MPB is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!



May 29, 2013

Should We Dress Better?



Are we a "nation of slobs"?

Erica thinks so and I'm inclined to agree.  (Of course, compared to ever-elegant Erica, even my cousin Cathy might be considered a bit of a fright some days.)

I read an argument similar to Erica's last week over at SewingArtistry.com.  In fact, this topic rears its bedraggled bed-head regularly, and it's always worth revisiting if only for the fun of hearing what people think and reading all those you'll-never-believe-what-I-saw-being-worn-in-church/Walmart/my daughter's prom anecdotes.

Here's my take, and it's probably not typical, since I live in the center of a big city so am exposed to a very wide range of types of dress, none overwhelming the others:  

I do not care how other people dress. 

If it makes you feel good to wear gorgeous clothes, whether you've made them yourself or bought them ready-to-wear, wear them and I'll appreciate them.  I love to see people dressed up.

If, on the other hand, clothes are not your thing and you really can't be bothered to care what others may think of you (and they may think nothing at all), then wear what you like.  I'm not offended by sloppiness (though poor personal hygiene can be unpleasant on a crowded subway).  It's not your job to make me happy with the way you present yourself and vice versa.  I'm often quite sloppy myself.

HOWEVER --

The way we dress is a reflection not only of how we see ourselves, but also of how we feel about our community.  With the exception of a few isolates, most of us have interactions with others every day.  We live in the world, even if we don't know many people in it.  Dressing in a way that makes others comfortable is a way of acknowledging that we are social animals and of showing appreciation for our community.  Same goes with dressing to suit the occasion (attending a religious ceremony, the opera, dinner at a restaurant, wedding, etc.).

If we feel alienated by, or invisible in our community, we may choose to express this in the way we dress.  Perhaps we reject society's values so we dress in an intentionally provocative way. That's our prerogative.  But at a certain point, when everybody adopts a similar I-don't-care-what-you-think-of-me posture, we're left with a society full of people who have no sense of the public sphere or feel part of a community.  That's pretty much where we are today in many, many places.  It's not just clothes, either, it's also the way we use our phones and other technology in public, how we behave while watching a movie at a theater, or the volume of our conversation at a restaurant.

It's usually up to a community's elders to pass these values along, but these days, most elders don't dare speak up, often with good reason (fear).

Ms. Spears: contemporary celebrity role model.

If you live in a place where there are very few public spaces -- sidewalks, parks, benches, etc. -- you may not understand why you would bother thinking about dressing for others or behaving in a particular way solely out of respect.  (I do not believe that dressing or behaving poorly has as much to do with a lack of self-respect as much as respect for others.)

When my mother first interviewed for teaching jobs in the Nineteen-fifties, she was expected to wear a hat and gloves to her interviews.  She is relieved that that is no longer the expectation.  I grew up in the Sixties and Seventies; you could wear whatever you wanted.  That's my normal.  Do I sometimes wish people dressed up more in public again?  Sometimes, but not usually.  That expectation came with a lot of pressure -- you didn't really have a choice -- and who needs that?







It does seem unfortunate that many people no longer know how to identify good fit, or quality construction or fabric.  We've lost a great deal of this kind of cultural knowledge -- the stuff we took for granted a few generations ago (and which was often taught in school).  It's not coming back.

We live at a time when our culture (I'm talking about the USA though I think this applies to much of the West) is focused primarily on the self: my happiness, my self-expression, my potential, my taxes, what feels right to me, etc.  We do not live in a culture that stresses the group, i.e, what benefits the most people, even if it's at a cost to a number of individuals within the group -- which is what helps to create a cohesive society/community.

Cultures like that, however (and most traditional cultures are still this way) can often be oppressive to any one deemed "other" living within them; these people may be shunned or worse.  But these cultures do create a sense of unity, safety, and comfort for the majority.  I guess we need to find a happy medium.

So should we dress better?  (Ironically, dressing better these days may be just the provocative, in-your-face way of rejecting the contemporary value of comfort-above-all-else that reigns supreme.)

You've heard my position, what's yours?

Photo courtesy of Shorpy.com

75 comments:

  1. I think you may have hit on this subject before, but from a slightly different angle, as the subject was about wearing cheaply made ready wear. We wear what we can afford and somehow it seems acceptable to go on spending sprees of very cheap, but flavor-of-the-week clothing.
    I don't really care what others wear, either, unless it is traditional church service (as opposed to "casual service"), weddings and funerals. Women should own at least one black dress and presentable shoes, and men should own one nice fitting suit jacket, pair of slacks, and, again a presentable pair of shoes.
    Even in a rural setting, these items should be a part of everyones wardrobe. Jeans do not belong in every setting. I am one to judge. Sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, I think we should dress better...am I glad no one is forcing me to, you bet!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have weird mixed feelings about this. The fact that People of Wal-Mart (no, I'm not hyperlinking) even exists says bad things about . . . well, honestly, a very small percentage of America. On the other hand, I think Americans also get short shrift simply for being Americans, and especially for being ordinary workaday Americans. Half the stuff that the Sartorialist admires so much I am convinced would get slammed if it were photographed in suburban Milwaukee instead of New York, Milan, Barcelona, or Paris. "If You're Thinking About . . . Plaid" pretty much looks like 1994; Mexico City looks like I do on a Saturday when I have a lot of laundry to do and no reason to leave the house, except my sneakers are cleaner; and when normal people dress like "West Village, New York", we're accused of giving up, except here she's "cool and comfy".

