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.
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|