I recently read through Diana West’s new book The Death of the Grownup. I highly recommend it and found it quite stimulating. One of West’s purposes in writing is to highlight the immaturity of the younger (and older) generation. According to West, both young and old alike today strive to emulate not the mature and wise but the young and foolish. It’s a strange tradeoff that has resulted in the proliferation of “cargoes,” as I once heard CJ Mahaney call them, and a generation of immature twentysomethings.
The way one dresses does not entirely reveal one’s maturity, and I’m not one to knock cargo shorts. I have a few pairs myself. While a pair of shorts may not immediately disclose one’s maturity level, many young people today show their immaturity in many shapes and colors (literally). It is as if the idea of dressing up, of clothing oneself in a way that is decidedly mature and adult, of cloaking oneself in dignity, is lost entirely on American youth. We have inherited the previous generation’s distaste for formality and decorum, though we’ve taken this distaste to new levels. It is interesting to see young people wear sweat pants to public events, as if they were slacks. Yes, sweat pants are the new slacks. Now, I’m all for informality on occasions, and there is a point to be made and recognized about the measure of one’s character and identity not being found in clothing. I’m all for that. And as a Christian, it can be helpful in some ways to dress down in order to connect with people and help them to feel welcome. But with all this said, one has to wonder if something is not lost with the current generation. Our informality has not merely corrected our formality–it has overwhelmed it.
I can remember stealing into my parent’s bedroom when no one was around and trying on my dad’s shoes and shirts. I loved wearing his fleece jacket when it was cold, though my parents had provided me with my own. In the current day, being around an employer who dresses with sophistication has caused me to want to look like a man, not like a teenager. There is something alien and alluring about the world of mature fashion. One senses in encountering a man or woman of sartorial maturity that there is something dignified and different about such a person. One often instinctively wants to be like such a person. There is something good in this. Sweat pants have their place. But so do suits and ties, button-ups and belts. It is not a bad thing for a young man to want to be a man. It is a bad thing for a young man to want to stay a man, and for a man to yearn to go back to his teenage years. We have somehow convinced ourselves that maturity is bad, that aging is graceless, and that teens are to be idolized. We are, I trust, in the process of finding out that we have things backwards.