Monday, December 1, 2008

What Fades Away

Today I'm pondering something seemingly unimportant, but I write about it to ask the bigger question - how does our culture slowly change? Most of us can identify each decade in the twentieth century by clothing, music, government, and national or world events. (I'm not sure about this decade and I'm not even sure what we're calling it yet.) Here's a question to my female readers: Did you play "dress-up" as a child? Did you have a box full of cast-offs from older sisters, cousins and your mom? High heels to toddle around the house in? Then as a teenager - what was the most exciting part of dances and proms? The dress, right? (Hopefully it wasn't the paramount focus of your wedding though.)
In my young adulthood I attended many employee Christmas parties, some class reunions, weddings, anniversary parties and my annual union banquet. At all of these events everyone dressed formally - suits and ties, dresses (sometimes long) and your best jewelry. In the last ten years I have watched it all disappear. Company Christmas parties have either been discontinued or relegated to appetizers in someone's family room. My neighborhood Christmas party lessened in its formality until it was in a bar in January and this year ended altogether. Class reunions that used to be dinner-dances are now picnics or golf outings. (My daughter just attended a class reunion. She wore a flirty Betsey Johnson dress and said all the other girls had jeans on. )
I used to buy something special every year for my union banquet, but over the past ten years people have come in increasingly casual outfits. I think it's kind of sad. I'm witnessing a cultural tradition disappear in my lifetime. It's not that pricy clothes are so important - it's feeling that the event is special, that it's something to look forward to, that it's not just another occassion to wear jeans.
When I started teaching I dressed like a, well, a teacher! Skirts and blouses, nice shoes. I remember wearing suits when I would be meeting parents for any reason. Now teachers wear jeans, tennis shoes, sweat suits, shorts, anything goes. Another example is from the times I have attended Broadway plays in New York City. I thought the theater was a place to get all gussied up. But tourists are at the shows in their shorts and tee-shirts after schlepping around the city all day.
I don't think I'll try to rebel against this trend very much. I like to wear something besides jeans on holidays or when I'm entertaining, but I don't care what anyone else wears. I wonder who sent out the memo telling us that we don't dress-up for anything anymore? When did that happen? And if I do dress up am I just going to look like an old person from another era because of it? Kind of like my grandma who wore dresses and nylons to clean house?And most importantly where will little girls get the their dress-up clothes from now?


John Ettorre said...

It is interesting how different we can feel about ourselves depending on how we dress. I think the culture has lost something by most everyone dressing down for most every event. There was something so nice about going to church on Easter Sunday in the 60s (when I was a kid) and seeing everyone dressed up in their finest. It just felt extra special.

Anyway, of it's any consolation, just know that your daughter (and anyone else who dresses nicely for special events) simply stands out from the masses in a nice way, and people do notice. So in an ironic way, the general downward cultural trend in dress codes makes those who are thoughtful even more special than they used to be. I say we need more of that countercultural outlook.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I think part of the reason for it is that as corporate America demanded longer hours and more productivity from its workers, it threw them the bone of "casual Fridays." And then later allowed casual dress every workday.

I miss dressing up too, but in my case, a lot of it stems from working at home. Some days, I don't even get out of my pajamas until I have to walk the dog at noon.

FranIAm said...

I agree with you at so many levels. Time does not permit me to go into detail but I especially liked what you said about Broadway.

Tshirts, flip flops and a box of whoppers at what was once a grand affair.

It makes me sad.