10 November 2007

June Cleaver, Where are You?

What ever happened to dressing? Not just putting on whatever is least rumpled at the foot of the bed, but actually dressing. That is, going to the closet to choose a few freshly pressed and well-fitting garments, picking out a great pair of shoes and a handbag, as well as lovely jewellery, gloves and perhaps a hat, to finish an outfit.

When did it become okay to toss on a ratty, ill-fitting T-shirt, a pair of faded jeans (or, heaven help us, a pair of pajama pants) and a pair of day-glo Crocs to be seen in public? Even more distressing, when did it become acceptable to venture out in public showing a distracting amount of skin? I have seen more butt, belly and breast than is necessary for one lifetime. I wish I could say that all these atrocities are only being committed by tweens and teenagers, but, alas, I have seen women of all ages in this type of garb.

Remember the good old days when being a woman meant looking like a lady? Back when no respectable woman would leave the house without checking herself in the mirror to ensure that her outfit, accessories, hair and makeup were as flattering as possible? When dressing down meant putting on a simple shirtwaist dress or a casual unstructured tweed suit. When female role models were elegant and intelligent, well-mannered and poised. I look to the middle of last century, when women like Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Eva Gabor, Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Catherine Deneuve, Ingrid Bergman and Ava Gardner were idolized by regular women the world over. It seems that with the death or retirement of these women, there followed a loss of elegance. Nowadays, it is much more difficult to create a comparable list of attractive, accomplished women - the only ones I can think of are Cate Blanchett and Reese Witherspoon.

Now, before I go on, let me clarify. I do not expect the modern woman to clean house in a dress and pearls, a la June Cleaver. Nor do I expect every woman to always have the perfect accessories, with every hair in place. I get it, life is hectic - between jobs, family and domestic duties, a woman's work is never done. However, that does not mean that you need to look like fashion victim. In my opinion, there is no excuse for regularly looking sloppy and/or letting your general appearance go to the dogs. We all have a million things to do in a day, but you can slip on a clean, well kept outfit as easily as an old pair of sweats.

I know, I've been there - during grad school and the early part of my career, my dress code was less than impressive. In the last seven years I have upped the ante and started dressing and grooming better. And, you know what, not only do I look better, I feel better and I'm treated better. Yeah, yeah, I know, we shouldn't judge a person by their appearance, but as human beings that's exactly what we do. If you're now thinking of leaving me a comment telling me that you never judge a book by its cover, save your time - I won't believe you. I'll be the first to admit that the more enlightened individual is capable of putting aside initial impressions and over time develop a better appreciation of the whole person, regardless of the dress code (I try my darnedest to do this every semester when I get a new crop of students). However, most day to day situations do not allow for the slow discovery of all the subtle nuances that make each person special. In most cases, we are in contact with a new person for a matter of minutes and in those minutes, your dress, appearance and general carriage speak volumes. That is why well dressed people are treated better in most situations - they get the best table at the restaurant, the pleasant salesperson, the door is usually held open for them and they tend to be smiled at more often. Like it or not, most people peg you into a category within seconds of meeting you - fair or not. So, why not try just a little bit harder?

Lately, several people have told me that I "dress up" a lot. The comments have come from people of all ages. My students have told me that they like the way I dress - I even had one young lady tell that I was her role model because I was smart and I was always well put together. A friend, who is a bit older than me, told me that she admires my style and although she can't wear the same type of clothing as I do, she would love to start dressing better. Yet, another woman, a sewing friend and mentor, mentioned that she thought it was nice that I wear more skirts than pants. She spoke fondly of an elderly lady in her neighbourhood, who is always dressed neatly, in a nice skirt, blouse/jacket and stockings, whether going for a walk or running errands. She also lamented that we seem to have lost something in our casual lifestyle. I agree.

26 comments:

Carla said...

Hear, hear! I see at lot of women just putting on anything and going out in public. My mother is a fashion queen and she has pounded the idea of looking good in public into my hard head. I love sweat suits and jeans but the older I get the more I want to look stylish and elegant. I think it's an attitude. A confidence in yourself that says "I'm beautiful on the inside and on the outside. Deal with it."

Carla

Erica B. said...

Very well said Shannon! That is exactly my philosophy. I'm almost 40, with almost grown children. Now is the time for a little more polish. I never, EVER wear running shoes. They are simply for "running". There are too many stylish alternatives. And sweatsuits... OMG, the horror! Those are my "play clothes"... what I wear to do housework and while I'm sewing.

mardel said...

Well said. I don't see how one can expect to be treated well when one is not willing to treat oneself well. Good grooming and dressing well show self-respect.

