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.