Monday, November 01, 2010

All Dressed up and Nowhere to Go

It was an interesting parental moment last Friday night.  We wanted to take the kids out for some culture to see The Death of Edgar Allen Poe (which I wrote about here) and I bet you can imagine the scene: The theater was across town and the play was to begin in 30 minutes but yet we were still eating dinner, the kitchen was a mess, the kids had been playing outside and looked like they'd been hit by a tornado and no one was even thinking about getting ready.  I cracked the whip and we all jumped in to help get things put together but when I said those fateful words: "Now go upstairs and get ready" I was met with a panic.

"You mean we have to dress up??"

"Uh, yea. Go get ready."

"I don't want to wear church clothes! Why do we have to dress up?"

"Because that's what people do when they go out to a play, they dress up. And it's what you're going to do. Go get ready."

"That's not fair!" (because this argument has been such a winner in the past)

"Look, you don't have to wear ties, just put on some decent pants and a decent shirt. No big deal."

"CHURCH PANTS??"

"Yes, your church pants--they're khakis so they'll work. Go get them on."

I must have told them to get dressed 15 times before it sank in that I was not going to budge on this. My inward logic that if I wasn't asking them to wear a tie, then it couldn't be a big deal didn't seem to help much.  Apparently it was all in the image.  Jeans may not be that much different from khakis when it comes to comfort but there's a huge line between them when it comes to "cool."

By the time we were in the car and moving I had one child who had done what I'd asked and was fairly presentable (though with a rainbow of mismatched colors only an 8 year-old or a bag lady could get away with), one who had quickly admitted defeat, capitulated to the requirements and was dressed--more or less--appropriately.  And then there was one (who shall remain nameless) who was so ticked at my rules that he/she wouldn't look or speak the whole trip and spent most of the time staring sullenly at the floor.  It must have took amazing stamina to be that mad for that long--I've got to hand it to him/her.

But what really set the kid off was when we got to the theater and he/she found that not only were they the only ones whose demon mother had made them wear khakis, people for rows around were seated in the most comfortable and pleasurable denim.  We were the only ones dressed up . . . unless you count the guy wearing the giant rat costume who was there for the after-play trick or treating in the lobby.  It did leave me wondering where one would find a six-foot rodent suit. . . .

Of course the argument that "Everyone else is wearing jeans so why can't we?" has never worked in the past because I gave up caring what the world thinks in . . . uh . . . about 8th grade but what hit me, once again, was my disappointment at my fellow theater-goers.  Doesn't anyone dress up any more?  Afterward I asked Andrew if there are any events left where it is universally accepted that one dresses up.  I've been to the opera, the symphony, the theater and in Anchorage you're guaranteed to see more people in jeans than you'll see in suits (let alone tuxedos). I've been to funerals, to weddings, to church meetings and again--the jeans are there in abundance.  I tried to come up with an event where everyone would agree that dressing up was an absolute must . . . the prom? The Oscars? But was left with a big blank.  Maybe a state dinner? Do you think anyone shows up to the Obamas' place in jeans?

When did we get to the point that pajamas were acceptable at the grocery store? Or that jeans were proper attire for church? I know we left off dressing up for things like air travel and shopping excursions and I'm not one to moan about the demise of bustles and corsets but surely there was a line there . . . somewhere . . . and we've crossed it.

But why does it matter? Why should we even care, you say? Well I suppose on one level it doesn't matter because truly, there is the fact that you cannot judge another human being by the clothes they wear but then there is the other equally true fact that clothes are a reflection of what is inside--that while they may not make the man they most certainly reflect him--or, at least, what he wants us to think of him.  And fairly accurately, too.

We choose our clothing because of our own unique tastes, size and bank accounts and to deny that clothing is irrelevant is blindly foolish and unrealistic.  You bet clothes reflect what's inside--why else do teenagers spend so much time and money agonizing over what to wear each day? Because, to them, their clothing is a personification of their status and personality and, frankly, I can't disagree.  The girl who wears clothing that doesn't cover her, the boy who is a billboard for his favorite sports team, the woman with the $400 designer jeans, the hipster who scours the vintage thrift stores or the middle aged retiree buying flannel shirts in bulk at Costco are all saying something with their clothing choices so why have we decided to say, collectively as a society, that it is no longer important to put on our best?

