The current Marketplace of Ideas interview, now available in podcast form, is with Jesse Thorn and Adam Lisagor, creators of the men’s style web series Put This On. I’d already been following their videos and associated blog — naturally, as both enterprises are both damn well-crafted and damn useful — but only during research for this conversation did I come across a post of Jesse’s that highlighted this quote from another style blog: “We worry that too many guys will get caught up in the hype, forget that fashion is just one component of style, and that style is just one component of a good life.”
This threw light on the question that consumes me perhaps more fully than any other: What is the life well lived? This concern might sound insufferably first-world, I suppose, but (a) I live in the first world and (b) even some starving peasant shivering in a ditch aspires to a better life than the one they’re living. But that wretch’s vision of the life well lived is different from mine, as is yours. (I do hope you aren’t reading this from a ditch.) Just as there are as many ways to dress as there are people to wear clothes, there are as many lives well lived as there are people to live them &mdashy; or, more accurately, to iterate toward them. Some, not me, might imagine it as involving high-class prostitutes and cigars lit with Ben Franklin’s face. Others, also not me, might think of a big house filled with ten grandkids. Whatever does it for ya. As Mama Celeste would say, abbondanza.
I certainly consider personal aesthetics — as well as all the other kinds — integral to the live-well-lived project. If I didn’t, that quote presumably wouldn’t have resonated so strongly with me in the first place. But I think I can put dressing well and everything else besides under a single banner: earning your own respect. I would imagine is very, very hard to earn your respect in an Ed Hardy shirt and flip-flops. At least I couldn’t do it. Nor could I earn my own respect while locked into the same daily routine, or while not making anything, or while encircled by discarded pizza boxes.
And ah, it all comes back to the “Would I respect me?” test. I’d call it the WIRM test if not for all the distasteful fantasy associations (“wyrm”) that acronym brings to mind. I know I bring it up a lot, but it’s so very, very handy. In fact, it’s such a elegant frame-of-mind hack that I cannot possibly have thought it up myself; surely it was an act of subconscious theft. Wherever it came from, it’s a clarifying device, and everyone needs clarifying devices, right? And sure, I’m well aware of the dangers of leaning too heavily on clarifying devices, but damn, not having any renders me pretty much immobile.
So the better I dress, the closer I come to answering “yes” to (at least one dimension of) “Would I respect me?” Now, even so, I’m nowhere close to an unqualified “yes,” but if I ever get there, I should walk into the sea. I guess this leaves me in the awkward position of wanting Put This On to push me closer to the water?