Of course we all need things for cleaning the bathrooms and just hanging at home but there is also no reason we can't control the image we present to the world and make it be the best part of ourselves.

Vicki said...

Great post! When you make the effort to dress well you are respecting yourself and others you will encounter. It is our cover and we will be judged by it - the cover does expose something of what is inside.

You don't need a lot of clothes to dress well. And you don't have to be over dressed. Just ask my youngest daughter (14) - her latest "good" outfit is good clean jeans, white tshirt with a pretty applique and a prewinkle cardigan. She has some nice silver sandles. She always straightens her hair as well. Only makeup would be to cover some pimples. Once these look tatty they become home clothes and we go shopping for more!

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

Let's see - Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Renee Zellweger and my all time favorite Queen Latifah! I just wanted to add a few names to your list because you are singing my song.

And can someone tell me when women stopped wearing undergarments in public! The reason I ended up NOT making a wrap dress this year is because I didn't want to look like I had two watermelons turned loose under my dress! I saw way too much jiggly flesh this summer to add to the chaos!

So are you sewing? Whatcha working on? And I noticed the sidebar was changed...

marty said...

Shannon, I think many women (in general) thought that "burning their bras" in the 1960's gave them the right to be sloppily dressed. I like to look good when I go out. My beloved deceased MIL would always look polished even if she only had a skirt and T-shirt on when going to the grocery. Taking a few moments to add a necklace, a nice pair of shoes, and a pair of earrings and a little lipstick does wonders for the soul. You expressed many feelings that we have so well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I agree with your comments and would like to add this observation from my own experience. When I attend business functions with my husband that are "business casual" I wear skirts or dresses rather than the tired uniform of khakis (is this an American thing?). I started dressing this way because I didn't like the way I looked in khakis. I found that I felt better as a result of dressing with more care. And that's when I observed that the people who gravitate towards me when I'm a bit more put together are different than those I attract when I wore the standard uniform. I won't say how they're different. Anyone interested can experiment with this in their own lives. It's pretty interesting to start noticing how we look and subsequently feel truly does shape our social experiences.
Paula

gaylen said...

I was thinking this same thing the other day - which was quickly followed by "Don't you have a mirror?" Last week I met a friend for lunch - I wore a skirt, hose, heels with a nice t and cardigan. My friend's first comment - "don't you look nice."

I felt much better going out. While I live in yoga pants once I'm home for the day - they only see true daylight for dog walking.

Good topic - great post! g

Anonymous said...

AMen to all the comments. I have had this discussion many times with friends and family. Looking good is a mark of respect for yourself and others. Thanks for the post.

Maureen

Lori said...

Laura Bennett (of Project Runway fame) is someone who comes to mind as a woman who dresses well. And she has 6 kids. Wow! I recall that she said she never wears jeans or sweats. Her casual clothes on one PR episode were riding pants.

Marguerite said...

Shannon, great topic. As a fellow teacher I can tell you that without a dress code my school system has gone to the dogs. Dress down Fridays have turned into dress down everyday. Jeans, shorts, team logo tees and sweatshirts, crocs, flip flops, and that's the teachers! Just imagine the kids! So when I show up some days with a skirt, nice sweater or blouse, real shoes etc., I usually am greeted with, "Where are you going after school?" That's the impression a neat, stylish outfit gives...that there must be something else going on in your day besides school. Back when I started, 35 years ago, we all wore suits or nice dresses everyday. What happened? Well, maybe we can do our part to change things.
Marguerite

Michelle said...

I hear you - as well I've been known to go on a similar rant in my own blog, lol! I totally agree - dressing sloppily not only effects other's attitudes and opinions of us, it effects the same toward ourselves. That's why I like flylady's philosophy - get dressed to shoes every day.
Personally, you'll never see me in pants...unless its at night in my pajama pants. I always wear skirts/dresses and nice tops even when I'm not going anywhere (and I have a 2 year old and 7 mo. old to boot). I like it for several reasons, one is just that I'm, well, anti-feminist to the core. I love how dresses make me feel beautiful, and I do it out of respect for myself and others. I do it to please my husband and to be modest.
I agree with your examples of elegant ladies. I'm trying to strive toward that end. Although I love digging even deeper in the past to people like Martha Washington, Jane Austen (Love wearing regency dresses), etc.
You're definitely not alone here!

designdreamer said...

