A distinction without a difference

Viticulture is the study of grape cultivation, while enology is the study of wine and winemaking.

Somewhere in my youthful past I first heard the curious philosophic adage, “Clothes maketh the man”.

Many articles mistakenly attribute the source of the proverb to Samuel Langhorne Clemens better known by his pen name Mark Twain. Twain made a fashion statement when he began wearing white suits late in his career in 1906 only to be outdone by Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. who began wearing his iconic white suit early in his career in 1962 and attained notoriety through his novel “Bonfire of the Vanities”. According to Merle Johnson’s book “More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain (1927)” Twain wrote: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society” . However Johnson was paraphrasing passages from Mark Twain’s short story “The Czar’s Soliloquy” (North American Review, March 1905). Here is an excerpt: “[One] realizes that without his clothes a man would be nothing at all; that the clothes do not merely make the man, the clothes are the man; that without them he is a cipher, a vacancy, a nobody, a nothing… There is no power without clothes.”

The proverb as it is recorded in Latin by Erasmus (Adagia 3.1.60) is: “vestis virum facit” meaning “clothes make the man.”

Appearance unquestionably has a bearing upon how  one is perceived.  The calculation is however unpredictable. There is no certainty to the insinuation or its philosophic repercussion.  A fop or a farmer may equally compete. Historically the initial survival of a purely orchestral view is seldom sustainable. Indeed there are those who make a point of disguising themselves by what they wear. For the majority of us I suspect the greater ambition is comfort and utility.

In later life – unless one is bound to a ritual veneer – the variation of one’s wardrobe is likely unfettered by popular adhesion. Sartorial undertakings are no different from sports activity; viz., they’re best left to the younger generation. That includes the variety of gear that goes with them – for example, shorts and runners for tennis; white ducks and crested sweaters for cricket; a full suit of tweed plus fours for golf. For the rest of us, it is perhaps best described as leisure wear which post-pandemic usually means sweat pants or whatever fits.

The days of having one fur to wear and another to drag have long been under threat of disappearing although in a self-contradictory way leather survives. Anyone who has worn a full-length racoon coat (apart from a pimp craze or at a football game) knows the inexpressible warmth of the garment. The toxic features do however overwhelm the convenience.

The frequency of an occasion to “dress” also diminishes with age.  It is not only the cost and physical maintenance required; it is purely rejection of the opportunity. People have better things to do than to belong to private clubs with dress codes. Pleated shirts with studs have become a cartoon reproduction; and, the diamond cuff links otherwise remain in a boudoir drawer.

Meanwhile there are new fabrics – such as rayon – which enhance the preoccupation with clothing. Silk has also translated its usage to comfort not appearance.  And many of us insist upon the same qualification for clothes that exists for sterling silver cutlery; namely, if it doesn’t go in the dishwasher, forget it! I am not certain we even possess an ironing board.

Adopting a more artistic feature to what one wears is an enterprise that risks either absurdity or affront. Unity and commonality still rule. Yet for the adventurous soul there persists the occasion for singularity.