My own personal guess?  I think it's all a shift in attitudes--it's not cool any more to let someone think that they are so important, that they mean so much, for you to put out the extra effort to impress them with your appearance.  Why do you dress up for a job interview? Because you want them to see that you're serious, that you take the whole process seriously and can have a professional attitude.  Why do you dress down? Because your comfort is more important.

I looked at the situation Friday night: here we had a local theater company that had gone to so much effort to put on a quality production.  They'd spent hours and hours rehearsing, had built up excitement for the play, had done everything to heighten the audience's experience. They had done their best to make their own small contribution to the arts in Anchorage so is it too odd to expect the audience to put forth the tiny effort to dress differently than they do for standing in line at the supermarket or raking the yard?  If the experience is truly to be something special, shouldn't the audience dress to that expectation? Don't they at least have that responsibility?

People just don't realize that when they dress sloppily or too casually--whether it's for a play or a wedding or a sermon or a date--that they are saying, "This event just wasn't important enough for me to care about my appearance or what you think of me" and that's served to diminish all sorts of experiences that should be special.  Watch television in your pajamas in the privacy of your own home but when you're out and about try to break out of the mold once or twice and see if it doesn't make all the difference.

Maybe if we dressed up for life we'd find ourselves enjoying all sorts of things we never thought about before.

32 comments:

Jennifer said...

My husband and I were just talking about a similar topic the other day. We observed that when young couples go on dates, the girl often is very made up, while the guy gets away with jeans and a t-shirt. It's not fair, but I think it plays into the "I'm too cool" culture you described.

controllingaspicyuniverse said...

Well I will say, down here in the South it's still pretty common to have folks dressed to the nines even at the grocery store. Even if jeans are worn to a show or an event you can bet they're fancy dark 7 jeans paired with nice heels. It might just be the grip of Alaskan culture...be assured we're all decked out down here. When I lived in Alaska I always, always, always felt overdressed.

Suzi Dow said...

My husband and I were also talking about this yesterday. We are in Bowling Green, KY for WKU's homecoming and to visit with Fred's Frat brothers. I must concur - Southerns do dress to the "9s". But I'm not sure about the sense of style demonstrated by the young people. When did baggy and saggy become stylish?

Anonymous said...

Judge not!

Linda

Reno said...

Great post. And I totally agree with you.

Shelly said...

I TOTALLY agree with you, I get so frustrated when people say It doesn't matter what I wear, or I don't care what I look like! Society will let you go without a home, or food, or a job, but try to go without clothes, and that's another story all together! Clothes DO matter!!!

Raejean said...

I was disappointed when my oldest went to her first church dance in jeans, just like everyone else. It's sad how society's definition of appropriate dress has changed, especially for things like a wedding or even church.

It is lack not only a lack of respect for the occasion, but often a lack of respect for themselves.

Janelle said...

I definitely agree. I went to see Wicked last November at the Cleveland Playhouse (the largest arts district in the country outside of NYC). I made my husband dress up -- he was grumbling enough about having to go at all -- and I wore a nice blouse. However, I did wear jeans. They were nicely tailored, dark, and relatively new jeans. At the size I was (am) at, I didn't (don't) have any dressier pants that fit me right now, and knowing that we'd have to park a ways away and walk, I didn't want to wear a skirt in the cold. I felt very awkward wearing my jeans, though.

Jane said...

Great article!!

Headless Mom said...

Yes, yes, and, um, YES! (Ironically, I'm watching a piece on the Today show on civility. Verbal, but yet the same theme. Hmmmmm....) A few years ago I threw a bridal shower for someone and made my daughter dress in a skirt. She looked cute, but not too dressy. I also wore a skirt. Everyone else? Including the bride? Jeans. I was kind of insulted that I spent the time and effort and money on something that no one else thought was important.

thatreallytallgirl said...

I took my 13 year old to "The Lion King" and was met with the same attitude when I required "church clothes." Then, when we got there, most of the people there were casually dressed. She pointed this out to me, but I told her I didn't care about them, only that we were dressed appropriately!

Chilihead said...

Michelle, I've been ranting about this with friends for years. I completely lost it when, a few years ago, a high school team (volleyball?) went to the white house and wore flip-flops. Are you kidding?

