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If you want to understand the cluelessness of the American male when it comes to dress, consider a recent Men’s Wearhouse commercial in which a fellow freaks out simply because he doesn’t know what’s appropriate to wear on Casual Friday. The spot offers an admirably simple solution: collared shirt, slacks, sports coat. Except that for too many American men, nothing that involves a sports coat could ever be considered casual. At the men’s store where I work part time, a young man recently asked me, “Do you have anything more casual?” He was referring to chinos. My mind drifted back to an old Bill Maher crack: “We’re a nation of slobs who won’t be happy until we can go to the mall in a diaper.”

I spent most of the first four decades of my life in Boston before moving to New York, where I’ve lived for nearly 20 years. Boston has a not-undeserved reputation as sartorially challenged. But the current appalling state of American male dress isn’t a matter of geography or class or money. It doesn’t cost much to look decent in this (regrettable) age of disposable fashion chains, and it never has at thrift stores. (At the start of last winter, for example, I nabbed a gray herringbone-tweed sports coat at Goodwill for a whopping $7.99.) It isn’t even about dressing up. You can be presentable in a T-shirt and jeans if they’re clean and fit properly.

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Inevitably, this argument always inspires some inhabitant of a higher spiritual plane to opine that it’s shallow to judge people by how they look. Can a chorus of “Kumbaya” be far behind? If you’re talking about snap judgments based on race or class or physical traits or age, it’s worse than shallow; it’s ignorant. It’s high time we drop the phony idea that how people present themselves says nothing about them. Think of all those novels in which down-on-their-luck old men brush up threadbare suits in an attempt to look respectable. Now, though, it’s considered snobby to think that a guy who shows up to a wake in a coach jacket and athletic shoes could have put in a little effort.

Look back on photos of American men in past decades and you will see plenty of examples of our native casualness. What you won’t see is the present collective surrender to our inner slob. We live in a time when the big success in menswear is a guy who figured out — stop the presses — how to wear shirts untucked. Walk the streets of any American city on a weekend night and you will see carefully dressed young women accompanied by young men in beat-up sneakers, jeans falling off their butts, and untucked shirts that have never seen an iron (the real shvintukhs wear baseball caps). Walk the streets of just about anywhere and look at the hems of men’s trousers. From jeans to business suits, oodles of excess fabric puddle around the ankles. Part of this is simple laziness. Some men don’t bother to try on the clothes they buy, and don’t pay attention to the fit when they do. Others believe that having to wash a garment at the right temperature or iron it is an unreasonable burden.

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It’s not much better among men who make the effort to try on clothing at the store. Many of my customers emerge from the fitting room in a shirt that’s slipping off their shoulders, sleeves hanging past their hands, great flapping swaths of fabric under the arms, only to ask: “Do I need the next size up?” That, of course, stems from the belief that wearing clothes that fit is tantamount to wearing clothes that are too tight, which can be traced back to the general belief that caring about your appearance is an inherently feminine trait. How did that particular canard ever gain traction?

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A real man, we are told, knows how to take care of himself. Why, then, is it considered masculine to remain so utterly clueless about dressing yourself? There’s no shame in asking for advice. But if you start from the belief that the whole enterprise is essentially trivial and resent the time spent doing it — yet insist that you know more than the salesman — well, you will wind up looking like a bumpkin.

If American men no longer care whether their clothes fit, believe it’s too much work to take care of them, don’t realize that some occasions (weddings, funerals, job interviews) entail dressing up, and think they can go on a date in the same outfit they’d wear to watch the game on the couch, I’m not sure they can really be considered adults. In past generations, American men have often led the way in style. Currently, they are leading the way in establishing an empire of slobdom. It doesn’t look good on their resumes.

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Charles Taylor lives in New York. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.