    So, while I dress worse than I wish I did, I also sometimes think that I'm perceived as dressing even worse than that because I'm an ordinary, middle-class, American.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Peter, I live in New Mexico. And here, anything goes! Seriously. I grew up in Ohio but I would say that my sense of "appropriateness" is purely southern due to my heritage, and I have been shocked and scandalized a number of times since I've been living out west. However, I think I am acclimating, to the point that I am no longer certain whether or not a societal dress code is still relevant. This is a far cry from my life 10 years ago when I was attending a college that has a "dress tradition" (not quite a dress code). The guys wore blazers and ties to class most days, while the ladies typically wore dresses or, at the least, nice slacks. Jeans were not OK! Now I work in an office where the administrative assistant spends every afternoon in skin tight leggings and tank tops after her lunch time work out, and no one bats an eye. We have our company's holiday party every year at the fanciest hotel in Santa Fe and all the men (and even some women) wear jeans! I don't think that would be considered ok in most other parts of the country, even NYC. I, for one, feel much more comfortable in a cocktail dress, so that is what I wear. I've been to weddings where the bride is in a full length ball gown and some of the guests are in shorts and plaid shirts. That said, its taken about 6 years, but I am pretty well done with judging people for what I perceive as their lack of appropriateness with regard to dress. Turns out that I'm the only freak around here that cares about what she wears, and I'm ok with that! In New Mexico, we do what we want.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love New Mexico, and the freedom to dress however you want is one of the reason I love the state so much... I love that clean jeans and a bolo tie qualify as "dressed up" almost anywhere in the state.

      Delete
  5. I don't tend to care about how other people dress, but there are certain occasions where the way you dress expresses something more than just the way you present yourself to strangers. If your job demands you to interact with other people, or if you work for a company with a clear and specific image, it only seems logical to take care in your outfit choice. Same thing when you go to a family gathering, a wedding, a funeral or a party: the way you present yourself in these circumstances probably means something to the other people present, so you take it into consideration. This seems to be something that has turned a bit vague recently, and that saddens me a bit... I hear people wonder if they can wear jeans to a wedding, and recently argued with my own brother who wanted to wear linen pants and a plaid flannel shirt to our grandfather's funeral. The sense of how to dress for specific occasions seems to be disappearing, and at the same time people are looked at funnily when they do 'dress up' (I rarely wear pants, always skirts and dresses, and get loads of comments on that, even if it qualifies as casual wear for me). If people constantly wonder why you are wearing 'fancy clothes' I can imagine getting discouraged...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just some examples of what I mean with people not knowing how to dress anymore: going to a fancy restaurant on a Saturday night and seeing young couples in sweatpants, dining. Working at a post office with another girl and hearing her wonder out loud why our boss thought her tube top and flip-flops weren't appropriate for work. My other brother who thought shorts and an old t-shirt was appropriate attire for an oral exam. People in pyjamas going to the store.

      Delete
  6. There is a CBS Sunday morning interview/story on this very subject that I recently posted on the I Love My Dressmaker web page. Lots of fuel for conversation there!
    https://www.facebook.com/ILoveMyDressmaker/posts/10151904961116521

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is the story that prompted the discussion on Erica's blog....it's very thought provoking.

      Delete
  7. Another thought-provoking post Peter, thanks! I'm participating in Me-Made-May for the first time, and how I dress, the daily choices I'm making, how it makes me feel, and noticing the reactions of others (if there is any at all) has been an interesting experiment in awareness all month, so your post is timely for me.

    Your take on dressing poorly having more to do with a lack of respect for others than self-respect is interesting - I think both are at equally viable, but that it starts with the self.

    As I said, food for thought, and I intend to blog about my own observations around this issue as part of a MMMay wrap-up. Thanks for handing me more to think about!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have mixed feelings on the subject. I normally dress a bit to go into public view but not nearly as much as once was the case. On the flip side it's kind of nice when slapping paint on a wall or doing some manual labor to be able to just go get something you desperately need without a makeover redo.People of walmart have removed a lot of the dress code standards so no matter what you wear there will probably be worse there to take the attention away from what ever you have on. In our little town in the 70s you had to be fully dressed to be waited on or you might stand there forever in the clothing/shoe stores and maybe even if you were appropriately dressed get the snub if someone more important came in. I am ok with wearing whatever and everybody else doing the same and lining up in the checkout aisles. I just wish some of them would put more of whatever they choose on as I hate seeing a wide expanse of torso flashing every one else.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think people equate "dressing up" with discomfort, and there's some truth to that, especially with regard to the shoes! So for me, I always have to think about whether I'll be able to walk comfortably, and that generally means not dressing up so much that my comfortable shoes look weird. I always have this problem when I go to NYC.

    And then, the dressier silhouettes generally involve more structured garments (with linings, etc.), which are certainly not as comfortable to wear as softer, looser clothing, and these are also more difficult to fit.

    I don't care that much what other people wear, though it is kind of sad to go to a wedding, for example, and see people wearing jeans and T-shirts when that's such a great opportunity to wear something more fun.

    ReplyDelete
  10. It does seem people have embraced the "anything goes" attitude when it come to dress. I recently attended a wedding that was supposed to be semi-formal and about half the guests showed up in jeans and workout wear (men and women).

    While I don't advocate returning the days of always wearing a hat and gloves, I do think it would be nice if people would at least leave the pajama pants at home and stop showing their undies to the world. And half-exposed backsides are not a good look for either sex.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "Dressing up" has always been enjoyable to me. Maybe because I equate it with something special, like a night out, wine tasting, weddings, or even a job. Yes, I loved some jobs I had with a strict dress code. Dressing in slacks and a nice shirt always feels good.
    When we went to a five stat restaurant last year with a dress code, the whole night felt "cheapened" due to other patrons wearing shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. Why we're these people let in? I guess the almighty dollar has final say. I don't go to Church or Sunday meetings often. I like one religion in town because everyone dresses appropriately because it shows respect. Unlike the faith I was raise where flip flops and shorts are the norm.
    Good for you Peter! Great subject.