I have the "dress for success" argument with my kids (particularly my son) regularly. We don't attend church, but we do go other places (e.g., plays, golf, weddings, funerals, etc.). The way you dress is not only an outward expression of yourself and does count, but it's a sign of respect for the people you're going to see. As you pointed out, actors work hard on their plays, weddings are an important day, funerals are a tribute to the dead, etc. To come in jeans (whether dark wash or no), to me, is an insult. Yet, I realize I'm in the minority.

SAH in Suburbia said...

Man, this conversation happens in our house all the time. We ask our children to 'dress-up' for plays and other special events and we get the same response. "What do you mean CHURCH PANTS?!".

We've also noticed that people even come casually to funerals. We've seen folks in jeans and t-shirts and that's just not cool. Not cool at all. I understand if that's all you've got but in most cases, it's choice.

My high school had a no-jeans dance rule. Yeah!

For me, it's just a matter of distinguishing events that are special whether it be a wedding, a play, a funeral, a dance or whatever. I find that my behaviour changes when I am in nicer clothes for these nicer events.

L said...

I am so with you! I remember getting dressed up to go to my first ballet. It was amazing and being dressed up made everything feel so much more special. I remember going to the Nutcracker (not long after) with my boyfriend and seeing so many people dressed down. Honestly? Do you really think that little of the people who have put so much into what you are about to see? I really think that it all boils down to thinking that your comfort comes before the respect you owe to others. I will admit to wearing jeans to church when I was huge pregnant and nothing else fit, but never to a wedding or funeral. That would have been wrong.

cndymkr / jean said...

We just found a photo of my grandfather mowing the lawn. He was in dress pants, shoes and shirt. He never went out in anything less. It was a different time and a different dress code. Today I'm just happy when the men don't go topless to mow the lawn.

Josh said...

I know more than a few people who don't even "own" any dress clothes. The type who think that a polo shirt with 3 buttons at the top is a ritzy affair. I don't judge them though, because lets face it, these folks are likely the same people who don't actually go out and do anything that would require them to play dress-up. If they only have a once yearly shindig, why bother owning fancy duds that they probably wouldn't be able to fit from year to year anyway.

You're right though, we do live in different times. We always want get nostalgic for the "good ol' days", and we pick and choose in our minds all the stuff that we miss from the past, yet we blissfully ignore all the distasteful things that were also happening during those glory years.

I think back to the 1920's and the amazing style that men had. The way that no man would ever let himself be caught outside without his hat on -- yet at the same time, a couple years before it was against the law for women to vote.

I guess we live in such a free society these days that people feel justifiably free to do and wear whatever they want, whenever they want.

The Library Lady said...

I think the casual look brings on the sort of bad behavior you see in theaters, ballet, etc--people texting, people chatting, kids behaving boisterously. Somehow not taking it as a special occasion in dress extends to behavior.

My 15 year old is going to a friend's Sweet 16 Saturday and we had an argument over the fact that the invitation says "semi-formal". She has few dress clothes since we virtually never go anywhere that requires them. But for this, she WILL look dressy!

page2 said...

I couldn't agree more. I'd rather be embarrassed for dressing up too much for an event than by dressing too casually for it.

noreen said...

I do make my kids dress up. This last week all of the 2nd grade classes went to a play (Frog and Toad). My daughter's teacher asked the parents to have their kids dressed up, we would of done it in any case. That morning I saw one of the moms who was going(my younger daughter had a class party and is 1/2 K so I could not go.) The mom saw my daughter dressed up nice (she even wore her patent leather shoes) and said 'Oh, I did not know we should dress up?' WHAT! When did going to a play mean wearing jeans and tshirts? I also never let my kids wear sweats to school or PJs (well except on PJ day and I made her wear a nightgown over the PJs). Clothing is just too casual sometimes. We also attend a PTA Art reception on Monday and my girls were the only ones dressed up! The other thing that gets me is when people wear workout clothes all day. I can see stopping at the store on the way home from the gym for a quick errand but you could also just bring clothes to wear home. It drives me crazy seeing parents drop their kids off at school and 6 1/2 hours later they are still wearing them and usually they look as though they never did work out. Please just change. Now if you were just working out and you are on the way home that is fine but seriously wear real clothes if you are going shopping.

planetnomad said...

