Government carefully controls so many other aspects of our lives that I find it hard to believe it still allows us to dress any old way we might fancy. This notion crossed my mind as I was walking down a city street recently. Many of the people I passed had little in the way of fashion sense, as it were. There were punkers who were much too old to be punky. There were rock 'n' rollers whose rocks had years ago rolled to places south. There were fat people with horizontal stripes. There were skinny people with vertical stripes. There were young women with shoes so sensible, haircuts so severe, and suits so plain, that they resembled the social workers who were forever trying to take Shirley Temple away from Mr. Bojangles.
Surely the same logic that engenders "social legislation" could be brought to bear against this national disgrace. Consider: Communities routinely pass zoning laws that are based solely on the aesthetic tastes and values of the powers-that-be within them. Hedges have to be this high and no taller. Houses have to be that big and no smaller. Frontage has to be so many feet. Only one or another style of architecture is permissible.
I ask you, what good are such ordinances and regulations if we allow the denizens of these communities or their guests to dress in disaccord with the understated tastefulness that select alderpersons have so wisely legislated into place? Of what use is a beautifully regulated house, with its beautifully regulated landscape nestled into a beautifully regulated hill, in a beautifully regulated community, if all that beautifully regulated eye appeal might be so easily and capriciously set awry by careless and unregulated pedestrians who have little if any sense of fashion?
All is not woe. Recently, I read about a progressive community in New Jersey, a state that is more or less regarded as a national treasure when it comes to good taste and ecology. The city fathers passed a strict ordinance about what types of vehicles may and may not be left out on the streets and driveways of the neighborhoods.
It seems that a lot of the locals are working types who have their own service-oriented businesses. You know the type of uncultured scum of whom I speak: These are plumbers and electricians, rug cleaners and furnace repairmen. Taxpayers all, but it seems a lot of them had the nasty habit of parking their pickup trucks and vans—often with unsightly lettering on their sides—overnight, right on the streets and driveways in front of their houses!
As you might guess, this did not sit well with the white wine, Gucci, and sushi set, and in the best traditions of their philosophical underpinnings they resorted to force. Now it's against the law to park one's pickup truck or van in one's driveway. And the local police are empowered to write tickets that carry fines for scofflaws who actually consider their driveways to be private property.
This, I think, is a step in the right direction. But this is an era of specialization. So I am not sure that such aesthetic codes ought to be left to local governments to legislate. Nor do I think that the enforcement of such codes ought to be the work of the local police.
Right here and now, I want to be the first to propose a new cabinet-level bureau, The Department of National Fashion and Aesthetics. Its mission would be the development and enforcement of the Statement of National Taste—a sane, egalitarian document that would define and direct the needs, goals, and desires of the entire nation in matters of decoration and ornamentation.
This would be a living document, one in constant evolutionary flux, as the officers of the department would continually solicit, evaluate, and then integrate the opinions of such national resources as Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and whosever else might, from time to time, be appointed to The National Council for Everything Beautiful. But, best of all, this would be a cabinet-level department with teeth, as it would have its own enforcement arm, The Fashion Police, a highly trained group of dedicated professionals charged with enforcing National Aesthetic Policy.
The men and women of such a force would not only be trained in conventional police work such as arrest and apprehension, martial arts, and weaponry. They would also be knowledgeable in such essential areas as mixing and matching, laundering, and dressing for success.
Then we wouldn't have people walking down the streets of our more chic neighborhoods wearing the bottoms of leisure suits rather than pants. We'd eliminate the risk of having our in-laws arrive at our hot tub parties in last week's blue-light special from K-Mart. Maybe some sanity would return to the whole issue of lapels. Our ties would not overnight become overwide. Hemlines would be relatively stable and then, who knows, maybe the stock market.
The potential benefits are endless. We need only abandon the hopeless illusion of aesthetic freedom and replace it with the logical certainty of styling by the state.
Stephen G. Barone is a children's psychologist and fashion plate.