    ReplyDelete
  12. All I know is that I wish girls were still made to wear dresses and skirts to school. Call it gender inequality if you will but I LOVE wearing skirts and dresses (much prefer them over pants) and literally every time I wear one I get asked questions like, "oh what's the special occasion?", "why are you all dressed up?", "what's going on today?", "why did you wear a skirt?" etc and I hate it! It makes me feel really stupid, like I shouldn't be wearing a skirt or something.
    I want the 50s back!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if you're familiar with Pinup Girl Clothing, but they have a website called Pinup Girl Style for fans of their clothing with different discussion groups. In those groups I've heard many women of all ages and backgrounds lament that when they wear their retro clothing and do their hair and makeup they get comments and looks similar to the ones you've mentioned. It's not an uncommon thing, and I agree that it's a bizarre attitude. The up side to this is that the same women often say that they get many compliments from older men and women who say things like, "It's so nice to see someone dressed nicely/appropriately/well/etc.".

      Delete
    2. I don't gawk if I see women in 50s attire, I live in New York and am accustomed to seeing everything and anything.

      But I don't understand it. I find the fashions singularly unflattering and the loving evocation of what was the most repressive era in recent American history is what I consider the bizarre attitude.

      Delete
    3. I'm going to have to disagree! I am thrilled that girls can wear whatever they want to school, including pants. Some girls like skirts, some don't; some want to be feminine, some want to be tomboys!

      Delete
    4. I agree with Gauss and Anonymous above. I'm happy to see that girls are allowed the same freedom to wear comfortable clothing as boys.

      And why the discomfort with people asking you why you're dressed up? If you want to wear a dress or skirt while others don't, why not own up to it? Why coerce others to dress as you do so that you won't stand out?

      As for the question of "why are you dressed up", my daughter got this same question all the time at her college dorm where she was voted "best dressed" and had the best answer to this: "I'm dressing up for life". And that reflects my feelings about dressing up as well; I dress well to celebrate the day. Every day.

      Delete
  13. I agree with you. Those gorgeous black and white photos are so very beautiful because people did care about how they dressed and everything else. They bothered to put a hat and gloves on each time they left the house. I would like to up the way I dress when leaving the house even if it's the same outfit, I need to get off the tshirt and jeans train and try to lift my self up...kinda like Brittney should be lifting up herself up...in more ways than one! We have accepted pure outdoor slobs though. I agree, I do NOT want to see your underwear. How terrible. Even during the Great Depression when people had literally nothing they kept their dignity and integrity. All the people in bread lines wore suits and hats.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've been to funerals where people were wearing cutoffs, tank tops, and flip flops.

    I'm glad that there is freedom to wear what you want, but not happy about how many people abuse this freedom. Mostly I wish people would cover more of their flesh (BS's tats peeking out look like pubic hair). I agree that the clothing you wear shows respect/disrespect to those around you, but I also think it affects how you feel about yourself. (BS's attire screams mental illness to me.)

    I lot of people dress in a way that says FU to the world. When I see someone over 25 dressed that way, I just think it's time they give up their immature ways. People have the right to wear what they want, but I also have the right to judge them for it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. My twenty something nephew has rediscovered the late 60s. His hair is long, he wears dirty jeans, t-shirts and rope sandals. He did wear a jacket to a recent wedding, and put his hair back in a pony tail. His mother despairs, and he doesn't seem to care. He and his like-minded girl friend (Aurora) want to move to the Pacific northwest. His parents have told him that in order to find decent work he may have to cut his hair - at least for the interview. He claims he finds it appalling that employers would judge him for his appearance (how long does it take for kids figure all that out?) but so desperately wants to live out there he might temporarily succumb. He is generally good kid and smart. His new dress code hit late in college, when most kids are moving the other way, and shows no sign of changing. (And I don't think it can be called a lack of concern - it is a very deliberate choice of clothes and appearance). I can't figure out if it is lack of respect for people around him, a true lack of common sense, or just stubbornness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not knowing your nephew but having a brother who dresses in his own way, I think it's probably mostly stubbornness. My brother is 39 but has always been a fan of 2nd hand clothing (ripped or not) and accessorizing with safety pins. His look is usually 1/4 goth/alternative, 1/4 punk, 1/4 'street', and 1/4 individualist. He buys pretty much all of his clothing at Goodwill and many of the pieces are really quite good (Gucci loafers, anyone?). It's in the way that he puts them together that makes people question his 'look'. He's the only person I know who can wear a shirt with French cuffs, 3-pc. suit and tie and still look like he just pulled random garments off of a rack. He's been this way since high school and I'm pretty sure he's not planning on changing.

      As for moving to the PNW, I live in WA and my daughter's pre-k teacher was a guy with a ponytail (and a degree in early elementary education) and my son had a classroom helper in his preschool class who routinely dressed in ripped tights, shorts and Doc Martens shoes. No one batted an eye about it. They're way more laid-back about dressing out here. Unless he plans on working in a suit and tie corporate-type of environment, very few people will care about how long your nephew's hair is.

      Delete
    2. It could be independence. it sounds as if he's living out his code, which holds that people shouldn't judge others on appearance. I sort of admire him, even though it doesn't sound as if he makes a very nice appearance and it may cost him some jobs.

      The Pacific Northwest is far more casual. I have a friend who lives in Oregon and I'm always telling her that it costs much more for a professional to dress in New York.

