Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dress-up and maybe a little rant...

When I was little, I loved playing dress-up. (Shocking, I know.) I would spend hours pretending to be a grown-up, wearing flowing hand-me down dresses and sequined dance costumes with wide-brimmed hats and strand-after-strand of beads. I couldn't wait to get older so I could dress up like grownups did. I'd watch my beautiful grandmother carefully spray her hair with Aquanet hairspray, adjust the collar on her dress, and put on her pretty rings. I'd dutifully stand-by as she put on her bright coraline lipstick, hoping she would (as always) dab a little on my own tiny lips. Who wouldn't want to be a grown-up? It was so pretty.

I've often feared that adults have lost this in our casual culture of jeans and flip-flops - certainly my own go-to option when dressing on the weekends. In her book "An American Childhood," Annie Dillard describes watching her parents get ready for a party, or entertain their friends, and it's with this rose-colored view that adults lived in a whole different world from kids who wore cuffed jeans and played kick-the-can in the driveway. The show "Mad Men" has quickly become a huge sensation - but what is it about these mid-century characters that makes them seem so glamorous? In large part, it's the clothes. The guys aren't walking around in tshirts and cargo shorts - they're wearing sharply creased pants and tailored jackets. The women aren't wearing too-small tank tops and jeans with holes in them - they're wearing 'new look' circle skirts and coordinated sweater sets and broaches.

This post is inspired by my dear George Will's column at the Washington Post today, entitled "America's Bad Jeans." While some of it is a little heavy-handed, much of it resonated. "Denim," George says, "is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly... That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste. " Now, I don't have a problem with jeans in a casual context (George hates them as a general rule), however I love the point he makes. As "anything goes" dress becomes an increasing uniform in our society, as he says, society can gradually deny that anything can be deemed "inappropriate," or alternately, appropriate for a given context.

(photo from some brand called miss you jeans. and yes, that is apparently caridee.)

I cringe everytime I see one of the many of my (adult) colleagues at work who daily wear ratty jeans and a top revealing various parts of their undergarments. Many of these people interact with clients and important members of our community on a regular basis. Why have so many Americans given up on looking even remotely dignified? If I walk into someone's office wearing jeans and a peasant blouse, will they or will they not offer me less respect and consideration than if I show up wearing a nice skirt and heels? I'm not talking about being the most gorgeous person in the office, I'm talking about looking professional. Perhaps they feel they're making some sort of statement by dressing so a statement that they aren't tied down by wearing...nice clothes? People wear suits for job interviews, but then push the very limits of the dress code once they get the job. It doesn't make sense. Do you not want people to take you seriously once you work for them too? The way you present yourself is the first indicator anyone has of the respect you think you deserve. Especially in an office environment, I don't see any excuse for this.

Our first lady, who despite whatever else I may think of her always keeps it classy with her wardrobe - please note she is working at a community kitchen here, but wearing a nice cardigan and button up shirt. Hallelujah. (photo from huffington post - eek.)

American culture so often demands that everything be 'easy' and 'comfortable' that anything but is practically intolerable. Is it really so terrible to take the time to put on a dress in the morning than hole-y jeans and a glorified tank top? I think this is a reflection of our culture in general. Bill Cosby has certainly caught a lot of flack for proposing this very idea, despite its clear legitimacy. I'm edging on a much broader rant here, but what I mean to say is - I'd love to see adults get back some of the dignity they used to have. In these days of grown-ups voluntarily signing up to make fools of themselves on reality shows and pitching fits that a four-year-old would be punished for if something goes wrong with their dinner order, I would love to see people offer themselves a little more respect. And as Stacey and Clinton would absolutely tell us, that can certainly start with the way we dress.


Sarah said...

A-M-E-N. There is nothing I like more than the confidence I get when I put on a suit for work. That knowledge is not lost in my neck of the woods (healthcare), but I dare say it is a problem in other business fields. I think our culture has gotten a little lazy!!! This could go hand-in-hand with the rise of obesity nationwide, caused by laziness.

Erin said...

I'm with ya, Em. It's like the other day when I came to work with dirty hair (which I appreciated that you appreciated, by the way!), I was so miserable and felt so unprofessional that I went home and washed it on my lunch break since our power was back! Plenty of people would think I was nutso for that because that is totally normal for lots of people... but I just felt like I couldn't be taken seriously in a dirty ponytail! Haha.

Rosemary and Tim said...

I totally agree!! Loved your post!

Unknown said...

George was in rare form today. I really think he was walking around the mall (which I'm sure he tries not to do), was overcome by the abundance of denim, and he had to write that column in order blow off some steam. His elevated diction only makes his diatribe on denim that much funnier!

Emily Lilley said...

Haha, it's one of my favorite things about George that you can tell how pissed he is by the heightening of his diction. So fantastic.