Let’s Play Dress-Up

Has the casual ethic gone too far? When did it become acceptable to attend milestone events and special occasions dressed as if you were headed to Whole Foods afterward?

A pair of jeans that are torn at the knees.

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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.

You can't convince me that the Founding Fathers would wear their tri-corner hats backwards at midnight mass.

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.

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  1. This was my soapbox for years when I lived in a major Western state. Jeans,sweatshirts, baseball hats, sneakers were not denied anywhere. No one understood why I cared what others wore. “How does it affect you?” they’d ask. I’d explain that when I had bought a new outfit, had my nails done and spent a considerable amount of time getting ready to celebrate a special occasion at a four-star restaurant the experience was diminished when some slob would be seated next to me.

    When a friend’s boyfriend stated he would wear jeans to my wedding because “what do I have to prove?” I told him he could forgo the tie and jacket for khakis and a button down shirt (which he didn’t own). He chose not to attend.

    I chose to move.

  2. And what about the over-40 men who wear their pants halfway down their buttocks?? Disgusting! I am so tempted to jerk them down!

  3. I agree with Amy. There just isn’t a sense of what’s appropriate or not anymore which has to do with an overriding lack of common sense combined with not caring anymore and feeling hopeless.

    A lot of this has to do with a large percentage of Americans being burned out with the fast-paced (yet going nowhere), mixed up, messed up mess everyday life has become. As if it’s not stressful enough, you have people who drink little else than Starbuck’s, Red Bull, Monster, Throttle and more of these heart attacks in a can.

    Always interacting with tech devices but not with people in their physical presence, being over-connected with “friends and family” yet never being able to reach a person when calling somewhere. I could go on and on, but I really can’t here. I will end by saying men wearing baseball caps backwards to look cool, don’t, and neitha do the rappas and gangstas of the lowest common denominator they be tryin’ to emulate.
    Oh—my bad for sayin’ that?

  4. You forgot pajamas and slippers out in public. I have seen this gross trend get more popular over the past 5 years and it’s not children. We’re talking grown women wearing Hello Kitty PJ pants that are too long and being stepped on as they walk with slippers and hair not looking like they brushed it before throwing it into a messy bun on top of their head. A nation of slobs is what we’re tolerating. It’s sad.


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