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BYU Professor Proposes Radical Dress Reform for Men, 1931

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 19, 2011

Harrison R. Merrill (1884-1938) taught English and journalism at BYU from 1923 until his death in 1938. In 1931 he laid before the world his ideas on men’s fashion, calling for the kind of dress reform that had long been an issue with women’s fashion.

He first touched on the kinds of feathers and furs and shells with which nature blessed the animals, and noted the practicality with which nature adapted those coverings according to the season, such that “automatically it is touched off by the snows of winter or the heat of spring, and, presto! Mr. Rooster or Mr. Beaver has a brand new suit of summer B.V.D.’s or a gorgeous winter turnout of glistening fur.”

Man, on the other hand, “has been given a spark of divinity that makes all such mechanistic things unnecessary. He can wear summer suits in the winter, if he wants to, and he can wear sixteen ounce broadcloth on the Fourth of July if he likes.” Man, however – as in the male of the species; Merrill acknowledges that women do much better on this score – fails to take advantage of the freedom with which he has been blessed, especially when it comes to observing changes in the weather.

Fashion says that the man should wear a suit, a shirt, underwear of some sort, and in addition he must wear a collar, a tie, a pair of hose, garters, and a pair of shoes. … Fashion goes farther, here in the Occident, and says the suit must be made of wool and the whatnots and wherefores of silk or some other substance, according to the weight of the money purse.

When it is a hundred in the shade and there is no shade, the man swelters. If he is forced to remove his coat to save his very life, he apologizes weakly.

The pores (Merrill poetically refers to them as “artesian wells”) that perforate man’s skin were meant to help man regulate his internal temperature.

Man doesn’t have to pant like a dog or seek a wallow like a hog. All he needs to do is to stand up or lie down and allow his millions of tiny artesian wells to flow. They will draw off the heat with the water that rises in the form of perspiration.

But man has fallen a victim to fashion. He caps his wells with wool brought from the sheep’s back, or he obstructs them with silk from some nasty worm’s stomach or with cotton from a fluffy boll. Fashion says four thicknesses of clothing over most of his body, and so, he deliberately chooses to look like a lobster fresh from the pot. The heat naturally has no way of escape except through the skin of his face – and perhaps his head, if he has been fortunate enough to lose his hair.

Woman, he says, not having such a high sense of her own importance as man, is willing to adjust to the weather.

In gossamer gowns without sleeves and without collar or tie, she can, on the hottest day, maintain in a perfectly dry state, the powder on her dainty nose. With a million artesian wells open to the air she smiles at a hundred and ten in the shade.

Why doesn’t some man with ideas come up with new designs in men’s clothing? he wants to know.

Why shouldn’t a man have a sleeveless shirt, an open neck, a suntan back if he wants them, I’d like to know? Why shouldn’t he, too, wear gossamer and lace, silks and georgettes?

Men of the Bloggernacle, do you agree? Wouldn’t you like to cast aside your suits and long-sleeved shirts and ties, even on Sunday, and be more reasonably dressed during the summer heat?

Perhaps you’re ready, then, for fashions of the kind that illustrate Professor Merrill’s article … which, because I didn’t want you to glance ahead to see prematurely, you can now view by clicking here.



25 Comments »

  1. Oh my heck! Uh, wouldn’t there be a problem with g’s then? I do like the pen-filled pocket, though. Geeks would be happy.

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 19, 2011 @ 7:34 am

  2. Before anybody asks: It is barely possible that Merrill intended his proposal as a satire on women’s fashions, immodesty and the excuses for them. However, if so, it’s almost too perfect. I can’t find any sure whiff of that in his essay and would have a hard time arguing it. The most persuasive evidence for it is that I can hardly believe he was serious, given the ridiculousness of the sketched “vest” — which does kind of look like a manned-up version of women’s wear.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2011 @ 7:36 am

  3. If all the men at church looked like that picture, maybe I wouldn’t complain.

    Comment by Carol — August 19, 2011 @ 7:37 am

  4. It seems that most of the men in my neighborhood have achieved the good professor’s vision, if not quite as fashionably: a wife-beater T, some baggy shorts and a pair of flip-flops, and they’re good for most of the summer. Of course, none of them show up at church–any church–except for an occasional wedding or funeral.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 19, 2011 @ 8:00 am

  5. In 1931 he laid before the world his ideas on men’s fashion

    In what publication did this appear?

