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Americans Need to Wear Blue Jeans,
Don’t Try to Change Our Identity

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Dear Editors,

I have been reading through your site and have found much to interest me and some things that I have found a trifle amusing. Concerning your interest with the proper dress for Catholics, I have a question for Dr. Horvat:

You seem to have a profound interest in uplifting the dress habits of your fellow Catholics. This is edifying but I wonder if you may not be carrying things a bit far. For instance, your insistence on suits for men. This may be feasible in a city, but will you not concede that it is highly impractical for working men outside the corporate world? Your disdain for blue jeans is palatable, and yet in many cases blue jeans are a necessary and practical way for men to dress. My dear Doctor, many men do hard physical labor which involves dirt and grime. In such instances, and they are legion, the only practical apparel for these men is blue jeans as they are relatively inexpensive as well as durable.

I believe that you have commented that men who wear "casual" dress such as jeans for their work should dress well on their return to the home. Again I feel that you are impractical, as most men come home and busy themselves with work about the yard or home. For such work, blue jeans or khaki casual slacks are most practical.

Moderation in all things should be the rule for Catholics, in dress as well as in other aspects of life. Do not disdain the garments of working men, Doctor, because in disdaining these garments you also disdain the work these men do.

We live in a country which is known and loved for its casual atmosphere and laid back populace. To attempt to remake our society along European or Brazilian lines is neither practical nor right. Like all countries, we have our collective identity and habits that make us Americans. Do not disdain our heritage, Doctor. One can be a very good Catholic without giving prominence to dress and worldly show. Too often such things are merely the fruit of pride and of an exaggerated self ego.

     All the best,

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Judy Mead & Marian Horvat respond:

Dear B.O.,

Thank you for your e-mail and comments.

We recently received from another TIA website reader a video that we believe is more cogent than any argument we might present here. If you watch the video, you will see proof for what we assert in our book Courtesy Calls Again: that Americans were not always casual and "laid back" in their dress, as you claim. (To watch it click here)

The video reproduces daily street life in San Francisco in the early 1900s. American men of all levels of society going to and coming from work are dressed with decorum and according to their various stations in life. Almost all are in dignified clothing. No one is bouncing along in blue jeans, tennis shoes or shorts for the practical reasons you mentioned. Their general demeanor and way of being demonstrate that the style you denigrate and claim never existed in our country was once – in the not so distant past – normally accepted by Americans.

We were Americans then, we are Americans now. Nothing changed in our identity. The changes took place in our customs and morals.

In the Introduction of our recently published book, we refer to this momentous change that occured in the last century, which exploded in the Cultural Revolution of the '60s, as well as the good reaction of many Americans today who would like to return to our more civilized heritage. On the TIA website we are making an effort to counter the Cultural Revolution and help Americans return to our good roots.

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction for your perusal:

Many American supporters of this restoration [for Tradition in the Church] began to realize that the fight they were making for Catholic tradition should extend beyond the religious sphere. It was not enough to restore the Tridentine Mass if the persons who assisted at it were wearing blue jeans and tank tops, listening to rock music at home, and becoming accustomed to the vulgarities and immoralities of modern entertainment and environments.

These persons, many of them young parents raising families, began to comprehend that the ceremony, hierarchy, and order that they longed to see restored in the Church were also missing in American families, schools, and other institutions. They understood that their fight had to extend further – into the cultural arena. To make a complete cultural counter-revolution would demand restoring and re-civilizing almost all fields of social and cultural life.

Some of these thoughtful Catholics, disillusioned with the myths of the modern world, began to delve more deeply and question the egalitarian myths of America. They looked back in History for a more civilized time as a model to follow. They found that American families and society in general were much more cultured before the Second World War, and even more so before the First Great War. Why? Because at those times they were open to the European cultural influence – that of England, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, for example.

Insofar as we Americans were open to this healthy influence of the wholesome remnant of Christian Civilization, we expressed some of that spirit by showing ourselves to be well-bred, distinguished, polite, and respectable. To the degree that we rejected those salutary manners of the past, we lost our dignity, self-respect, and seriousness.

The United States became the country of spontaneity and the casual lifestyle. Instead of the civilized people of a great country, we became crass and childish. In the name of joviality and having a good time, almost everything turned to joking, vulgarities, and outright immorality.

Is it possible to restore that good European influence when today Europe itself has adopted the American way of life and followed our crass culture? The answer is still uncertain. By taking the lead in the restoration, perhaps we will give Europeans the courage to reject the bad models we have spread. In any case, the desire for such a restoration is in the air.

This desire has inspired concrete action in the basics of living. Growing numbers of parents are choosing to home-school their children or establish alternative Catholic schools. They are teaching the Baltimore Catechism and studying the History of the Church and Christian Civilization. They are turning off the television in their homes and eschewing the unwholesome entertainments of Hollywood. They are seeking out the sound Catholic customs and traditions of the past and transmitting them to their children in order to build a different and better future.

What is more, they have begun to understand that the Revolution has destroyed a whole way of being and acting – of dressing with distinction, of conversing and speaking with politesse, of carrying oneself and behaving in a dignified way in the family and in society. They are realizing that courtesy and good manners have an important role to play in a Catholic restoration. Admiring the courtesy of the past, they have begun to grasp a much broader and richer meaning of sacrifice. Maintaining good Catholic customs requires sacrifice.

It is not easy to continually repress what is vulgar, rough, and even offensive in so many of man’s impulses. It is easier to slouch on the floor than to sit properly on a sofa or chair. It takes self-control to reflect before speaking, rather than to say whatever comes to mind regardless of the feelings of others. It demands effort to dress properly for every occasion and according to the dignity befitting one’s state in life.

How much more convenient it is to wear blue jeans and open shirts to Mass and work, jogging clothes to restaurants and theaters, shorts and t-shirts to shopping centers. The world around us is moving rapidly toward tribalism, a neo-barbarian way of thinking and living. A turnaround in our own lives is not only possible, but essential. It is the way we must begin to effect the restoration of an authentic Catholic culture.

To be civilized demands both discipline and virtue. Looking toward a brighter tomorrow, a new generation is showing itself willing to make the sacrifices necessary for a life of distinction and refinement. They are responding in a positive way to the ubiquitous call to courtesy that is again beginning to sound.

So, B.O., we believe that what is at stake in your objection is not our American identity which you accuse us of disdaining. We were dignified in the past; we became less so after WWII; since the Cultural Revolution we have become increasingly vulgar and crass. What we are discussing is whether Americans should continue to be a model of the lack of decorum, seriousness and discipline. You say: “Yes, we should.” We say: “No, we shouldn’t. We must return to those healthy patterns.”

We hope you will reconsider your position and will also hear the call to set aside the modern casual way of being and to return to our more civilized past. We invite you to read Coutesy Calls Again, and we would appreciate your comments.


     Judith Mead & Marian Horvat

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted January 19, 2010
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