      Delete
  16. I too have mixed feelings about this subject. I like seeing people look nice, but I don't necessarily think that looking nice and being "dressed up" are the same things. Especially when it comes to those who think that "dressing up" is about wearing a dress for a woman or wearing a suit and tie for a man - to my mind there is a reason why this idea is antiquated. You couldn't get anything done in those types of clothes! I don't want to clean house in a dress, but then again, I don't want to always look like a slob when I do clean house. So I agree, finding a happy medium is important.

    I have to admit though that the amount of women here in Utah wearing skin tight black leggings (like exercise or yoga pants) is indeed, appalling!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you lived in those antiquated times, you would change into a "house dress" for cleaning. ;-)

      Delete
    2. I wear a dress everywhere except at the gym. I wear an old dress when I'm doing housework. Living in the tropics, I find dresses much more comfortable than pants.

      Delete
  17. I could give a rip less how people dress. I am not one to judge by one's appearance, but I will by their actions.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I could not agree more with everything you've said. I can't speak poorly of others and how they choose to dress, to each their own. If dressing up to the nines in vintage attire every time you leave the house is your things--good for you. If you're a jeans and tee kind of person--good for you, too. We can't all obsess on the same things!

    I think the point that I take away is that we could all care just a little more (and some of us a whole LOT more), myself included. Thanks for the reminder that dressing well is an art and one that shouldn't be lost in the past. And that it isn't (and doesn't need to be) important to everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Here in the states it's just as bad. BTW, love the dress. So beautiful. The fox, while so appropriate for the time, isn't my favorite, but add a mink stole and you've got me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. I appreciate your perspective on this. Since I make clothes for fun, I'm probably guilty of spending too much time thinking about clothing.

    For me it comes down to respect. I try to present myself in a way that is mindful and respectful of the the people and environment around me, and do sometimes wish people cared a little bit more about how they present themselves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wholeheartly concur,....succinctly put my friend !!!!!
      Steve

      Delete
  21. I started dressing down when I started having to wear scrubs/pajamas to work for my new career. One my body grew to fit my scrubs and two dressing up didn't seem so important once I got an insight into how much people truly suffer.

    Now a days I'm making more of an effort but it's still very california casual

    ReplyDelete
  22. I think that overall people don't understand the importance of clothing and the message that it sends, mostly because, as you've pointed out, there seems to be an emphasis on the individual. I personally don't care what people wear, as long as it's not disruptive to the environment. I don't care if (for example) a woman has a short skirt on, but I don't want her to bend over in it if it means I'll know what color her underwear is. I don't care about baggy pants on men but I don't want to see someone's boxers on display, even if he's wearing briefs under them. By the same token, I think extra unnecessary cleavage or super-short shorts aren't too much of a big deal but a person who wears a really revealing garment has to take ownership of the fact that they might receive comments that they don't like hearing. They are, after all, making a choice to dress that way.

    Having said all that, there should be (and I think there generally is) some basic understanding of what is appropriate in certain circumstances and people who don't have that understanding need to get it. Moms should not dress in overtly sexy outfits and dads shouldn't wear t-shirts with suggestive slogans or images when volunteering at their child's school, for example. Why? It's embarrassing to the child and can be distracting to the classroom. The same goes for teachers. People who are interviewing for corporate jobs should plan to dress according to how they think their potential boss will dress. You can always dress more casually later on if the office environment is more casual. The fact of the matter is, life in general isn't about the individual but about how the individual fits into society and plays his/her role.

    Clothing traditionally has defined and continues to define many roles in society and while that's not as true now as it was 40 or 50 years ago, some things still apply. My husband is a military physician - when he's at work he has pretty much 2 options for dress. ACUs or dress blues, though the dress blues have 2 versions, 1 with jacket, tie and long-sleeved shirt and the other with short sleeved shirt, no jacket and no tie. Occasionally he may have a 3rd option of scrubs, but that's it. His position and job define what he wears and because of that people know how to address him and know where they stand in relation to him (rank, job, etc.). Some military clinics have civilian physicians who work in them and they are identifiable by the fact that they wear civilian clothing. Their relationship to most of their patients is therefore different (no rank and sometimes they aren't as familiar with the military system in general) and patients speak to them in a more casual way. Recently some clinics on various bases have allowed their staff to have a 'civilian clothing' day, sort of like casual Friday. For many patients it's confusing to see a military doctor at work when s/he isn't in uniform, mostly because it can blur the status of the doctor in regard to the patient, particularly if the doctor says "Hi I'm Dr. So-and-so" instead of "Hi, I'm Col. So-and-so". How does a private know that this isn't a civilian? Just because an officer is in civilian clothing doesn't mean you get to stop calling him/her sir/ma'am when you address them. Personally, I prefer to see the military docs in uniform so I know who and what I'm dealing with.

    All this isn't to say I think that people can't have a signature 'look'. But there's a difference between having a 'look' and adapting it to your environment and wearing anything without caring a whit what anyone thinks.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I definitely agree with you that people choosing comfort over all other factors seems to reveal a lack of respect for others or sense of belonging to their community.

    When you consider the youth-culture that drives much of fashion and style, and that the "elders" of the current youth-culture are the same generation of the '60's or '70's that led a rebellion against the straight-laced gloves and hats of their own elders, it's no wonder that the cultural knowledge of what "should" be worn on various occasions has been lost. Add to that the often-found belief that "designer" or "brand name" is the same as "well-dressed" and that many brands offer a line of casual clothing (possibly with the label's name printed across the back of the sweat pants) and it's really no wonder that casual clothing has become the norm for all occasions.
    Would it be nice to see more people "dressed up" on a daily basis? Sure it would, but I'm not in charge of that. I guess it will depend how rebellious everyone starts to feel against their yoga pants and those who wear them.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm all for freedom, though I agree that showing your underwear or other things that should be private is just rude.

