end of Generation X. This is a generation I am on the youngest possible end of. And by and large its a generation that values humility over dignity, one that would rather be "down with the people"-who'd prefer to follow trends rather than set them.  As for myself there's a balance of this in terms of fashionable aesthetic. I am generally a casual and yes, even humble dresser and enjoy bright colors. However nine times out of ten, I'll tend to want to carry this all as well as possible. As Stevie Wonder sang in his song "Living For The City",your clothes can be old but never be dirty.

         Of course dignity reaches considerably beyond the outward expressions of ones manner of dress,hairstyle or even the gait of their walk.  To quote another musician,in this case the artist then formerly known as Prince, style is a second cousin to class. And class is actually a shorthand term for dignity itself. Most people realize inwardly that humility and dignity are not disparate concepts-that they work very much hand and hand. But most people view ego only through the filter of "ugly ego" such as snobbery or even megalomania. An ego that's directed outwardly, one who flaunts their fashion sense,through clothing or physical gestures, as an important social statement or even an activist who makes sacrifices in commerce to help others. That level of expression is the real art of ones dress and the most genuine side of the style of dignity.

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