Yes, living on the West Coast means there's NEVER an occasion where you can't just wear jeans! I really notice it after living overseas. I knew Mauritania was a poor country so I took only casual clothes, and soon discovered I was the worst-dressed out of all my friends. I bought some heels and started wearing only tailored clothes in an attempt to fit in.
I admit I've given in a little bit. I've relaxed our church clothes stance a bit. But I totally agree with you. Dressing for an occasion changes how you feel and even act at the event. Plus it's fun! Why is comfort the number one concern? What does that say about our larger choices?

jacjewelry said...

You are absolutely right! Glad you insisted on the appropriate dress code. My parents expected me to dress up when we went to plays, concerts, etc. Now I expect the same of my husband, and dress up myself for similar functions. (Of course, in NYC you anything and everything between both ends of the "dress" spectrum - from extravagant ball gowns and glamorous diamond necklaces to jeans and t-shirts).

It's funny you should mention that appearances matter. As a young professional straight out of college, I was shocked at the difference in treatment I got everywhere I went when I was wearing a suit for work as opposed to jeans and a shirt on the weekend.

Scribbit said...

Good point Josh--I've never felt I'd like to return to those good ol' days for that very reason. Though there are a few things I wouldn't mind reviving--like hats :)

Shannon said...

Living in Europe for a couple of years taught me about dressing a little nicer. You just didn't show up at school to drop off the kids in pj's or sweat pants.

I don't know about state dinners with the Obamas but when you show up to a new foreign service post and the Ambassador invites the new arrivals to dinner at the residence you dress up!

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I live in Oregon, capital of cozy and casual and while it's great for watching football, I have to say that I was surprised that nearly half of the people I saw in the grocery store were wearing pajama pants and slippers.

And believe me: I love comfy work out clothes for my walks.

But I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I agree with you. A little effort is always appreciated.

owlfan said...

I must admit that I have relaxed some standards as my kids have gotten older - I no longer always insist on collared shirts for my boys for church, but they can't have designs on the shirt. And they always have church shoes (or leather sandals in the summer). But they are decidedly in the minority at church and sometimes complain a lot.

My mom took our family out to "high tea" at a local place a few years ago and the kids complained, but it was dress up or don't go. They ended up in khakis, button down shirt, blazer and church shoes. Most everyone else there were older ladies all dressed up, except for one couple in jeans, t-shirt and jeans jacket. Even my then 7 yo could see that that was inappropriate.

My comment to the kids is that I want them to know how and when to dress up. Luckily both my kids think that casual khakis are at least as comfortable as jeans, so I don't have that argument too often.

[Stacia] said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, society has just gone that way. I will say, however, that it seems to be more prevalent in Alaska. When I first moved up there and went to hell, er, I mean Walmart-I thought it must just be the location but soon discovered that people wear their pajamas everywhere in Alaska!

Linda said...

you know... i think in todays culture someone would probably show up to the obamas wearing jeans... after all, there was that sports team who all wore flip flops to meet the president.........

Melissa said...

Amen, sister! I expect that in Fairbanks, but sad to hear it in Anch too.

Hazel said...

Jeans to church? Well, yes I do (much to the disgust of my sister and most of your readers) but ... and here come the reasons (excuses) a) they're comfortable to wear, b) it's the only day of the week I get to wear them, and c) some sort of leg covering is essential for the walk.

Cindy said...

I couldn't agree with you more! When I was in high school I had a friend who always "dressed up" on test days. She'd always say, "I have to dress for success!" We do dress up for church. One Sunday upon returning home we found some of our oldest sons friends playing outside. When questioned about why were dressed up one friend who occasionally attends a different church exclaimed, "Oh, you go to 'proper' church!" :)

Anonymous said...

I can't stand to dress up, and I refuse to do so for anything other than a funeral or my own wedding. My daily dress for my office job is jeans and a t-shirt, and I refuse to work anywhere that requires more than that. Dressy clothes make me extremely uncomfortable and I always feel like a clown when wearing them.

Life's too short to go through it being uncomfortable just so other people will think you look "nice".

You're all free to do as you like, and I hope you have a good time in your fancy clothes if that's what makes you happy. As for me, though, I love casual. :-)

Ariel said...

I have found that if I dress up a little for the airport (including makeup with mascara and everything) I get treated better by the airport and airline employees.