Mario Batali is a disgusting slob. He’s the one who showed up to meet Michelle Obama at the White House garden for a Food Network special wearing his signature Crocs and shorts. At least I hope he was wearing shorts under his chef’s uniform. You would think that most people would have better taste than to wear shoes made out of the same crap as plastic resin chairs. Your first clue should be that both the chairs and the shoes are sold in the same outlets – Walmart and the 99 cent store.
Unfortunately many people see nothing wrong with wearing the most casual attire for any activity. I’m not some relic from the Victorian era lamenting the fact that nobody wears a tie for dinner at home. But I object strongly to people coming to a Broadway show in shorts and flip-flops. Flip-flops have their place – at the beach or by the pool – but I really don’t want to be sitting next to someone who is exposing his dirty, untrimmed toenails. Not on the subway, not in a restaurant, and not in a $160 seat at the theater.
The problem with the new universal casual is that it reduces everything to the mundane. Nothing is special. A performance by Joshua Bell at Carnegie Hall merits the same sweat pants you wear to lounge around at home. The pairing of Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a Sondheim classic requires nothing more formal than what you throw on for morning coffee. Talented people spend a lifetime crafting their skills, then practice and rehearse endlessly, put their soul into giving their audience the best performance possible. That audience spends all of five minutes to dress as if they were doing nothing more important than popping around the corner to pick up a newspaper.
Casual attire is fine in the right places. I even think that we overdress for some things – sitting at a computer in an office cubicle probably should not require a jacket and tie. But let’s at least have a few events that we elevate to a higher level. Think of it as a preservation project.
If Mario Batali wants to dress like a snot nosed kid at the food court in a suburban mall, I suppose he has that right. I hope the rest of us have the self respect to bring a little dignity into our lives – unless, of course, you’re going to dinner at one of Batali’s restaurants.