Tehran Takes Beijing

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They lack the over-sized suit coat, but they are buttoning the top button. It’s not just these two either. All over Beijing and the world, men are becoming comfortable with this look that was formerly considered too daft or too nerdy. New England mothers used to clip off the top buttons of shirts to make sure their little boys wouldn’t look nerdy, but with a little bit of help from Prada runway shows and certain highly influential subcultures (somebody is bound to bring them up), the buttoned collar now seems linked to a stylish firmness and a confident rejection of needless ornamentation.

Well-known social and literary critic Thomas Meaney has a fun piece on Saddam Hussein’s rejection of the necktie at his trial. It is seen as a symbol of both the cross and, more rationally, westernization. In fact, the top buttoned look is more commonly associated with Iran than Iraq. Iranians sometimes refer to the shah’s rule as “the regime of the Crown and Necktie” and when I was there I noticed countless religious types with styles similar to the young fellows in the photos. Iran is still at the point where leaving three buttons undone shows one’s rebelliousness. The fact that China has made it to the point where buttoning the button is seen as free-thinking is notable indeed.

Saddam did have a square, so clearly couldn’t resist a little ornamentation even at this dire time.

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Isn’t this the truth? This young man spins records and lives in the hutong next to mine and knows why China is big. We can never forget that all of China’s most brilliant moments have come under a strong and unified central government. It is critical that the masses rally behind it.

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