Tuesday, July 7, 2009

British Imperialism Continues Today

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The United States celebrates independence from England every Forth of July. Canada Day, when Canadians celebrate their country officially becoming a kingdom in its own right, is on July first. Australia traveled a road similar to that of Canada, becoming a united country in 1900.* Other British colonies similarly became free, ending the once mighty British Empire. That empire which once spanned the world no longer exists, at least officially.

However one aspect of British imperialism continues to expand, bringing misery to millions who are obliged to pay for their misery out of their own pockets. This travesty has spread almost unopposed to Russia, South America, Japan and many other victims. Only a few, mostly Islamic-controlled, lands seem to resist. Even there the scourge is making inroads. I refer to the sartorial imperialism of the suit and tie, forced upon almost any man who wants to be taken seriously in business, politics, or many social circles.

Notice the photograph of almost any diplomat visiting the tropics or the desert. The temperature may be 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) but what must the poor man wear? A dark wool suit and a necktie! The dark suit will absorb the sun’s radiated heat, the wool will help retain it in his body, and the noose around his neck will block any ventilation he might get from that avenue. His clothes are an invitation to heatstroke. Then just in case that isn’t enough to make him miserable, his shirt is probably starched and stiff. It is a triumph of image over substance.

Why are men required to wear such a silly costume? Like many customs, this goes back centuries. The men’s suit of today is the result of clothing developed in northern Europe, with the final touches applied in England. The climate there is cool and damp. Central heating was introduced only recently. It made sense to wear wool clothing, closed around the neck to prevent heat from escaping. As long as that was confined to the climate where it developed, no great harm was done.

Unfortunately as British conquest and other influence spread, so did the suit and tie. I’ve seen such suits in Guayaquil, Ecuador where the residents say the temperature is two degrees cooler than Hell (though at least some of men there have the good sense to wear white instead of dark suits). I’ve seen it in the desert southwest of the United States and in the hot and humid southeast. This is an idea run rampant into places where it doesn’t make sense. Not only does this sartorial bondage make men uncomfortable, it also costs money and energy. If men remove their coats and ties, air conditioning can be turned off or down. Then in winter they can wear coats or sweaters as conditions require.

For the ladies, I know you also suffer from forms of sartorial bondage. My wife and daughters complain about pantyhose and shoes that are difficult to walk in and which cause foot problems. Lacking direct experience with such I’m limited in my ability to comment. However I do believe that men and women can make common cause, throwing off the restraints of uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy clothing.

Society seems to demand that men dress for winter year-around, with coats and ties. Meanwhile women are often expected to expose their legs, even in winter. That is silly, nature made men in general more tolerant of cold than are women, yet men are required to wear the warm clothing in the summer while women are expected to wear dresses and skirts, even in winter.

Yes, the photo on my web site (hfl-llc.com) shows me with a noose around my neck. That seems mandatory to be taken seriously in the business world but it doesn’t mean I like it. Nor does it mean that such a noose makes me smarter, in fact that uncomfortable and constricting bit of fabric may interfere with my thinking.

We need another revolution, this one against silly clothes. Let’s all wear coats only to keep warm and ties not at all. And if the ladies want to dispense with panty hose and wear comfortable shoes, more power to them. We could even boycott businesses that require such silly clothing as part of their dress code and vote against politicians who spend lots of money on impractical clothing.

*The British Parliament did maintain limited power over Canada until 1982 and over Australia until 1986.


Peter said...

you might want to check your history - last I saw ties did not develop because of cold but actually from the cravat tradition which I believe was originally a bib:)
Great points though and the history doesn't change that!

Hal Lillywhite said...

Yeah, ties started out as bibs, you are correct. However it is also useful in cold weather to close the neck off. Works in the cold but is counterproductive in the heat.