Once upon a time men wore suits and women wore dresses on every occasion – they even dressed well in the home. People set tables, ate in courses, and spoke civilly. They stood up straight. They expected beauty and excellence in manners not just for society, but within families and among friends and even alone.
Now we dress casually at almost all times: we wear comic book t-shirts and flip-flops, or tank tops and garish makeup. We might even wear our pajamas to our (remote) jobs. We eat with paper plates, paper napkins, or out of delivery boxes, in front of the television. We talk with our mouths full. We look at our phones and nod absent-mindedly rather than making conversation.
We walk, sit, and stand with permanent slouches. Our bodies are formed to the shape of sofas. We curse, stumble over words, and guffaw. We embrace goofiness and awkwardness.
“Manners” if they’re even taught (as they were in my household) are quickly forgotten – a nice remnant of the past to be rehearsed to please the standards of the dead.
There is little of beauty left in how we carry ourselves. We are a slouching society.
Who would have thought it possible that we stand at the height of wealth yet act like this? There was a time when everyone aspired to the manners, dignity, and grace of royalty. Lack of money and lack of education were two of the great barriers – barriers that are now lowered for most. And yet in our manners we are uglier and poorer than ever.
Once upon a time – as in every time it still is – it might have been necessary to have rebellion against calcified and unreforming decorum. Traditions of decorum need this rebellion, if constructive. But decorum is now thoroughly dead except in the rare pockets of the traditional (weddings, funerals, etc) where it was once the norm in the everyday. Slouchiness has replaced it. The “rebellion” explanation justification no longer provides any cover for laziness in dress, manners, art, or homekeeping.
Slouchiness has run its course: it’s no longer interesting. And if it is easy, it is increasingly unpleasant for anyone with eyes to see. We have enough of easiness: what about beauty?