Over at the American Street I've put up a piece about a trove of photographs that have been unearthed in the Smithsonian's archives -- pictures taken in Dayton, Tennessee, during the Scopes Trial.
Eighty years ago today, in point of fact.
Because the Street's a mostly political sort of place, I kept the subject matter mostly in that sphere, letting H. L. Mencken's scathing essay on William Jennings Bryan, "In Memoriam, W. J. B." do most of my talking.
But over here, since we're making nicey-nice and keeping the polemics down to a dull roar, I thought I'd just dust off a favorite bugbear of mine and take it for a spin.
Let's take a quick gander at young John Thomas Scopes, aged 24, who was the schoolteacher on trial on July 20, 1925:
I put it to you that the straw skimmer hat is the single most beautiful thing ever to adorn the human male head. Look at the utterly insouciant swoosh it makes across the forehead, extending its rakish devil-may-care angle out on both sides of the head. Admire how the angle is echoed by the flat top of the chapeau, the whole thing a celebration of circles and angles and planes and intersections, completed by a wide ribbon hat-band, and worn at an elegant and playful angle.
Of course, walking around looking like John Scopes in that photo today, you might as well be wearing a sign that says "I Like It Rough." But oh, what a country we would be if we could revive a sense of shame in a man if he leaves the house in the morning without a sack suit, brogues, waistcoat with watch chain, shirtfront, string tie and skimmer! What a noble cause it would be to revive social opprobrium for crimes against elegance! A national Jeeves to sniff scornfully at the backwards baseball cap, logo-encrusted leisurewear in the office, the low-rise love-handle, the flip-flop, the peeping tattoo! You're not going out dressed like that, are you?
What, too William F. Buckley? Too Larchmont Lockjaw? Too Lilly Pulitzer?
In Mencken's gloriously vicious essay, he describes meeting Bryan on a street in Dayton the day before the trial, taking care to ridicule "the preposterous country shirt that he wore — sleeveless and with the neck cut very low."
I read that description and realized, "Fuckin' hell -- William Jennings Bryan was wearing a wifebeater!"
Go get 'em, H. L. M.!