A Rebel Sounds Off on Casual Revolution

After wearing a coat and tie to work for 45 years, I greeted the trend toward casual business dress with no more than casual interest. Until, that is, I heard what happened to a landmark in the Midwestern town of my youth - the "other" men's clothing store on Main Street.

My father worked in the "first" store, where I sometimes earned a dollar a day running pants# across the alley to the tailor shop.

Farmers came in for overalls ("Oshkosh B'Gosh," said the ad), and boys got through school with sweaters and slacks until prom night. But the farmers also bought suits and ties and white shirts, and so did the bankers, lawyers, teachers, and others Dad waited on. I felt humbly proud, as winning candidates say, when I heard pillars of the community ask for Dad's haberdashery advice. Mom said some men wouldn't let anyone else help them choose their hats.

Similar things went on at the other store. But whatever the business competition may have been, we were all friends and sometimes fellow amateurs in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I didn't realize that this other store was the older one (founded in 1911) and would continue through three generations of family ownership.

No more. This summer I got a letter from a member of that third generation: "We have made the decision to close our store (now in its 84th year). Retailers of traditional attire have been hit hard by the ca#sual revolution."

Later, the local paper front-paged the sad event. It quoted my friend on the inroads of mail-order catalogs and big chain stores. But more than anything, he said, "It's because people just don't dress up much anymore." They seldom "don the kind of proper attire" long marketed as quality menswear.

Once Friday became jeans day in many offices, it was only a matter of time and advertising. Like the radio commercial out East (where I am now) says: "Is your closet full of suits from yesteryear#? Come to ... for the modern casual look." If the plain black oxford fits....

It's hard to teach an old clotheshorse new tricks. Maybe our daughter was preparing me for the transition by giving me a "picnic" tie covered with watermelon and ants. I have worn it without a jacket.

But I can't go to a meeting or a concert or a movie - well, maybe a movie - without looking as buttoned-down as I always did. I'm extremely uncool. Often very warm, in fact. Yet those deadly duds that everybody used to wear - they're really me.

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