Dressed Up—For What?

It was a pleasant evening in early summer, still quite light, warm and balmy, the air laden with the scent of flowers from the park across the way. For what was normally a busy London suburb, there was surprisingly little traffic and this lent an atmosphere of tranquility—something all too rare nowadays.

 Then I saw him. He was standing in a shop doorway, a well built young man of about 23, handsome in a coarse way, and one who obviously took great care of his appearance. From his thick, brushed hair to his gleaming shoes, he was a picture of smartness, reminding one of the photographs appearing in male fashion magazines—but without the usual smile.

 For he was not smiling. He stared moodily out at passers by, and when I passed the same spot an hour and a half later, on my way home, he was still there, talking to no-one, the same chap—the same expression of unrelieved boredom.

 You may wonder at the conditions which drive a young person to take such trouble with his dress and appearance, all to no apparent purpose, and yet he is no exception. The story could be repeated many times over. Just take a look at the Broadways of any large town or suburb and see the boys and girls attempting to express their individuality via the medium of dress, hair style, etc., only to achieve, at best, a variation of a very narrow theme.

 A friend of the writer once pointed out a mutual acquaintance with the words “Guess how much that suit cost?—£40!”—which can tell us quite a lot about the standard of values in the modern world. The clothes made the man as far as this youngster was concerned. No one of course denies that good clothes are a pleasure to wear, and it is a rarity nowadays to see young men walking around with the seats of their trousers tattered and worn—as was the lot of many before the war. (Although even the smartness of our doorway friend pales a little when one considers what is available to those with : real money). But Capitalism never gives with one hand without taking away with the other.

 “Full employment” we may have. We also have the frustration on the faces of the gum-chewing girls and boys, which sooner or later expresses itself in violence. The Broadways mentioned earlier will provide ample evidence of this on any Saturday night around midnight when the local dance halls turn out—and so does the local police van.

 Areas which were considered “respectable” before the war are no longer so. The “Teddy Boy” problem has pushed its way into the least expected places and stubbornly resists orthodox attempts to solve it. And who can wonder? It is, after all, part of the price we pay for modern life with its feverish nightmare existence and its failure to give deep and lasting satisfaction. The obvious bad effects on the minds and bodies of so many are typified in the pathetic young man in the shop door-way and the Saturday night sorties of the “Bobbies.”

 “Relaxation is all important,” says Dr. W. Clunie Harvey, M.D., D.P.H., writing in the journal Better Health (April 1955), but it becomes increasingly difficult in a world where, to quote Dr. Clunie again, “We are very often born in a hurry, we tear through childhood, before we know we’re grown up we are getting on towards middle age. . . .  Our lives seem to be made up of a series of crises. No sooner do we get out of one than we find ourselves in another. . . . ”

 Which just about sums it up. Capitalism can offer us very little else but a “series of crises” of one sort or another. It has been said, no doubt with some truth, that the dress style and the nonchalant air of the street corner boys and their made-up girl friends is but an effort to assert themselves against a future which they subconsciously dread. We can only work for the day when this is replaced, with a conscious appreciation of the cause of their fears, and the realisation that only Socialism can give them the security they crave.

Eddie Critchfield

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