Now that we are in the throes of the digital age, it is safe to say that (at least for now) this is what the future looks like. Doctors conduct arthroscopic surgery using tiny cameras, scientists grow human ears on the backs of mice, a googolplex of angels dance on the head of a pin. Yet somehow, when it comes to the way we actually look in the year 2014, the digital age recedes and it’s as though everyone under the age of 35 just walked off the set of a Coen Brothers movie. Go to any urban center from Portland to Brooklyn and, if you squint past the tattoos and iPhones, you could be looking at America circa 1930.
Young men sport pork pie hats and vests. Mustache wax is once again a viable product. Women wear flared skirts purchased from second hand shops, rescued from the trash can of time and donned as the apparel of choice for the very same young woman who is creating an app in her spare time.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. According to The Jetsons and other mid-20th century arbiters of future shock, by this time we were supposed to be wearing shiny space age materials, with the ideal apparel being, of course, the unisex jumpsuit. One with built-in sensors that would measure a person’s heart rate and dispense food products in little pills shaped like UFOs.
Maybe we haven’t quite made it to virtual reality yet. Maybe our spandex leggings are a stand-in for space age materials. Maybe we just haven’t yet developed the technology that allows our sartorial selves to reflect our technological selves. Or maybe all of this is just an excuse. Maybe we really like our pre-1960s, non-synthetic garb because wearing these things connects us — makes us feel wistful even — for the past.
In our socially progressive era we make no secret of the fact that America before the cultural upheaval of the 1960s was an exercise in moral failure. But if the past was so terrible, stuffed as it was with all those relics of a Judeo-Christian value system and archaic moral codes, why do we want to recall it through our clothes? If the past has nothing to offer us other than dire examples of how to ruin everything — from raising children to going to church — then why are we trying to relive it through our wardrobes? Could it be because we aren’t ready, just yet, to throw it all away?