    Dressing nice to me means neat, attractive, covered appropriately to the setting, clean, well-groomed. This look can be had with sweats or jeans, depending on the setting. I hate to see jeans or sweats at church or in a nice restaurant.

    Unfortunately, for me, dressing up means effectively becoming useless. I remember being dressed up for church, with my hair in freshly brushed curls, little white gloves, hat and pretty dress-- and being bored out of my mind because a girl can't *do* anything dressed that way except passive stuff or the clothes could be ruined. Not even read the newpaper (which comes off on your hands/gloves.) Unfortunately, this started a life-long dread of dressing up.

    I cheerfully ignore this dread for weddings, funerals, concerts, clubs, etc., though the shoes hurt and the fabrics aren't comfortable, I do it because I enjoy making the hosts and other guests happy. I also love seeing other folks dressed up. I just wish I was as pretty as Cathy!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I loved the discussion on Erica's blog.....and I'l say the same thing here I did there. It is how we think of others that dictates how we dress. It's an extension of manners (also falling by the wayside) that shows others we respect them. You don't have to be au couture to look nice. Just something appropriate to the occasion (and yes, grocery shopping is an occasion) and respectful. Brush you hair, put on your decent jeans and clean top showing others that they are worth at least that much effort. In the day of those black and whites, people didn't have a closet full of clothes....just one good outfit to step out in that was meticulously cared for. I have to wonder, if we aren't willing to even put decent attire for others, what does that say about how we feel about ourselves?

    ReplyDelete
  26. I was just thinking about this yesterday when I saw a particularly badly dressed older woman at Walmart. She had very skinny, wrinkly legs and was wearing a very short hot pink knit dress. In fact I'm almost sure the "dress" was meant to be a top.

    I have considerable inner conflict about this sort of thing. On the one hand, I do think people should wear whatever they want and it's nobody else's business. I admire people who have the courage to dress outrageously. But on the other hand, I hate sloppiness. If a person looks like they don't care I definitely do look down on them. I can't help it. I don't expect everyone to dress up to go to Walmart but I do expect people to at least look like they own a mirror.

    I do expect people to dress up for weddings and funerals and hardly anyone does anymore. It's a sign of respect. It shows that you care enough to put on something nice.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I think how others dress is their business, and it doesn't bother me. I dress according to the occasion. I remember family coming to visit me in Las Vegas. They were so disappointed when they went to the casinos and saw people in track suits. They were romanticized by the 1960's Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra Las Vegas. My two sisters are always impeccable dressed, whether it is casual or special occasion. They absolutely love clothes. I don't love clothes in the same way. My relatives always dressed well. However, they had fewer outfits. If I go to a wedding then I will dress up out of respect for the occasion. Same as any other function, apart from that I wear casual.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Even though people will say that they are just not concerned about the image they project with their clothing and grooming, they nonetheless have a specific effect they are going for. It's not just scruffy and dressed down, it's scruffy and dressed down in a specific way or specific brands. It's still coded communication about how you identify yourself. So I think we've exchanged one set of dress standards for another.

    For example, "mom" jeans. You wouldn't hear people deriding someone else for wearing sloppy or faded or ill-fitting jeans. But woe be unto the woman (or president) who wears a pair of jeans that come above the navel: then she is out of touch and has let herself fall behind the times completely.

    This paradox makes me think that the argument that people just can't be bothered with concerning themselves with standards of dress is an unconscious smokescreen for other motivations. Mostly I think the "average American" dresses in an average American uniform of t-shirts, jeans and athletic footwear because it is psychologically comfortable to blend in. The physical comfort is just a side benefit, and maybe not always really as much of a benefit as people think. Nothing is as comfortable as a dress to me. I go through periods of wearing jeans and then I realize they make me terribly physically uncomfortable.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I don't have anything to add - you've summed up my thoughts very well.
    In my social circle, the norm is very very casual/outdoorsy, and somewhat frumpy. Obviously taking care of your appearance is frowned upon. So, ironically, wearing a suit or a nice dress is very rebellious !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was thinking the same thing when reading people's comments here... it would be interesting if the new form of teenage rebellion against their parents would be dressing better than mom and dad! haha (Because dressing bad is the norm in contemporary society.)

      Delete
  30. While I believe everyone should dress like they want, I do believe that people should dress according the occasion or place they will be attending.

    I only wear work-out wear at home. I encourage my children to do the same. I wear nice clothes - not Sunday dresses - for going out to errands. Dirty clothes are a no-no and so is looking unkempt.

    I teach in high school and I try to dress professionally (and never like my students) - and I teach my children that they should dress in good clothes for school - the standard is jeans, nice t-shirts or other shirts, and nice shoes. All those are they choices - They all have a basic style uniform they prefer - which is fine - but no work-out wear or sloppy or pajamas allowed.

    When we dress accordingly, we act accordingly. So, while it may kill to be in gloves and white hat - it helps us to remember how to act in that situation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do believe that people should dress appropriately, but am not at all sure that dress always affects performance. I don't think I write any better for being dressed up and more uncomfortable than when I'm in my more slouchy clothes.

      Delete
    2. I agree wholeheartedly, Lady Jenn.

      I too wear comfy clothes at home, like yoga pants and sweat shirts. When I leave my house, I change clothes.

      Although I'm well behaved in any outfit, I do feel different in a becoming dress with matching shoes and purse. It's like I enjoy being civilized more when I look elegant.

      So far I haven't quite found a solution yet for looking elegant in the winter, though. I have yet to find cardigans or sweaters that are as warm as my hoodies, lol.

      Delete
  31. I'm of two minds, it's very pleasant to see well turned out people, but I agree with Thoreau,, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.

