Some years ago — okay, many years ago — an article in Newsweek magazine described me as “hip-casual.” In the article’s accompanying photo, I wore faded jeans and a T-shirt billboarding a friend’s Austin-based turquoise jewelry company. (I also weighed at least 40 pounds less than I do today.) Fast forward, and you will most likely encounter me outfitted by the Gap and J.Crew, extra large, so we’re talking about a lifetime’s accumulation of casual cred. In short, I am no sputtering fuddy-duddy like bow-tie-wearing conservative pundit George Will, who once lashed out at denim, calling it “infantile.”
So, yes, I totally understand the irony of my alerting you to the scourge of TMI — Too Much Informality — that is afflicting us. As far as I’m concerned, the casual ethic has gone too far when it is acceptable to attend milestone events and special occasions dressed as if you were headed to Whole Foods afterward.
Have you seen it?
Sweaters and pullovers at church weddings; flip-flops and “fitness fashion” at funerals; hoodies and silk-screened T-shirts at Easter Sunday mass; skimpy halter tops and Hawaiian shirts at four-star restaurants. Or any combination of these and other clueless behaviors. You have to ask yourself: What are they thinking? Don’t they know better? Clearly, these folks have lost all sense of the appropriate, if they ever had it.
Then there are the hats. A veritable blight of hats, atop what I must assume are bald or balding heads, bobbing about in restaurants and even houses of worship. Wasn’t “Take off your hat indoors” one of the first things your parents taught you about public behavior? (Maybe not. Here’s the deal: If you’re not at a sports or cowboy bar, or some hipster jazz joint where fedoras are welcome, ditch the chapeau.)
And don’t get me started on people who stare into their smartphones while a casket is being lowered into the ground. But that’s another story.
Believe me, it’s a much better world because of casual. I don’t bemoan the era when travelers dressed up to board an airplane. That would be madness today when you are herded into a narrow seat with no legroom and tossed a bag of mixed nuts.
And thank goodness gentlemen no longer wear jackets and ties to a baseball game — unless they work for a sports network. Frankly, the fans in the old newsreels don’t look like they’re having so much fun in that summer heat.
No, I’m talking self-absorbed, lacking respect for others and the occasion. And there are ripple effects. Screeching customers was listed as one of the 11 worst dining trends of 2014 by the New York Post. Explained writer Steve Cuozzo, “The plague gets worse every year, which is no surprise: The complete abandonment of dress codes yields a corresponding collapse of decorum.”
Economic effects, too. A friend of mine recently told me that her dry cleaner’s had to shutter one of their two establishments. Seems not so many people are bothering to get their clothes laundered and pressed these days.
Let me be perfectly clear, this has nothing to do with class. It is a matter of simple decisions: Do I wear a shirt with buttons or a T-shirt? Do I wear shoes or flip-flops? It has everything to do with the other meaning of class.
Nor is it about American individualism and the perceived right to be a jackass. You can’t convince me that the Founding Fathers would wear their tri-corner hats backwards at midnight mass.
Who can we blame for this dumbing down? Pick a target: the hippies, Casual Fridays, bad parenting, Hollywood, hip-hop, Ayn Rand, Levi Strauss … The list goes on (though my money is on bad parenting).
What to do? Frankly, there’s not a whole lot that can be done, aside from closing one’s eyes and praying for the future of civilization. It’s for sure I’m not about to confront some benighted knucklehead who hasn’t bothered to wear a jacket or tie to a wedding. You never can tell these days: It could be the minister.