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 19, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  6. What a wonderful outfit! Where can I order one?

    Comment by Kaimi — August 19, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  7. I can here Ernest Wilkinson rolling over in his grave.Did Merrill say anything in regards to whether or not men should shave their armpits to accommodate this vest?

    Comment by kevinf — August 19, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  8. I can hear…

    Comment by kevinf — August 19, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  9. My poblem is I can never unsee that. There really needs to be a warning.

    Comment by Dovie — August 19, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  10. Also my PROBLEM is that I can’t spell things correctly.

    Comment by Dovie — August 19, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  11. What are ‘georgettes,’ anyway?

    Comment by Steve — August 19, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  12. I very rarely, if ever, wear a suit to Church during the summer. Short-sleeved shirts and khakis are all I need, though I haven’t convinced my wife about wearing a shirt other than white. According to my in-laws, wearing a (gasp!) blue dress shirt to church is one of the first signs of apostasy.

    Comment by Tyler Andersen — August 19, 2011 @ 11:09 am

  13. So far Kaimi is the only one expressing any interest in adopting this fashion … C’mon, guys, where’s your sense of progress? And ladies, who wouldn’t be proud to stand next to a man so attired?

    “Georgette” is a silky, crepe-y fabric used for dressy blouses. I suppose it’s plural here just as “silks” and “woolens” are sometimes used.

    LL, this comes from an LDS source. I don’t generally give exact citations to make it a little harder for my research (which I do for a living, after all) to disappear into other people’s work. Not that I suppose that this one will be in all that great demand.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2011 @ 11:21 am

  14. No sources, huh? You’re obviously trying to keep this as an underground doctrine. I mean, it’s a BYU professor, so he must have some higher knowledge that he only talks about in the hall.

    Comment by Carol — August 19, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  15. The heat naturally has no way of escape except through the skin of his face – and perhaps his head, if he has been fortunate enough to lose his hair.

    This made my day.

    Comment by Ben Park — August 19, 2011 @ 11:41 am

  16. I love it when posts collide, Carol.

    And Ben, while I can’t find a really good, really revealing photo, this one suggests that Merrill was well on his way to being a fortunate man.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 19, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  17. Personally, I’d settle for just getting rid of neckties!

    Comment by Matt — August 19, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

  18. #4 Mark B: But where do they put their pens?

    Comment by Paul — August 19, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

  19. I Heard it was fun at the ‘Y’ but that was probably the Y M C A.
    …Its fun to stay at the…

    Comment by abertawe — August 19, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  20. Ah, but the real question to ask is; Wearing his proposed clothes, would he have been able to get into the testing center at his beloved BYU?

    Comment by Cliff — August 19, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  21. “The heat naturally has no way of escape except through the skin of his face – and perhaps his head, if he has been fortunate enough to lose his hair.”

    Ah, yes, there’s nothing more fortunate for a man than losing his hair.

    Comment by larryco_ — August 19, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

  22. Call me a Gentile, but am I the only one who thought of the Seinfeld episode with the”Bro/Manzier”?

    Comment by andrewh — August 20, 2011 @ 8:58 am

  23. Since when does a suitcoat improve spirituality? The rule in my mission at zone conferences was that everyone kept their suitcoats on unless the presiding authority removed his. Serving in Northern Mexico, I guess I chose to “often look like a lobster fresh from the pot.”

    Now that I know it’s kosher, I may show up for church next Sunday in a tuxedo vest.

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 21, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  24. THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS. When I am in a stifling suit and tie in the ward building whose air conditioning is faulty at best, I am so jealous of the women in their sandals with lightweight dresses. They aren’t even wearing nylons. I have a low tolerance for heat, I’d rather it 65 than 85. When I rarely do wear a jacket, it immediately goes on the chair beside me.

    Normally I have only shirt and tie on, with my sleeves rolled up. I say we should only have white short sleeve shirts and unbuttoned collars.

    Unfortunately, with the office of the priesthood comes many sacrifices…

    But maybe the Prophet will read this ;-)

    Comment by Casey — August 22, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

  25. Bro… Man-zier… that’s why it never caught on. They couln’t agree on name.

    Comment by Abertawe — August 27, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

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