    The cost, financial, psychological and in terms of effort to look good is often too high, especially for women. To the unending quest to find clothes that fit, even if they are ridiculously overpriced, add the cost and effort of grooming.

    What I truly cannot stand are tattoos. I've tried, but I don't get them. I hate it when they can't be covered up. I also don't like body modifications. They gross me out.

    Another pet peeve: manicures. I never understood the French Manicure: How is that supposed to make the nails look cleaner when a substance has been painted on the nails? I don't like nail art, especially the examples with sequins and other stuff inlaid on the nail.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Thank you, Peter, for reminding us what so many bloggers forget when they say we need to dress better: if we are required and expected to dress up, we are under many restrictions and a lot of pressure. I get so tired of hearing people write about how we used to dress so much better in the past (usually the 40s and 50s are mentioned). Yes, maybe... but women had to wear gloves and hats and girdles.

    Do I want to see people looking like slobs on the street? No, but I am glad that we have a choice. Maybe Ms. Spears was having a particularly bad day; maybe she had a raging cold while her kids were also sick and she HAD to get some food. Ok, maybe not, but I'm very happy I can look like a slob once in a while.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I dress to suit myself, but there is a limit to what I think is appropriate. I do not want to see men's underwear for one, and even less do I want to see what is supposed to be covered by men's underwear. That is a lot different than my wearing a near the ankle hemline or a funny hat. One good thing about old traditional standards and church attendance meant that a husband had to provide at least one good outfit and a good pair of shoes for his wife and children per year. That is something that was a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I love to 'dress'. Some years ago I toned down my look, being tired of constantly asked why I was 'dressed up'. I am only just old enough to say that's how I was raised. You didn't leave the house looking sloppy, even to walk the dog.

    A doctor with whom I work told me a story. She said that when she gave university lectures to the medical students wearing her sari she gained more respect than when she wore western garb. Interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  35. ;-) and to add more to the confusion:
    We still have to overcome the 'cross-cultural/global-preferences' !
    Don't you remember: Australia vs. America (in colour boldness) ;-) ?
    Even if the two of us might agree on something: we might be toootally 'out' with this in Europe (thanks god vice versa at times as well ;-) !)

    But as a general desire of mine:
    I'd appreciate more than only Jeans and T-Shirts - despite them definitely having their merits.

    Loving greetings from OZ - hope you've been a good boy since my last visit here and you didn't do much worse than I did myself (= huuuge scope warranted with this sentence ;-) )

    Gerlinde

    ReplyDelete
  36. I am probably one of the biggest offender. But my answer is a resounding, YES!

    I think we are a nation who has lost self respect.

    ReplyDelete
  37. One reason I like to watch "The Good Wife" is the tasteful suits the women characters wear. I'd dress like that every day if I had time to make a wardrobe of tailored jackets. In fact, that is my dream---- but I won't have that much time until I retire. (!). Thank you, Peter, for a very fine essay.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hey Peter. I did a "spin off" (if you will) of Erica B's post and related it to the workplace. I guess because I'm out there doing the daily grind and work in a female dominated industry. Thankfully, our blogs are our opinions and not necessarily the opinion of others:

    http://sewwithwannasew.blogspot.com/2013/05/casual-day-casualty-in-workplace-and.html

    ReplyDelete
  39. I dress to suit myself. At the weekend this is often (but not always) jeans and casual tops. At work, I also dress to suit myself. Often a suit or variation on the theme. I adapt it for comfort (smart knit tops with a skirt and jacket). There is of course a cross over with dressing for others - the suit at work helps to present a professional image, and I dare say I am taken a bit more seriously than if I turned up in shorts and a T shirt. But there is also an element where I take myself a bit more seriously and feel a tad more professional when I look the part. Some of this may be because I originally trained as a lawyer (and had my first court appearances in the days when judges could, and did, tell female counsel that they couldn't be "seen" if they had the temerity to appear in even tailored trousers. But I suspect some of it is that if I look the part, I feel the part. I wear more conservative variations on the theme when i am dealing with members of parliament; accent my outfit with red when i want to have more impact during a presentation; and more casual gear when I am meeting with community representatives and want to express my capacity to empathise with them.

    Being comfortable in our clothes is in part due to fit, but also how we feel we fit into the context. Whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, what we wear always makes a statement. We just need to be conscious that our clothes are saying what we want them to say.

    ReplyDelete
  40. part of the problem is also money. I assume that it's not so much of a problem in NYC, but in suburbia in the middle of nowhere it requires a bit more commitment. The shops are mostly chain stores and the second hand stores leave a bit to be desired. Also peoples understanding of what is appropriate clothing varies. I have some really large relatives that put on some ill fitting silk suit that I find much more offensive, that someone turning up in jeans to a wedding.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I try to look nice. I'm not high fashion or anything, but I try to wear things I like, and still look neat and appropriate for the situation. I think that is what is missing these days: any sense of dressing (or sometimes behaving!) appropriately for the place and company one finds oneself in. Our culture is increasingly casual, but casual doesn't have to mean sloppy or overexposed. I think a lot of it is, people don't know how to behave in public anymore. (When is it ever appropriate to wear a t shirt with the F word on it out in public? That just seems immature to me, like a teenager acting out to show how non-conformist they think they are. Except, these are adults and really should know better.)

    I think the paradox is that many of us have so much clothing that we don't value what we have. Most of it is badly made and ill-fitting because no one ever taught many of us the basics of how clothes should fit, or how to buy quality and take care of it. It's all cheap, throw away stuff.

    I've also had the experience of being singled out for making a little effort. It's odd. My husband and I recently attended a funeral for a family member. He wore a suit and I wore a dress and low heels, nothing fancy but neat and we thought, appropriate. But we were the only ones there dressed like that. People kept asking us why we were "so dressed up." But since we had driven several hours to get there, we had nothing to change into, even if we had wanted to.

