The Bygone Era of Refinement
By Tom Poland
Previous eras impress me. When I tour historic homes, for instance, the refined lifestyle their owners enjoyed stands in marked contrast to lifestyles today. The presence of fine china and sterling silver attest not just to affluence but an appreciation for manners and elegance—and that would be refinement, would it not.
Of course, the people who manage historic manors, estates, and homes put the place’s best foot forward. They bring out the best of everything and conceal lesser things. As Mozart plays in the background, we glimpse a refined life—if we believe what we see and hear, and I do. People lived a more refined life before plastic, jeans, and fast food arrived. Their lifestyle required a lot of work but it was worth it.
Things seem easier today, and I don’t see much refinement, but then I’m a blue-collar writer and it may well be grandeur and refinement exist outside my orbit. However, stay with me a bit. I want to make the case that the rank and file folks of today have little interest in sterling silver and china. It just doesn’t seem that important anymore.
So, tell me, do little girls still ask for tea sets come Christmas? I’d guess they do not. However, I’m pretty sure they select a china pattern when the time comes to walk down the aisle. Are china and silver still a tradition? Do silver and china see grand occasions or is it mainly something carried over from previous times. Just something to see in a fine cabinet?
When I lived in Athens, Georgia, I enjoyed meals with a family who brought out the china and silver. How clearly I recall the homemade mayonnaise served in a crystal dish rimmed by silver. I’m sure such a dish has a name of distinction, but being the blue-collar writer I am, the name eludes me. I’ll call it the mayonnaise dish. That works.
I like to wear bow ties, given the proper occasion. And I mean real bow ties, the kind you tie, which isn’t easy until you get the hang of it. A clip-on bow tie? No way. And I still like to dress up as church goes, although the casual crowd has lured me into lowering the bar a bit. Dropping the bar, it’s epidemic. I recall a corporation I worked for whose leaders decided to go business casual. Not long afterwards, the company circled the drain. A coincidence? I don’t think so. Appearances and protocol seemed diluted and some intangible aspect of discipline and quality suffered in my view.
Refinement translates into power. Can you imagine the late Queen Elizabeth wearing blue jeans to a ceremony or anything for that matter? I can’t. Several years ago, I attended a funeral in Gainesville, Georgia. It was a Saturday and later that afternoon, Georgia was playing Auburn, a home game. I packed a change of game-day clothes but time spent with relatives had me running late. With no time to change, I went to the game wearing a black suit and red-and-black, hand-tied bow tie. To say I stood out is an understatement. As I made my way into the stadium, the crowd parted like the Red Sea. People assumed I was a University of Georgia official. Never have I had an easier time getting to my seats. I made a note of that.
In these casual times, I see all manner of dress and grooming. I see purple hair, pink hair, all manner of body art, and shredded jeans. We live in The Age of Relaxation, and folks have loosened up. I have too. I wear jeans a good bit, but henceforward I’m taking a stand. When it comes to my speaking events in posh surroundings, country clubs, and private venues, I’ll don a suit and hand-tied bow tie. It’s not an era, just my Moment of Refinement, my refusal to lower the bar.