I used to be a big fan of the Tonight Show. That was back in the days I could stay awake through the nightly news reports. I am not familiar with the current host, Jay Leno, but I remember the three who preceded him: Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. In my view, Carson was the premier host.
Carson was a performer; his opening monolog became a standard for others who followed him on the Tonight Show and other imitations of it. His comedy skits were often silly but usually entertaining. But to me, where Carson excelled was his easy and appreciative repartee with guests. His interview style was to engage them in conversation and then allow them to open up and carry the exchange. He did not constantly interrupt as some current interviewers do and try to always be the star. Carson had a generous sense of humor and openly displayed his enjoyment of the humor of his guests. He would crack up as much as the studio audience or the viewers at home at the routines and comments of visitors to the show.
One particular evening his guest was George Goebel. It was a number of years after his variety show on television had ended, and it had been quite a while since I had seen him. I remembered Goebel from my youth, watching his show with my parents, but his subtle dry wit really appealed to adults. Carson asked him how he had been doing lately to which he responded, “Did you ever feel like the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?” I laughed at home, the studio audience erupted and I thought Carson was going to fall over backwards off his chair. I recalled the moment the other day while pondering gifts for Christmas and it occurred to me there is a large segment of our population today that would not see the humor in the analogy.
Why would being a pair of brown shoes in a black tuxedo world have any meaning in a fashion environment that appears not to have any rules? What started out as casual Friday in the office has morphed into “business casual” that seems to be acceptable every day and for all occasions. It was not always that way. I remember going with my dad to buy a suit and it coming with a jacket, vest and two pair of slacks. While my dad was getting fitted by the tailor the salesman brought in a shirt and a tie that matched the suit and rounded out the package. Vests and a second pair of slacks had disappeared by the time my class graduated from college. But one of the first purchases most of us made upon graduation was a good suit, if they did not have one, to wear for job interviews. It was a given in business at the time that dressing professionally helped one act professionally and hopefully perform as a professional. I guess one could argue it was style over substance, but as a young job applicant, try telling that to an executive at IBM where professional attire was defined not only by a coat and tie, but over-the-calf socks.
I think I find more meaning in Goebel’s comparison every year. While the necktie has been around for several hundred years and remains one of the most popular gifts given on Father’s Day, it seems to be disappearing locally. The new fashion trend seems to be logo-wear. I received a catalog in the mail last week where the headline on the cover proclaimed orders received by the 14th would be delivered in time for Christmas — even with those requiring an embroidered logo. There you have it. I am not sure if I could get my managers a tie in time, but if I order by Friday I can get them a shirt, jacket or sweater with the Bulletin stitched on it. The truth be told, they would also probably prefer it.
My question is, what does one change into when one gets home to relax and unwind from a day at the office? What is the step down from casual wear - a shirt or sweater without a logo? I guess pajamas could work, but what if I have to run to the store? I guess one could get a pair of scrubs. According to a local advertisement they now come on one’s school colors. I don’t think you have to have a medical ID to buy them.
Robert Brincefield is publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.