Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
As many of us know, Past Grand Master Rick Boyles has a positive, fun-loving, but often Puckish, view of the world. Today, Rick provides an offering on Odd Fellows “dress codes” – particularly, the “tuxedo”.
F – L – T
Deputy Grand Master
Like many of us, I come from an era most sensible individuals now realize is long gone. In grade school and high school in my youth most school functions required a dress shirt and tie, and there was often a whole contingent of students who would not attend due to these silly dress requirements. My older sister still laughs at these old dress codes. There was often an alternate party to protest the dress codes where people dressed more normally. This was in the early 1960’s; then the Beatles and the age of rock and roll and society in general have changed the way we now view the world. Now it would be considered goofy to require formal dress at school functions, unless it’s the prom which has become its own sort of parody, where kids spend thousands of dollars for Hummer limousines and tuxedos and dresses in day-glow colors.
The intriguing thing that occurred when the dress code was relaxed back in school was that attendance increased dramatically. That’s right. It was the strict dress code which kept their attendance down. In the Great Depression, in the thirties and before, all men wore suits. Why? Not only was it fashionable but also most men in that day were out of work and wore their Sunday finest in case a job opportunity came their way. In today’s world, almost all are employed and are no longer forced to wear traditional formal attire. In the Bay Area, you would be hard pressed to find any at all still in formal wear on the way to jobs, and virtually no modern tech company enforces a strict dress policy.
And yet, many Odd Fellow functions are still supposed to honor an old style dress code which seems absolutely out of step with the 21st Century. When I joined, I was surprised to hear that I would have to purchase a business suit and tuxedo to be a part of many events. I was stunned. To be frank, I have often had to defend our over-the-top dress habits to prospective members, and I spoke to three prospective members at one time who would not consider joining our order specifically for that reason. Conversely, I have been delighted by our present Sovereign Grand Master who seems to mirror my feelings in this area. Either we begin to emulate society in general or the world is going to pass us by. We must stop trying to reside in the deep past thereby implying it was somehow a more glorious time. In point of fact, it was not a better time, people died at a much younger age, poverty was rampant, and fraternal groups loomed large basically because they were a refuge from the cold world around them.
Then there are other items in our repertoire which are similarly outdated. This aversion toward hats by some is actually contrary to their own idea of a dress code. In the thirties, which some of our old-timers appear to be in favor of, almost all people wore hats and yet now old-timers reject hats yet want all of us to wear thirties-style attire. They are in conflict with their own dress code. I submit that it is not what is outside the man or woman, it is what is inside. The funniest thing is that we have members who wear the most bedraggled suit possible and are accepted while someone who wears an expensive modern outfit is lambasted because they are not dressed like an out-of-work ragamuffin from the 1930s. It’s time to wake up! No one now wear tuxedos to a basic meeting of any type in any other walk of life. The only tuxedos you see are worn to proms or by James Bond playing 5 card stud in Monaco or at a formal White House dinner. No one wears business suits when slacks and a nice shirt would suffice. This is important because we are scaring away prospective members. Look at the extreme examples within our order – the Encampment and Patriarchs Militant, of which I am a member, are almost defunct, yet they have heavy modes of dress requirements. Where else are you required to dress in such a stringent manner?
It’s really come to the point where we must make up our minds how we want to proceed. Do we really think that if we dress like the 1930s in the modern world that we will attract anyone at all? I have spoken to prospective members in their sixties who think this is ludicrous. It’s beginning to be painfully obvious that those who demand heavy modes of dress do not want new members and are doing their level best to keep new members from joining. If we don’t wake up soon, our formal wear will only be most fitting for attending our own funerals. The message we send to the normal onlooker by our antiquated dress codes is that they are not welcome. Do we want new members or not?
In Friendship, Love and Truth, Rick Boyles