Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Dresing up and down


I was at a wonderful party last night. It was billed as a drinks party, and the venue was a friend's flat in Central London. It was quite a family party: there was an 89-year-old aunt.

I noticed that all the women including that aunt, had dressed up beautifully. (I was in my new Karen Cole dress and my D&K shoes). The delectable handbag designer Lulu Guinness was wearing a sensational vintage Fifties black grosgrain dress with a flared skirt and a red rose at her waist. We talked about our outfits and she said that whatever the occasion now, she just dresses up. The dress gives her confidence.

And, like Carrie Bradshaw, I got to thinking. When did men
stop thinking that a suit was what you wore to dress up? And why oh why do most men look so damned boring? Even in London?

Cue Harry and his long-awaited piece on men and their uniforms . . .

14 comments:

Toby Wollin said...

I blame 'business casual'. It's awful. Where I work, the only time you see a male manager even wearing a TIE is when they have an outside meeting. I don't think one of them even owns a suit or a sportcoat. And don't get me started about their not wearing socks in the summer. This is a workplace, gentlemen - not a resort hotel. You wish to be respected? Then dress for the occasion - not as if you were slipping out to pick up the papers and some pastries on Saturday morning!!

StyleSpy said...

Hear, hear. But I can't, in good conscience, blame only the men. Women have become just as slovenly. Not long ago a female friend of mine showed up to a Saturday evening wedding in jeans and cowboy boots. I was mortified for her, but she seemed unconcerned.

I agree with Ms. Guinness. To my way of thinking, I'm never over-dressed. I'm just extra-fancy.

Deja Pseu said...

I love dressing up and have so few occasions to do so, that I jump on any opportunity to "go fancy." Especially in LA, you get looks.

Toby Wollin said...

Deja - I also think part of this is the emphasis on 'youth culture' - when I was young(ahem), I knew what the difference was between kids and adults. I knew what the difference was between children and teenagers. There was such a thing as 'children's clothing'. Teenagers wore stuff that was definitely NOT children's clothing. And once you got out of high school, you were definitely wearing clothing that was grown up. More formal. More expensive. Better made. The expectations were totally different. Little girls for years now have been dressed in 'hoochy' garb that is just smaller versions of the same 'exposing' style that teenagers wear. And young adult females emulate the same mode of dress. Young men merely go from being dressed in jeans and tee shirts as six year olds to dressing the same way as 22 year olds and on up. I realize my childhood was 50 years ago, but there was such a thing as looking forward to being an adult and being able to do adult things and dress like adults do. Somehow, in the last thirty years, being an adult has become besmirched by 'oldness', so no one wants to be an adult(with all the stuff that goes along with it). Everyone dresses like some sort of antiquated teenager and frankly, we have national leaders here in this country who ACT that way also. If we all wonder where 'style' went - that is it -- most of us as adults are trying to be teenagers and teenagers don't have style.

Stephanie said...

Remarkable timing, this, as my husband and I were busy last night thinning the herd in his closet and he laughed over the fact that at one time jeans and tees outnumbered any "dress" clothes and now it's the opposite. He makes it his business to dress EVERY day. Most often a suit, at the very least, shirt and tie. This is not required, most at the firm adopt "business casual" and especially in I.T., it has become a cliche...the khaki pants, a polo shirt and a belt that has become a modern day holster (instead of a trusty six-shooter, they carry Blackberrys, pagers, etc).

I asked him once why he makes such a point of dressing up every day and he said it was to remind his staff that he was indeed the boss. One of the guys, yes, but not just any guy. It has paid off in terms of repect from staff as well as the partners and I honestly think it has enabled his rise in the firm, as he began dressing smarter than anyone else from day one.

I've noticed myself, as a stay at home mom, whenever I go out, I try to dress as well as I can and reactions generally vary from, "Why so dolled up?" to "Hot Date?" to looks of general pissed offedness as though I think I'm something special for dressing nicely to pick my kids up from school.

