Around the age of ten or eleven, I set out to develop a hairstyle. I stood in front of the mirror with some hairspray and a comb, and started pushing my hair around until it looked about how I wanted it to. It was a cool hairstyle, at least when looking straight forward into the mirror. But as I walked around with it, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror from a different angle– maybe from a side, or looking a little bit down on the top of my head. I realized that from those angles, I didn’t like how my hair looked at all. Sometimes it was even obvious that the hair on the back of my head was sticking out all over. But I never did anything about that. At some point along the way I simply concluded that it was unrealistic to expect that one’s hair should look good from all angles, so there must be a tacit understanding that people will always judge the hair of others only when looking straight at their faces.
My son Rex is with me on this one, right Rex?
That was the start of a guiding philosophy for me. Soon, when ironing shirts, I concluded that no one would ever be assessing my appearance from the back. Thus, I went to junior high school many, many days with a button-up shirt nicely pressed on the collar, sleeves, and front panels, but the entire back section wrinkled as tree bark. Maybe I just thought no one would know who I was from back there, or that someone’s back is not really a part of who they are. Regardless, I spent most of my youth a polished, crisply preppy kid from up front, and a bedraggled mess from behind. I think people respected that. And when I talked to girls, they always got the best looking side.
This might have been what it looked like, though we’ll never know, because no one ever looked at it.
It was also difficult for me to believe that people really expected accessories to contribute to one’s personal presentation. My choices in things like coats, belts, and shoes were always purely functional. Yes, I wanted to look good, but only to reasonable people. And reasonable people evaluate your good looks by waiting for you to take off your coat, standing directly in front of you, and evaluating the color, crispness, and tuck of your shirt, and the lay of your bangs. Everything else, I believed, was kind of backstage stuff that everyone agreed was not part of the show.
I was also surprised in college to hear Davis apply a specific classification to the kinds of coats worn by me and some of my less-fashionable friends. He said we all wore coats that were drab, out of style, and formless, as if coats were meant to do anything besides warm the wearer. What Davis said that day didn’t change my opinion of how things ought to be. I still believe people should only judge attractiveness based on the equivalent of a cropped, single-angle shot from about the beltline to the forehead. But since then I have had to concede that on this matter there is a wide gulf between how people believe ought to behave, and how they really do. Judging me for the look of my shoes. Or my back. Or my coat or my hair or my car or my pants. People can be ridiculous, right?
So now I iron the backs of my shirts, and I polish my shoes, and I even check the back of my hair sometimes, like a good sheep would. Being enlightened feels more righteous, but it takes a lot of energy, so I’ll join the rest of you in your silly little games. It still makes me mad though, when ironing takes me twice as long as it did back in junior high.