The Naked Lapel
The button-hole in the lapel of a man’s suit is a non-functional vestige from the days when coats were buttoned at the neck for warmth. More recently, it has become a wedge issue for personal political ridicule.
Much of my experience with lapel pins came during my memberships in the Jaycees and later in the Rotary Club. I wore both pins proudly, not all the time, usually at events or meetings of either. Lapel pins are seen as unspoken soliloquies proclaiming who we are and what we believe. The most frequently seen are American flags for patriotism and either a cross or a fish for religious affirmation.
I have resisted the urge to wear either a flag or cross on my lapel for several reasons. A lapel pin has the potential of initiating a confrontational conversation, or the viewer may make a hasty assumption that your symbolic display of patriotism and spirituality coincides with his or her definition of those virtues.
Years ago, a manufacturer’s representative making a sales call with me, came in our store wearing a lapel pin that was a gold replica of two tiny feet, the size of those of an unborn at a specific stage of fetal development. One of the television evangelists had sold these for a love offering to support his ministry. I admired the salesman for his courage to risk his commission earnings to express his sincere reverence for life. I could feel the passion in his heart, but I kept seeing the face of a religious demagogue preying upon the fragility of innocence and sincerity. I am concerned that we have allowed preachers and politicians to usurp ownership of the buttonhole to divide our nation.
I am also guilty of using the apparel arts as a platform of opinion. I own seven ties with literary visual images. My favorite middle daughter gave me one that she found at a gift shop, and I ordered six other styles, including one with a Shakespearean theme. I wear one almost every day. It helps promote reading, creative writing, and occasionally gives me an opportunity to sell one of my books. Almost every day, I am blessed with a conversation with someone who finds pleasure in books and education.
Recently, on a visit to a doctor’s office, I did not wear a tie. After I left my house, I had a frightening thought. What if someone sees me not wearing a tie with books on it and wonders if I have lost my love for reading and literature and my support of the literary community?
I don’t own any ties with flags or crosses. Some people do. I do have one tie with flags and donkeys, but that is more of an esoteric tie. I wear it mostly for political gatherings. Actually, I wear the tie to confuse Republicans, many of whom believe that flags and donkeys are in some way mutually exclusive symbols.
The Cross and the Fish, our iconic symbols of Christianity, seem to have relinquished their position in buttonhole advocacy, and moved to a more prominent presence in jewelry and bumper stickers. We should be reluctant to be judgmental. One person’s icon of sincere expression of spiritual advocacy, to the skeptic may be seen as a trinket of vanity, or philosophical ostentation.
The controversy now seems to be focused on the flag pin, or the absence thereof, as a mechanism of political posturing. We are asked to judge our candidates for president by whether or not they are wearing a flag on their lapel. The irony, or fallacy, of symbolic iconography is that when we assign a virtue or evil to a graven ornament, we equally distort the meaning of an unadorned lapel. I don’t know that wearing a symbol on one’s person accurately interprets the content of the heart. We may have taken superficiality to a new depth.
Bill Peach, storyteller and philosopher, resides in Franklin, Tennessee. He is the author of The South Side of Boston, the memoirs of an eight-year-old growing up in the community of Boston, Tennessee, and Random Thoughts, Left and Right, a collection of essays, articles, and short fiction on subjects including organized religion, human rights, the First Amendment, politics, violence, and sexuality. He also published a play, To Think as a Pawn, a study of confrontation and reconciliation between generations with different views of time, religion, and patriotism.