While Rome burns

I make no claim to be an arbiter of fashion (or, for that matter, of so-called family values). But recently, at dinner (in the kind of restaurant that actually puts cloth napkins at tableside, uses reasonably clean silverware, and hires waitresses who know the difference between chardonnay and Chianti, I observed the following:

While we were talking over the day’s events, a family of three came in and were ushered to a table just a few feet away from us. The man of the house wore a jacket praising engine parts over a sweatshirt and, to round out the ensemble, stained pants. His wife wore one of those flannel pantsuits (the kind with a drawstring, rather than a belt) and had a headful of baby-blue curlers.

So far, so good.

But then their son sat down and left his duck-billed cap on his head.

I shrugged and asked the waitress about restaurant’s policy.

“Well,” she said, “a few years ago, we would actually ask men to remove their hats, but now it becomes a matter of confrontation, so the management decided just to overlook it.”

I remember when everybody — except women — took off their hats, not just in church but in all public places except those devoted to commerce. So a man could wear his hat in a bus terminal or a department store, but would remove it at Sunday service, in a restaurant, a theater or, usually, when visiting someone at home.

Apparently, such deportment has flown out the window; one need only turn the pages of a leading fashion magazine to see where we’re headed.

Fashionable women, it seems, are following these dictates:

1. Never use turn signals — it’s just too much trouble.

2. When turning right on a red light, don’t worry about what’s coming.

3. Start smoking cigarettes (to support women’s liberation).

4. Have your ears pierced at 14, and then wear heavy earrings, so the earlobes droop.

5. Between 14 and 24, have your tongues pierced (in a salute to famed Greek orator Demosthenes, who overcame a speech impediment by declaiming on the beach with a mouth full of pebbles).

6. Choose white for a wedding dress — the second time around.

7. Replace spike heels with heels that could crush Chicago.

8. Talk during movies.

Fashionable men, meanwhile, have their own set of rules:

1. Never use turn signals — it’s a sign of weakness to let anybody know where you’re going.

2. When turning right on a red light, don’t worry about what’s coming.

3. Start smoking cigarettes (as an act of rebellion).

4. Purposely sport a 5 o’clock shadow, a la President Nixon.

5. Wear shoes sans socks, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

6. Wear white T-shirts with sport coats at less-than-formal dinner parties.

7. Wear gray T-shirts for formal affairs.

8. Whenever possible, wear a duck-billed cap, backward.

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