George Will – Never in Blue Jeans

George Will's view of denim is about forty years out of date.

George Will hates the fact that Americans wear blue jeans.  Not only is denim a faux populism adopted by a decadent elite, it makes it impossible to distinguish parents from their children, what with them all decked out in jeans and sneakers.

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults (“Seinfeld,” “Two and a Half Men”) and cartoons for adults (“King of the Hill”). Seventy-five percent of American “gamers” — people who play video games — are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six — so far — “Batman” adventures and “Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps,” coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy’s catechism of leveling — thou shalt not dress better than society’s most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism — of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

This strikes me as a rather narrowminded existence.  I own a ridiculous number of suits and ties, which I wear to the office and various semi-formal events.  I even own a tux that I don two or three times a year  on appropriate occasions, including plays and whatnot where perhaps ten percent of the other men are wearing them.  I also own several pairs of jeans, which I find more appropriate for weekend errands, cookouts, and other very informal gatherings.   I even have chinos and slacks and sport coats for occasions and moods that fall in between.

UPDATE:  One recurring criticism of Will that I’ve seen in my comments and elsewhere in response to this column is that he wears a bow tie.  Amusingly, while that’s my mental image of him as well, he’s worn standard four-in-hand neckties for years, at least in his television appearances.

Photo by Flickr user J.Ota under Creative Commons license.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Democracy, Popular Culture, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fausta says:

    I even own a tux
    I am impressed!

  2. Boyd says:

    Since Mr Will wasn’t writing while his tongue was firmly planted inside his cheek, this again reveals his own ivory-tower elitism.

    Sure, rail against wearing jeans in inappropriate venues. Being my father’s son (he was a Southern Baptist preacher), I happen to believe wearing jeans at church is inappropriate, for instance. But why should I wear dressier trousers in circumstances where they could be easily damaged or soiled, when jeans would weather the conditions quite handily?

    But jeans are infantile? They’re only appropriate on men (never women) when engaged in hard labor (not women, because hard labor is men’s work)? Are they appropriate for children because, umm, children do hard labor?

    His position is not only condescending, but confused. Once again, I put away one of Mr Will’s articles which only serves as an example of how not to think with logic and reason.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Boy, we got a window into some long suppressed rage in the back of Will’s mind today, huh?

    I think the real cultural debates are (1) suits versus creeping casual Friday; (2) men in shorts (I believe either an Ann Althouse or Megan McArdle favorite), and (3) my personal favorite, sweats worn for reasons other than working out.

  4. Franklin says:

    Comfortable people are more productive, at least according to various studies. To me, jeans and sneakers are far more comfortable.

    The only thing infantile here is Will’s excruciating logic.

  5. What a strange, strange man.

  6. Jay C. says:

    Looks like George Will is running out of political topics to wrote about. [Dear, did I just end a sentence with a preposition? How pedestrian.] What I read from his work is basically he wants social stratification in fashion. In that case he can stick to his cullottes, that he may identify him better when the Jacobins come knocking.

  7. I suppose now would be a bad time to note that I am looking forward to the US release of Star Trek?

  8. I am reminded of comments made by Rush Limbaugh many years back that also reflect anti-denim sentiments. IIRC, he stated that he’s always associated blue jeans with the counter-culture, so he’s never worn them.

    I agree with his broader point, but the focus on denim is undeserving. One can look quite presentable wearing denim (and as you mention quite appropriate for casual occasions) and conversely look unpresentable wearing, say, cargo pants.

  9. IIRC, he stated that he’s always associated blue jeans with the counter-culture, so he’s never worn them.

    No, it is because people as morbidly obese as Rush look awful in jeans.

    I also associate drug use with the counter-culture, but that didn’t stop Rush from sending his cleaning lady out to buy him pills. Odd how that works.

    About Will and jeans. For a man who has adopted such a curious affectation as wearing bow ties, I think he might consider shying away from writing on fashion.

  10. odograph says:

    I don’t trust people who don’t own blue jeans.

    It’s OK not to wear them often, but as it happens I get to. I treat them as daily armor, near-indestructible for work and many recreations.

    If he doesn’t get that denim is a fabric that can keep up with skin … maybe he’s a candy-ass.

  11. Benedict says:

    1) George Will lacks standing to make this argument because he wears bow ties (other than with black tie / white tie), which is a much more aberrant fashion statement then adults wearing dungarees.

    2) The connection of blue jeans to cowboys and miners evokes the settlement of the American frontier, one of this country’s signal achievements.

    3) Ronald Reagan wore blue jeans.

  12. Rick Almeida says:

    When Will is not writing about baseball, he is usually not worth reading.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    George Will has always been the smart kid in the front row of class who has his hand up all the time. The one who knows all the baseball stats but can’t run. Of course he doesn’t like jeans. I agree with him that that the original embracing of jeans was a political statement. Vanguard of the proletariat. That was a long, long time ago.

    Now they’re universal and jeans aren’t the work clothes they used to be. The denim is lighter weight and less practical, for one thing.

    Yet another battle that was lost 30 years ago.

  14. Floyd says:

    One of the smartest and finest men I know, who ran a successful business,(he’s now retired)wears bib overalls everyday. He even wore them to his son’s wedding!
    While it is nice to be well dressed, character is what really matters and it soon becomes obvious what a suit is full off, even when it’s empty.

  15. odograph says:

    The denim is lighter weight and less practical, for one thing.

    No doubt true in general, but I notice that the old style Levis and Lees have the weight I remember. Cheap jeans are flimsy, as are Levi and Lee fashion jeans.

  16. hcantrall says:

    Yeah those $130 a pair fancy jeans are lighter weight and not “traditional” jeans. But Levi’s etc are still heavy weight material and very practical for working. Maybe Mr. Will has never done physical labor, his soft skin would probably be chaffed by jeans.

  17. Floyd says:

    I found this archive picture of George Will which shows that he has always rejected denim!

  18. odograph says:

    It suddenly occurred to me that Will might be suggesting that girls not wear jeans! So I went and looked:

    “If mother is there, she, too, is draped in denim.”

    Buddy, “draped” is not the image that we are looking for here.

  19. Benedict, your point #3 is a home run.

    The discussion on the quality of jeans and their suitability as work clothes reminds me of the dungarees that for a long time were the U.S. Navy’s working uniform. I entered boot camp just as they were being phased out (Feb ’99) and as such only had one pair, that I only wore a few times. Seems like a pair of Levi’s off the shelf from JC Penney’s were more durable.

  20. sam says:

    Perhaps some of you will recall this Doonesbury putdown of Will:

    “Doonesbury” fans may fondly recall the brief appearance of the character T. Hamilton Tripler, intern for Washington pundit George F. Will. “Quote boy!” Will would call out whenever he needed something from Bartlett’s or beyond. As Higgins, the quote supervisor, explained to Tripler: “We provide the flourishes of erudition so indispensable to a George Will commentary.”


  21. sam says:

    By the by, who placed the ad on the left…?

  22. Rich says:

    Will is one Conservative I have never cared for. He has always struck me as a humorless, pompous, stuffy and pedantic bore. His latest pontification dealing with blue jeans is the height of condescension and arrogance.