Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lookin' Good

I can’t begin to count how many times I read the line on Jdate ‘Must be (I am) equally comfortable in jeans and in a tux’. Then there is female counterpart, ‘Can dress up and dress down with ease’. (The image of a department store elevator comes to mind…4th floor, casual separates; 6th floor, gowns, evening wear).

I don’t know where I have been all these years, but somehow unbeknownst to me it has become extra important that a man and a woman look great together in formal attire, and also look great when they are both lounging in their jeans. It must be a together thing, since the woman who wants her companion to feel comfortable in a tux isn’t walking around the house in jeans. It would be like Mrs. Kissinger saying to Henry, "Henry, go put on your tux for dinner, and I would hope you feel comfortable wearing it. As for me, I’m not feeling up to my slinky little black dress tonight; you know the one with the spaghetti straps. I’ll stick with jeans."

This jeans- tux requirement points to a sort of serious delusion cum aspiration. Women who are by profession secretaries and nurses and dental assistants, and men who are teachers and salesmen and shopkeepers appear to be seriously worried their mates will not look good at the many crystal balls and debutante parties they are forced to attend. At the same time this companion who is, here’s another popular cliché, “as comfortable in the boardroom as in the bedroom”, must also be a regular Ralph Lauren, riding her horse on the range together with her friend, the man from the Marlboro ad, both wearing jeans, relaxing and being stylishly rugged and outdoorsy.

Whenever I read this nonsense I think of my father, a’’h. He was equally uncomfortable in a tux and in jeans. He referred to jeans as dungarees, which they were until they became jeans. I must admit to the same. I am never totally comfortable in bow tie and cummerbund, and I never wear jeans. Casual for me is pretty close to dress up, slacks and a shirt, no tie. I think of this outfit as the conservative (baalebatish) Ben Gurion look. Pants, no sandals, no shorts, but socialist, no tie. Sometimes I think of my outfit as an Irv Kupcinet look, (the late, much loved, Chicago Sun Times Jewish gossip columnist), sans jacket, tie and toupee.

I’ve noticed something interesting about this jeans- tux syndrome. The idiom is peculiarly American. European, and American children of ‘greener’, (the name recent immigrants were called in American Yiddish speaking circles) use the word ELEGANT .These women, usually but not always of a certain age, can remember parents who were young in the 30’s and 40’s of the last century. They have a deeply embedded ideal of European elegance. A woman, whose self representation involves this ideal of elegance, wants a “real gentleman with excellent manners, well dressed who knows how to treat a lady”. And vice versa. A man who thinks of himself as a gentleman, debonair, a bit of a dandy is looking for an elegant lady, not for a babe in Dolce & Gabbana rhinestone jeans. An elegant person, male or female, is careful how they dress to the grocery store and the post office. It’s is not occasion driven, but a way of presenting oneself in public. I would say the ideal of elegance is alive and flourishing in the Orthodox community, in all its variants. It is deeply intertwined with the ideals of modesty, (tznius in Hebrew).

The truth of the matter is that Jdate and all the others do not attract the very rich and the very poor. The very top strata of Jewish life would not think of showing their photos on the internet for anyone and everyone to see. One can be assured that Ron Perlman, even now that he is bereft of his latest wife, will not show up on Jdate or Frumster. It is also true that the very poor, the sick and disabled, the confused, the borderline psychotics, the many people who simply cannot pull themselves together to even dream of a relationship …all these sad people never show up on the internet. It is surprising to learn how difficult it is for so many people to simply digitize a photo and upload it to an internet site. Add to this poverty or sickness, and it becomes overwhelming.

There is some sort of cracked signaling going on here. The people who write these jeans –tux lines are trying to position themselves across social classes. On the one hand they want to suggest they have some real connection with upper tier wealth, while also indicating their ability to feel at ease at barbecues and softball games and the many other activities that make up middle class life. Here again I remember what my father used to say, “Men kenisht tantzen oif tzvei….”, “You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time”. Except on JDate, of course, where you can VIRTUALLY dance and dance anywhere and everywhere.

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