It's become the pajamafication of America. When did it become ok to go ANYWHERE in pajama pants and tank tops? I'm only 36, but I must have missed that moment...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Stephanie, for the pajamafication coining. As someone with an extensive wardrobe of beautiful clothes, Ive been very dismayed at the slobification of men's deportment. Men generally look like they rolled out of bed and threw on whatever they grabbed. They look smelly to be blunt. What's sad is it has lately been causing me to dress down to an extent I never had before,since nobody else puts any effort into their deportment.

Vicki said...

did you like your new Karen Cole dress? hope so...i wanted it but didn't buy it...yet.

Linda Grant said...

yes, I do. I had an email from Karen Cole herself, who says that as a result of it being featured on this site, there has been a big upsurge in orders for it, including as far away as the US and Australia.

Bobbi said...

Stephanie, I'm in your age range and my spouse and I just had pretty much the same experience. He wears a suit every day, and his one concession to the sweltering summer heat is he removes his tie if it is warmer than 30 degrees C before he leaves home in the morning while many in his company dress in a polo shirt and chinos. His workplace underwent renovations for the last two weeks of June and the first week of July, and he had to order new golf shirts from the corporate web site in order to have the enforced 'business casual clothes.' He hated every second of it, and as soon as the worst of the dust had settled he hauled out his suits immeadiately.

Oddly we live in an ultra casual resort town, and many of his clients are builders and tradesmen who wear ripped and paint stained jeans with ten year old shirts. Those guys noticed his business casual and some of his closest client relationships actually commented on him not wearing a suit. One younger guy, flat out told him, "Dude, wear a suit. Suits are good." Said younger guy heads up a work crew that goes for days into the bush and has only a passing acquaintance with a shower. My husband swears older men notice his suit, then immeadiately check to see if his shoes are polished and if he passes muster there is an instant level of approval, an invisible social handshake. He is convinced that his career has benefitted from wearing a suit.

Since I flatly refuse to wear yoga pants out and about and like put some thought into my clothing choices I too get 'the look' while picking up my kids at school. Anything more than ballerina flats and jeans while grocery shopping and the general pissed offedness is palpable. I too missed the part where the idea of private personal comfort crossed over to the embrace of public social laziness as a value statement.

Deja Pseu said...

I bought the Karen Cole dress too. It just arrived over the weekend, but I didn't see the package until this morning. I'm dying to get home and try it on. It's washable too, a plus for travel!!!

Elaine said...

My mother, my sister and I spent last weekend together. Unsurprisingly, much of the conversation was about clothes. My sister pointed out that when we were growing up, we had different clothes for different functions. We had school clothes, we had play clothes, we had clothes for church and we had party clothes, which were the best clothes of all! This was true for everyone in our house (parents and children) so we all grew up understanding that you dress differently for different events. You didn't wear your play clothes to church and you didn't wear a party dress to school, no matter how hard you begged.

These days, many kids never see their mother in anything but yoga pants and a sweatshirt and their father in anything but chinos and a polo shirt or maybe an oxford shirt. Everyone claims to be too busy and they tell you it's all superficial and shouldn't matter anyway. Then they have to interview for a job or attend an evening wedding and then they're stumped and want you to take them shopping.

Deborah said...

I live in a small, very casual town and work in a casual/academic field not, to put it kindly, known for smart dressing. I rather like it, to be honest, because it makes it easy for me to be a comparative fashion plate even on my modest budget!

I've never noticed anyone being annoyed, though, and I'm never the only one out of athletic gear or pajamas. So perhaps the more of us there are, the more people will want to join us.

Rosaria said...

Here's a thought...would a party be as much fun if one was not dressed up? How much does dressing up add to the frisson?

On another matter...have also visited the Karen Cole site and oh, aren't they lovely....I wonder if she's known in her native land

Belle de Ville said...

Since a well cut suit, tasteful tie and quality shoes will make even moderately attractive men look sharp. I don't fully understand why so many men have abandoned this way of dressing. Toby's comment on the prevalence of 'youth culture" probably is at the core of men adopting business casual clothes. Of course, if I had to wear a wool suit, shirt buttoned at the collar and tie, I'd probably opt for a polo shirt and khakis too.
Still, an attractive man in suit makes me swoon a bit.