WOW!
Look at all your comments already! I think you've touched upon a HOT topic. While reading an old post of Isabelle's a week or so ago, I was struck her statement that she always tries to look nice, and usually wears a skirt or dress (if I'm not mistaken), out of respect to her students, when she teaches. I saw that word in a few of your comments as well. At first I thought-- hmmmm definitely a french thing. But evidently, there ARE some women that still dress up, they're just not in the southwest!! Even dh went from wearing suits to work everyday, to actually wearing jeans, (and sometimes shorts in the summer!) most days!
I received an invite a Holiday Party! - or so I thought - last year, but most of the women there wore jeans!!!!! And MOST of them are in their 40's, and approaching 50! NOT a good look on most of them, IMHO! Interestingly, it was one of the younger women, and myself that weren't in jeans. She hasn't lived here as long as the rest of us, so maybe that's why, but I do find of all the neighbors, her attitudes most reflect mine. It's definitely much more laid back here, and I definitely don't like it!
Oh, and Nicole Kidman definitely should be added to your list, and, for the most part, I'd add Halle Berry, she's shown a bit too much skin on occasion, IMHO.

Tany said...

I couldn't agree more with you on this! Great post!

Theresa said...

Great post-I share many of the thoughts about the 'casualisation' of just about everything, especially clothing and personal presentation-what's wrong with a little effort

twollin said...

I'm not quite sure - perhaps others have a better grasp, but I do recall working in a place on a temp basis in 1992 where the socalled "casual Fridays" had gotten so far out of hand that there was a notice on every bulletin board in the place with a complete and detailed listing of what was acceptable and what was not. So, this must have started in the early 1990's.
Something else that "bugs" me is the lack of "sense of occasion" about going to houses of worship. I realize that in many congregations, just getting people to get out of bed and actually attend appears such a challenge that they have accepted anything short of pjs and bunny slippers. And I also realize that in many churches in urban areas, people still dress up. But where I live, I see just horrible stuff coming in - stained t-shirts and torn jeans, dirty sneakers. Blech.
No one seems to know how to dress. We won't even discuss chosing clothing that actually fits -the concept of "comfort" seems to only encompass "loose".

Jamie said...

This is such a great topic. I have been often thinking the same thing and was planning on posting on the same topic on my own blog! I'm with you - I try not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes it's very difficult. It's really hard to take someone seriously if it is obvious they don't take themself seriously.

Summerset said...

Absolutely! I completely agree with you in every point.

Sigrid said...

I fully agree with you. Living in a country where dress code is casual always (weddings sometimes seem to be the only exception), I often look around me and think "it must be possible to dress better".
On several blogs and PR I see beautiful garments being made for the holiday season. I would know no occasion at all where I could wear such a beautiful long dress or festive jacket. And in general it is such a shame that dressing well is such an exception.

Linda said...

I appreciate your comments and agree wholeheartedly.

Villain Extraordinaire said...

As someone who works from home, it is super tempting to just caj (is that the abbreviation for casual?) out every day. While I do partake in jeans quite often, I have found that making myself wear something that I have made everyday helps give me a li'l something. I might not dress "up" all the time, but this little rule certainly helps since the clothes I make tend to be dressier. And, of course, the right blouse and accessories (jacket, jewelry, sexy shoes) can dress jeans up nicely!

Nancy K said...

Absolutely! I like your attitude. My daughter came home from her junior year in Paris with a real appreciations for dressing well. Students do not go to class in sweats in Paris! I work out of my home and find that getting dressed and putting on makeup makes me feel good. I can run out at a moments notice without having to change and I feel more professional. I don't understand going to a great restaurant on a Saturday night and wearing jeans and running shoes! Men too. They can look so scrubby. What happened to pride in our appearance?

Clare said...

Have you been reading my mind? A friend and I were discussing this very topic only the other day - we agreed with all you said!
Clare

jemima bean said...

Amen Sister! :D

And I'm with Marguerite here...when I wear a dress & stockings to school it's like there must be special event. Dressing "Down" is wayyyy down here.

Lexy Girl said...

I have recently been lamenting the lack of dressy occasions. I'm wondering if I'll be too dressed up in a cocktail dress at my office party this year (sad! right?) because I think formal wear and dresses are fun and I also enjoy the good feeling I get from a well put together outfit.

I will say that, knowing myself, nothing would make dressing up more tedious than it being "required" so I'm not as upset that strict standards of dress have gone the way of the dinosaur. I get to wear what I like and what makes me feel confident and happy and I don't have to worry if people will be looking down their nose at me because my shoes and my bag don't match. (Not that anyone here would ever do or suggest that of course!)

P.S. June Cleaver is my sartorial heroine!

Anonymous said...

Via your March 20 posting, I'm reading this over a year later and YES YES - I totally agree. My dress is not ratty and I'd never been seen in pajama pants and day glo but... I definitely could take it up a notch from clean, well fitting jeans and a flattering t-shirt. Working alone from home, I am finding it hard. Thanks for the inspiration.

- Myrna

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