Note: I thought about putting this extended quote from Tom Wolfe’s essay, The Hair Boys, in small font à la Kyle Ritter imitating Barth (so Tyson says). But then I remembered how taxing it is to read that tiny stuff.
“There is something almost feminine about these boys. I refer to the high-piled, perfect coiffure, the attention to a fashion silhouette—the way the sweaters create big, soft, full lines, with the pants and shoes giving dramatic contrast, being narrow and thin. Of course, it is feminine only in comparison to the conventional adult standards for men. In another age—it is curiously close to what the men in power, the real movers and shakers, all wore. I am talking about seventeenth-century England.
“At that point the suits of the most powerful men consisted of doublets, breeches and stockings. The doublets, like the Hair Boys’ sweaters, had no lapels. They were full in the arms, and they were by the standards of today feminine, made from various weaves of silk—satins, damasks, velvets, and so forth—or cloths were gold and silver threads, and laces and braids, and ribbons. The perukes, or periwigs, those ornate curled wigs men wore, were very much like the bouffant coiffures of the Hair Boys today, something very set and stylized and high fashion. The breeches, stockings, and buckled shoes gave the same dramatic contrast the Hair Boys try to achieve.
“All these court styles of the seventeenth century, and in fact, most of the styles recorded from the eighteenth century on back, symbolized some charismatic role. The ornate court fashions did not symbolize the job of ruling the country, but the majesty of the role, the godly rights, and so forth. A few styles from before 1800 still hang on in this country, and they all symbolize some charismatic—that is to say, god-inspired—role in life, Justice, Mercy, Wisdom. The gowns judges wear today date from the fifteenth century. The dresses nuns still wear are what widows wore in mourning in the sixteenth century. The mortarboards students graduate in are still versions of sixteenth-century scholars; caps.
“The biggest revolution in men’s fashions came in the nineteenth century with the industrial revolution. It happened in stages, but gradually men began to dress not for a role—Ruler, Man of God, Warrior, Savant, Carrier of Justice—but for a job. The rising business class simplified dress, partly as reaction against court life, partly for practical reasons, expense, for one. The coat, shorter and with a collar and a lot of pockets, replaced the doublet. Trousers replaced the breeches and stockings. Plain fabrics came in.
“The fit of the clothes, not the cut, became the most important thing, fitting it to the measurements of the body. In court fashions, using heavy silks, it was not the measurements of, say, a doublet that counted, but the cut—the big flare of the sleeves, the flare of the skirt, flare, they like flare. The same—cute over fit—is true of women’s fashions today.
“But in men’s clothes—one can see the drastic change the nineteenth-century business styles brought by looking in any office today. A woman in the office, an $80-a-week stenographer even, is not in there dressed to look like a stenographer. She, no less than a movie star, dresses to look like a woman—her role in life, as she sees it. But the men dress for jobs. They dress first to look like lawyers, bankers, sales managers, or messengers or janitors or window washers. Only secondarily, sort of by the way, does what they wear stress whatever role they have...as men.
“After World War II, a number of sets of young men in California began to drop out of the rationalized job system and create their own statuspheres. In every case they made a point of devising new fashions, role changes, to symbolize their new life styles. These were the beats, the mortorcycle gangs, the car kids, and, more recently, the rock ‘n’ roll kids, the surfers, and, of course, the hippies. The hell with the jobs they had or might ever get. They wanted roles, as Rebels, Swingers, Artists, Poets, Mystics, Tigers of the Internal Combustion Engine, Monks of the Sea, anything that would be dramatic, exciting, not powerful or useful or efficient, but . . . yes! a little bit divine, right out of the old godhead of the hero.”
Also Note: Wolfe wrote this in ’68. And the similarities between the Hair Boys and the Hipsters of today—tight pants, track jackets, and hair.