January 29, 2010

Only the Wrong Clothes

There’s no such thing as bad weather; there’s only the wrong clothes. So said Billy Connolly, of all people, although he probably didn’t say it first. Today in Boston it was minus 24C if you factored in the wind, which by most standards is pretty nippy (minus 45C was my personal worst, in Quebec City a couple of years ago). But still there are clothes for this kind of teeth-chattering inclemency, and if you’re bundled up, or better still, inside, it need not be unendurable. Most people today were suitably attired; but I see no reason to praise the general public for having common sense. It is, after all, supposed to be common. Allow me instead to dwell upon a little madness.

Today I observed numerous poor miserable slips of girls wearing open-toe shoes, some with heels, some flats. They sported short skirts, and fall jackets. These victims of vanity, had they brought mirrors with them on their ill-advised sojourns, would have had chance to reflect on their teary-eyed, snot-covered blue visages, with pained eyes, cracked lips and general air of quivering rigidity. Just what they were aiming for, I suppose. I also witnessed four different men, independently insane, wearing shorts and t-shirts. Shorts are difficult at the best of times, and I welcome the cold, for it saves the sartorial dilemma. What were they thinking? One, I surmise, regarded the distance between his college residence and the gym – a few hundred metres – as insufficiently far to warrant outdoor clothes. I saw him jogging stiff-kneed on the way in. I doubt very much that he survived the sweat-bathed return trip, which probably marks a good result for the gene pool. I also saw a man with a bald head wearing a coat with a hood: coat unzipped, hood down. Another man, gracefully aged, left his otherwise practical shearling coat unbuttoned. Sporting no gloves and no bonnet, his jaw assumed the set of grim death. Is this machismo? Vanity? Or is just plain stupidity?

Winter doesn’t bite here too much, but when it does its teeth are sharpened. Surely people know this? Where are the boots, the top-coats, the hats? Where are the scarves and gloves? The poor tramp I saw on the way to work this morning bravely wore everything. He knew about winter. How unjust, how insulting, to see the young and the wealthy stumble about wearing nothing but their lunacy. The ladies, frankly, looked dishevelled and sickly, like victims of gin, or a Hogarthian rake. Whatever image they aspired to, it was not this. The men, no doubt proud of their stern masculine resolve in the face of extremity, exposed their bodies and revealed the limited contents of their nigh-empty heads. It wasn’t big; it wasn’t clever; it certainly wasn’t manly.


  1. Doctor,

    my father told me when I was a boy to dress up in winter, because he once had a friend who died when he was 40 - this man spent every winter of his boyhood and adulthood in summer dress.

    Perhaps he did not feel the cold as acutely as most people are wont to - perhaps he was stronger of constitution and the exercise inured him to the cold. My father never denied, however, that being safe is not impressive and that fatherly prudence is not enough to convince youth, but fatherly heroism is also necessary.

    Still and all, I sometimes brave the cold and could not care a whit what dandies care to think. A man who has not withstood the withering glances of the subtle&sophisticated can hardly be called a man nowadays - and a man who never goes out in the cold without bundling up can hardly discern between madness and courage.

  2. There is cold and then there is Cold. The people I saw yesterday no doubt cared not one whit what anyone thought of them because they were too busy freezing to death and wishing they had been more sensible.

    How oddly you conclude.

  3. I don't deny that it might be madness: I wish only to show it may be serious, because it certainly is not to be trifled with - when one speaks in the same tone of that and, on the other hand, what you like to call victims of vanity, one glosses over the differences. Some differences won't be glossed over - and I do wish you'd take different eyes to these things.

    There is such a thing as comedy, and I can live with a parody of men in the cold - but it had better be a good one - and below it is complacent wit, the justifications for which are few, so far as I am informed.

    Cold is something Roald Amundsen and R.F. Scott are debating; I suggest merely that most men - and all men, as men - envy them, but some are even jealous. Mere cold is what women in novels complain about, as they move from carriage to the doorstep.

  4. How you do like to run away with context! I assure you my eyes are functioning quite well.

  5. Doctor,

    I call to your attention - and this is all I offer as evidence - Mr. Woodhouse, in Jane Austen's 'Emma'. Add some common sense and wit. You still have not a man. In fact, you have the same creature as before, but less obvious: our sight is merely impaired by our conventions. What is incredibly deficient in him is what earns Mr. Knightley's condescension. Now, try and consider Mr. Knightley without all the politeness, which is generously wasted on our age. There you will have a man, who, I think, sans politesse, would embrace danger.

    It is my opinion that these are our obvious choices, pretty much as Austen outlined them. There are the deficient men in one gallery: and consider that only those promoted by our regimes are presented, the others being left, one assumes, to public opprobrium - Austen may have thought that unlikely to disappear... And there are the men who have to learn why the others are deficient and how to face up to a regime that is invariably hostile to manliness.

    Dandies are of the first category, though it takes a man to sense why. I don't presume to err on the other side with a comforted conscience, but I do assume one's gut feeling is important to self-awareness. Take all my remarks as misgivings, if you please, and forgive my tone, for I do apologize for it.

  6. No apologies necessary my dear!

    Now, I share your misgivings so far as your definition of 'dandy' goes, for such a man lacks substance. We must check that our dandies come from the same page, however, before we talk at cross purposes. Dandies need no longer be fops, devoid of that robustness of spirit which you admire. In fact, dandies of recent years would be as likely to point to their dirty knees and scuffed shoes as to their bespoke tailoring. The prissy vanity of Regency times has, at least in some instances, given way. You are right to point out that we would be well-served to have an idea of where it hasn't.

    As for embracing danger, of course I concur that given the option of fight or flight, a man should know that he is of the former character, wherever the cause is noble. How one gains this knowledge is the issue, and I would aver that mounting an expedition to the South Pole would be a good method. Wearing scant clothing in South-Pole conditions while queuing for a Beethoven concert would not. Between these two poles, as it were, there is probably a realistic third way, within the reach of those of us without independent means.

  7. Indeed doctor, does not robustness of spirit ask so insistently that we see necessity as virtue?


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