THE BLOG

Getting in Touch With Your Inner (and Outer) Mensch

06/29/2012 12:50 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Scientists drill ice cores out of our world's largest and oldest ice sheets to gain invaluable insights into climate change. The deeper they drill, the further back in time they are able to see glimpses of:

"The Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 drilled to a depth of 10,000 feet (3,050 m) representing over 110,000 years of environmental record. Scientists working at the Russian Antarctic base at Vostok have recently completed drilling and obtained the longest record of climate and atmospheric history: 420,000 years!"

Now, bear with me here, there is a connection to fashion. Were we to extract an ice core of the history of the dress of young men over the last 100 years, let's say, one would find that the average young man today dresses much differently than his counterpart of a century ago. Think "Boardwalk Empire" not "Mad Men."

Of course I do not mean to propose that the men of today should dress as they did in the past, but what I am trying to highlight here is a change in the attitudes surrounding dress, and how that relates to self-respect and the respect of others.

During the time when men would not be seen outside of their homes without a jacket, a collared shirt, a cravat, and most importantly a hat, they were also courteous and gracious towards those they encountered throughout their day. I have always seen, perhaps with a foolish nostalgia, that in a time where the idea that the way we presented ourselves to the world still held some stock, that the daily interactions between people echoed this sense of pride derived from a dutiful observation of certain social conventions. In other words, we have lost touch with what it means to be a mensch.

Mensch (Yiddish: מענטש mentsh, from German: Mensch "human being") means "a person of integrity and honor."

None of this is to say that the civil, social, and even style liberties we now enjoy that were simply unheard of a hundred years ago are not in their essence positive -- see racism, homophobia -- rather that along with these dissolving of conventions so to have our convictions towards what it means to be a good person. The concept of maintaining a good public standing has given way to "who cares what people think about you".

Granted in our time, most young men rarely find themselves in a situation where anything more formal than a very modern interpretation of business casual dress is required, let alone the norm. I myself almost never find myself somewhere where I get to wear the majority of the blazers, shirts, and ties I have (perhaps foolishly?) collected over the years.

Classic case of dress for the job you want not the job you have. I guess then it should come as no surprise to me that when I do decide to dress up even slightly I always end up feeling out of place, and with the inescapable feeling that I am being perceived as being that guy who spent hours in front of the mirror before leaving the house.

All of this said, I am not suggesting that those who dress formally are better people or inherently nicer to others than those who dress casually or who give no thought at all to the way they dress, in fact in many cases the inverse is true.

The business men we see stepping out of luxury vehicles clad in Italian suits are sometimes rude despicable characters less worthy of the title mensch than your average joe wearing a t-shirt and sweat-shorts.

More so, I mean to call attention to a time where being a man implied certain civilities. I am suggesting that we study the ice cores of the history of men's style in an effort to reconnect to the idea of the man of olde. I must admit though it is not entirely a selfless interest, I also just want to be able to wear some of these cravats!