    ReplyDelete
  42. My son is almost 21. He also has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. This means (in case you -or your readers-don't know) that he doesn't pick up on social cues the way non-Aspies do; he tends to be a bit of a loner, except in relation to his particular obsession which happens to be trains (particularly steam engines, and within that subset, particularly Victorian (Australian) ones).
    Your comment, "If we feel alienated by, or invisible in our community, we may choose to express this in the way we dress." really shone a light for me on why he dresses the way he dresses. His clothes are rarely clean or tidy and he wears the same style of clothes pretty much every day (I'm not inclined to ask him about whether they're actually the same clothes.) He also says he just doesn't understand why I would want to have different styles of clothes to wear for different situations or occasions. Ah the joys of being an Aspie's mum, who loves fashions of the 50s!

    ReplyDelete
  43. @ Jen in OZ

    Funny you come up with 'this theme' in connection with Aspergers, since in this 'Disorder scheme' it's a lot about calming habits, reliability and definitely not much changes.
    Can you try to 'mantra' into him to please accept and stick to 'The contents' of your clothes since this might bring quite some 'calm' to him?

    LG, Gerlinde

    I myself go occasionally 'fishing' for a chat in being dressed up a bit fancier. You know: Australia = densitiy to catch somebody for the task ... might be sown a bit thin at times ;-)



    ReplyDelete
  44. I live in Hartford CT and I've seen many young women in their flannel pajamas (most of which doesn't look clean) downtown on Main St.and can't help but wonder why??!!

    ReplyDelete
  45. I dress for myself. I try not to judge people by how they dress as I have certainly been on the receiving end of being judged myself. I live in an area where people dress extremely casual for most occasions. I do love to see people dressed sharp and that can mean many different things but I also appreciate individual expression. I do think that lots of times when people do attempt to dress up they miss the mark because they don't maybe realize that they should iron their clothes or have the right hem lengths on pants and jackets, these little details do catch my eye. But, I grew up in household with a mother that always overdressed, would never let us wear wrinkled clothes and that sewed.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I am one step away from turning 30 and what bothers me the most, and I do consider my self to be a young person, is that people junior to me have no respect to occasions and places they are going.
    For example - wearing jeans and stretched out sweater to opera, wearing a fancy evening gown to uni graduation (we do not gaps and gowns here)
    I try to dress acording to the occasion. I've had great teachers - my gran, who grew up during the war and post war and my dad, who is a military officer. I know what length dress is appropriate to an after lunch afair and so on...
    I think that they should start teaching etiquette in schools...js!

    ReplyDelete
  47. I have been ranting about this topic on my blog.

    http://www.lynnspace.com/blog/?p=3385

    ReplyDelete
  48. I think there's a difference between 'dressing up' and 'dressing well'. I like it when people dress well. They don't have to be 'dressed up' - meaning suit and tie, or dress and gloves, but if they're dressed in something that has a style to it - I do appreciate that. I'm an American living in Europe - and even to go to the grocery store I'll consider what I wear (jeans, white button down shirt, braided leather belt, suede boots - as an example) just because most people dress well being out and about. Dressing well makes me feel better about myself, as well as showing respect to others. All having a style is about is putting some thought into what you wear and understanding how things go together.

    What I think is sad is that people equate making an effort with inconvenience. In American popular culture there seems to be a celebration of how little effort can be made to present yourself. Anyone can be a slob, wearing pilled sweat pants, or stained shirts, or pajamas to go shopping in, and there's certainly a limited time and place for that.

    What I think is incredibly unfortunate are guys I see wearing what they think are nice clothes (a suit, or jacket) and the fit is horrible. They've obviously spent money on their clothes, are trying to look good, and yet still don't because the clothes aren't fitted properly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love this distinction and I think it's an important one. And you are right about the 'celebration of little effort.' Hilariously for teens it involves BIG effort - time to make sure the 'casual' bun is pulled up in the right way and hair that doesn't make it hanging down right, etc. As the video on Erica's blog says something like "seeing kids in the university dining hall in pajamas but also wearing makeup - you didn't have time? I don't believe you.' Sadly the sloppy thing IS the look these days. The ultimate FU to society and parents.

      Delete
  49. Underline the correct answer: Peter Lappin is a (very good, very bad) influence.

    As a result of your blog I sought out a replacement for the Singer treadle machine that I gave away. I needed only the head, as I had converted the cabinet to use an old zig-zag Kenmore with the treadle during the decade-plus when I had no electricity. I was able to replace the Singer with a 1915 model 15-91 for a mere $50, and now have a project to revitalize it.

    Your current post has me thinking about how to modify my wardrobe and begin dressing with casual elegance and comfort. Let's face it, those 50s and 60s skirts and dresses were undergirded with ... wait for it ... panty girdles. As a teenager, I succumbed to the panty girdle thing with the garters and nylons.

    The vintage look is achieved at great cost in comfort, so, as a graduate of the Summer of Love, I cling to my stretchy cottons (natural fibers only, please) and soft flannels. These days, dressing up means color-coordinating my grubbies and ensuring they are clean.

    Still, Peter, your post is an earworm-a short melody I can't get out of my head. Are you a good or bad influence? Time will tell.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I have been spending the last week, in spare time, reading ALL the posts on this terrific blog! I am loving it and especially today. I despair every time I see someone out in public in pajamas. I must say that I do love clothes and putting them together in flattering combinations . I realize everyone doesn't see the point. But your comment about respecting others is excellent . When I retired 3 years ago I received a cute letter from a second grader who actually said she would miss my clothes! I guess I made an impression on someone.

