December 27, 2009

Dressing the part

OLD WOTSISNAME, who moors just down the row from me, is getting to be a blight on the neighborhood. His jeans are smeared with Castrol 5W–40 engine oil. They’re frayed around the bottoms. One corner of a front pocket is drooping. There’s a hole just below the left knee. His shirt is missing the second button down and he never fastens the top one, so there’s a wide gap that exposes a dingy grey T-shirt splodged here and there with curry, tomato juice and grease from French fries.

It’s high time we instituted a dress code for sailors, a uniform, if you like, before OW gives all sailors a bad name. I have seen how people in the marina tend to veer off sideways to give him a wide berth. I have seen the fright in their eyes.

We need to present a better face to the public. We need to follow the example of the world’s fighting navies, who insist that their crews be dressed in accordance with discipline, smartness, and cleanliness, the better thereby to promote a proper sense of their rank in society.

I myself rather favor a return to the seamen’s petticoat trousers, which were standard dress aboard ships for hundreds of years. It would be greatly fulfilling to see yachtsmen and women neatly attired in clean petticoat trousers on the verandas of yacht clubs, or the afterdecks of yachts.

The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea says there was good reason petticoat trousers lasted so long. They offered protection to men working aloft on the yards, and also when rowing in boats, where the petticoat kept off rain and spray.

Most seamen in those days made their own clothes on board because they couldn’t afford to buy stuff from the ship’s store, or slop chest. “Worn canvas sails provided the basic cloth for home-made clothing,” says the Companion. “Almost all seamen of all nations made themselves canvas hats with a brim and coated them with tar to form a waterproof headgear known as the tarpaulin, abbreviated into ‘tar’ as the universal synonym for a sailor.”

Very well, then. I propose we revert once again to the universal seamen’s uniform of petticoat trousers and a jack tar hat. Think how organized and co-ordinated we would look if we all dressed that way. Think how the fashion editors would flock around to photograph us and praise our revived sense of couture.

If you have any influence with your yacht club or your marina friends, please pass on my idea. Meanwhile, I’ll try to break the news to OW. I’m not too hopeful, though. He’s such a reactionary when it comes to wearing petticoats.

Today’s Thought
Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.
— René Konig, The Restless Image: A Sociology of Fashion

The shipwrecked man had been captured by cannibals. The cannibal chief asked: “What was your business among your own people?”
“I was a newspaperman.”
“An editor?”
“No, I was just a copy editor.”
“Well cheer up. Tonight you’ll be editor-in-chief.”

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