“Now trending: destructed denim.” JC Penney Advertisement
“Everything about this farm-house was formerly the scene of plain manners and plentiful living.”
William Cobbett, Rural Rides

It’s hard not to notice the advertisements I receive in the mail. It’s also hard not to be discouraged by them.

Images are extremely powerful. Though at times I wonder who could possibly be moved by such ‘fashions,’ surely the marketing industry knows better than I do what moves people. Besides, I’m not the main target.

When I saw this advertisement (posted as an image here) for ‘back to school,’ a couple of thoughts came to my mind. How have we come to this pass? Our young people are jerked around by the power of big industry, which intentionally cultivates their self-consciousness about appearance in order to sell them something. And the artificial trends—in no way the fruit of real human life or culture—tend more and more to the banal, the immodest, and the downright ugly.

And it is especially our young people—all of them, even the ones who do not want to go along with these ‘trends’—who lose. For at issue here is the shape and feel and atmosphere of the human world in which they live and move.

Cobbett’s line about a house he visited has always stuck in my mind. What he considered ‘plain manners’ in the early 19th century would probably pass as high culture today. I try to picture what those plain manners must have been like, and even more, from what interior attitudes they sprang.

The dignity of honest work. Modesty. Responsibility. Joy in life. Festivity. Simple beauty. Respect for others.

The clothes we wear, the ways that we move in our body, and simple manners: these are things to which we should attend. For perhaps they can still be reclaimed and remolded to be an expression of simple but truly plentiful living.

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William Cobbett
(1763-1835) was an English author, farmer, and social activist. His works include Rural Rides, a kind of Bellocian diary of his travels around England, and the classic Cottage Economy.

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