    ReplyDelete
  51. "I guess we need to find a happy medium." Yes!

    It makes me happy when people dress intentionally, with attention to details like fit, construction and quality. A dash of style is icing on the cake. When others dress with intention I make a point of noticing and complimenting them because I think people who take time to present well enjoy being appreciated for their effort.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Peter, I often wonder if people don't care how they dress or they just don't know how to dress. Either way I find a lot of people wearing clothes I won't be caught dead in.
    Reading through the comments comfort comes up as being anti-well-dressed. I agree and disagree. We don't have to wear shoes that are uncomfortable. I wear flats or very low heels (under 1.5 inches) regardless of the clothes I wear and still look good. I think it is a matter of making choices and not what someone says is the only acceptable way of wearing a fancy dress or wide trousers.

    ReplyDelete
  53. "Dressing in a way that makes others comfortable is a way of acknowledging that we are social animals and of showing appreciation for our community."
    So well put! What I'd like to add to that is: if you're dressed in clothes that suit your body and you feel good in them, then you send good vibes to your environment as well.
    I am from Europe and feel that people there dress for the occasion, work, and as role models much more than they do here. Going out in pajama-like clothes and slippers tops my list of tasteless.
    Clothing DOES send a message.

    ReplyDelete
  54. I just wanted to underscore the idea that the problem isn't so much about "casual" vs "fancy" as it is about putting some care into total presentation and appropriateness.

    When I was working, I often got teased for wearing skirts and slacks (and slacks were usually reserved for Fridays). I live in the western US and worked in technical fields where jeans were the norm. But I found it difficult enough as a young woman in science and engineering to be taken seriously without looking like I just walked out of my dorm room.

    Now, as a stay at home mom to two active boys, I find skirts very impractical. But wearing jeans and a tshirt doesn't mean I've succumbed to sloppy! My tshirts are fitted, my shoes are never athletic (unless I'm actually working out), my jeans are dark and likely to be a trouser cut, and I find a scarf or pretty piece of jewelry can really make me feel "finished".

    Ironically my new "uniform" is still considered dressy by many of the other moms I know!

    ReplyDelete
  55. I don't usually care how others dress with two exceptions.
    1. Wearing pajamas out in public. That is a pet peeve. I've seen whole families out in their pajamas. UGH!

    2. Not dressing up for special occasions. I've been to weddings and funerals where I felt woefully overdressed in a simple dress and heels. It seems people dress better to go clubbing than any other place.

    I do feel we have become an anything goes society and its too bad. Comfort does not have to mean sloppy.

    Tia

    ReplyDelete
  56. First time reader, first time commentor... found your blog linked on Already Pretty

    I'm a girl, woman, whatever. I don't like wearing pants and I detest open toed shoes and sneakers for various reasons only vaguely related to gym class trauma growing up.

    I wear a dress or skirt set and heels or boots nearly everywhere. I get constant compliments on my outfits and people that are meeting me for the first time are simply told by mutual acquaintances to "look for one that's overdressed."

    I have gotten jobs simply because I was the only one that showed up wearing something besides jeans and a t-shirt. I have gotten upgrades for flights, the theater, and the ballet because I simply "looked" like I should be sitting in a different part. All this simply because I hate wearing pants and tennis shoes!

    So, yeah, continue dressing down. Really. I like my perks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If someone needs example of values in dressing up, this is it.

      Delete
  57. LOL, Joules! I think I'll try that next time I have to travel. I usually dress nicely for my job, which is fashion and sewing-related, and I dress down on the weekends and live in my yoga pants when I'm at home (but not out running errands!). My standard uniform in the warmer months is a nice dress, cardigan or blazer, and heels or dressy sandals; but I do dress more "English hunt-country" in fall and winter in dark jeans, boots, a nice top and a blazer or sweater. Connecticut gets quite cold in the winter!
    But I usually dress more casually for air travel (although not the train). For some reason the train seems more civilized and is a far more comfortable experience than being crammed like a sardine in a can into an airline seat.
    Anyway, I do get a negative impression of people who dress sloppily as being too lazy to put any effort into their clothing choices, but in general, I don't think it's other people's job to dress themselves to suit my aesthetic preferences, to please my eye, and to decorate "my" world. And that's how I approah my own dressing. I dress for myself, in what makes me feel comfortable and confident and capable in whatever setting I happen to be in at any time. I also dress in what helps me feel good about and appreciate my body, without reference to how others may interpret my choices (whether they're "flattering" or "appropriate" for my figure, my age, etc.). I dress for me, and I don't expect others to dress for anyone other than themselves, either. It would be nice to see others put more effort into their dressing, but it should not be a requirement. I try to treat everyone I meet with basic human decency and civility--until they give me a behavior-based reason not to. I don't take it as a personal offence if they aren't dressed as nicely as I am, unless it's the opera, a wedding or a funeral. And frankly, I haven't found that well-dressed people are necessarily well behaved. But no one should be denigrated for the clothing they choose to wear; only for their actions or behavior.
    I also believe that the demand for women to present themselves a certain way to be treated with value or with decency is just one more way for the patriarchy to keep us in our place and keep our attention off of more important things than the way we look. After all, if we're constantly running to keep up with society's constantly-changing rules for women's appearance, we certainly won't have time for politics, empire-building, or anything else beyond the mirror and the male gaze.
    All that said, I do appreciate a well-turned-out man.

    ReplyDelete
  58. I love dressing up. It gives me lots of pleasure and I very rarely wear casual clothes. But I don't give a sh#t what anyone else wears. Let the people be happy, let them please themselves! Seriously. They're just clothes. I would rather hang out with someone who wears sweats to the supermarket than a judgy uptight person who thinks trivial stuff like this really matters.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts with Thumbnails