The Thinking 

More on the Dressing Down of America

November 2, 2012



One of my concerns about the appearance of the advanced West is the clothing. In all fairness, it is not entirely the fault of the people. They buy what is manufactured and put on the rack in the stores. In the photograph you posted of the people in the city, well, some of them may have paid a lot of money for a pair of jeans and a hoodie. Others bought something very cheap or practically free at a big box store. These clothes are easily available, in great quantities; very visible in ads and store windows, in movies.

There are better styles but sometimes relegated to catalogs or more expensive stores, which can hardly survive the competition, which puts out tons of dull, puffy, stretchy, baggy, shapeless, androgynous, colorless clothing, and makes it visible from the windows of the stores.When people are not informed or educated about whether clothing is in good taste or not, they buy what is easiest to attain.

Those who believe clothing portrays a mood, a message or belief, will spend more time selecting it or sewing it, for which they have been ridiculed and harassed in the last 40 years. I remember when I first saw the dressing down of America, in a public school. The girls who had spent time sewing their school clothes were brushed off by snooty, enlightened feminists who said, “Why should anyone dress up for school?” It was the beginning of jeans and tennis shoes forever.

I wonder sometimes about fashion time-limits. How long have we put up with this slop-chic, grunge look? It is been over 40 years. It is time for a change. We have looked at jeans, canvas shoes, hoodies, tee shirts and such all these years. Is anyone tired of it? I can remember the day when people complained that they could not keep up with the fashion changes. The pictures of one generation’s styles in hair, eyeglasses, and clothing was completely different from the next. Today, however, the grown children are still wearing jeans and sweatshirts like their parents and grandparents. There is no distinction between the eras.

The world needs good clothing designers that care about people, and care about what the clothing is “saying” to the public. Clothing can say ,”I am so comfortable in these pyjamas and flip-flops that I claim my right to shop in them and go to school in them and make the people around me look at it, whether they like it or not.” Or, it can say, “I am a dignified human being, and would not be caught dead (an old saying that served us well!) in a pair of sweats at the grocery store. My clothing tells others that I care what they have to look at and that I respect them enough to dress well.”

Clothing has a lot to do with self-respect, and while I agree that we live in an era where we have to be careful not to dress too ostentatiously in big, billowing styles that will hinder us getting in and out of cars and doors, or functioning in our active lives, I do think this era is a perfect opportunity for budding clothing designers who love cloth and like the structure of real clothing. However I think the designers need to have a foundational love for their fellow human-beings, enough to design and manufacture clothing that will give westerners the dignity that reflects their love of life and their accomplishments. I have been to very underdeveloped countries where people barely have the knowledge to dig a well and filter safe drinking water, and yet the clothing (and speech and posture) of the men and women are so dignified that they seemed like royalty.

Perhaps there are people out there who believe in the old adage, to “find a need and fill it,” in order to have success in life. This is an era full of opportunities for new entrepreneurs, particularly in the field of clothing design.

Clothing designers and manufactures need to feel a moral responsibility to produce dignified clothing. There was a time when shop owners would refuse to carry certain types of clothing, because they were cautious about promoting clothing that brought down the dignity or morals of the customers. I am sure this is not well understood today, but it would have been beneath the dignity of some shop howners to sell the type of clothing that is sold to the public today. They felt a moral responsibility to the republic and did not want to do anything to cause a decline in public morale, as well.

Laura writes:

I am hopeful too, but it’s going to take a major cultural revolution to bring an end to the era of dressing down. People are habituated to low-maintenance, high-comfort clothing. And one of the big factors is feminism. Women don’t devote the time to clothing their families that they once did and everyone is rushed and pressured. It’s going to take a different way of life to rid us of many of our ugly clothes.

—– Comments —–

Mrs. P. writes:

It would be wonderful if society spruced up its wardrobe and we saw more people give thought to what they are wearing. Clothes do send a message to others as well as to ourselves the wearer. I wouldn’t mind seeing a little glamour return to a woman’s appearance similar to what existed in the forties and fifties. Women knew how to dress back then. I do my best to serve as an example to my six granddaughters on how a lady should dress and conduct herself. Last summer I took one of my granddaughters shopping for dresses. She is twelve. We settled on two beautiful cotton dresses that were on sale for a little more than a song. She was thrilled. Having said all that I would like to go on to say something about jeans and their place in our culture.

Jeans are American. Their popularity started about sixty years ago in America. Gradually they caught on in other parts of the world. Originally jeans were work clothes worn by farmers, factory workers, and miners digging for gold. The inspiration that eventually led to their widespread use by the general population came from our love affair with the American West interpreted for us by men like Will Rogers and John Wayne. Cowboys in jeans and movies about cowboys in jeans were especially popular during the thirties and forties. I remember sitting in the Darb theater on Sunday afternoons feasting on Milk Duds and popcorn while Roy Rogers and Gene Autry galloped across the screen. So thanks to the American West, many Americans wanted to dress like cowboys and wear jeans. Actually the authentic cowboys wore buckskin.

Jeans are an American cultural icon. Each generation has made jeans its own. When James Dean wore them in Rebel Without A Cause in the fifties jeans began to represent youthful rebellion against authority. Consequently they were banned in many schools, restaurants, and theaters. Later the Hippies came along with their frayed bell bottoms and jeans began to represent free love, communal living, and a departure from everything establishment. Not long after that baggy jeans arrived with the hip-hop generation. About the same time in the 1980’s designer jeans made their debut and jeans, which began as the working man’s clothes item, hit the high fashion scene.

Jeans are a clothing staple in American society. Nearly everyone, young and old, male and female, has at least one pair in their closet. Denim is a wonderful fabric. Durable and strong, denim is masculine in nature. The fabric could take a beating and no one would be the wiser. Jeans are versatile and come in a variety of styles. They lend themselves to creativity. They can go with anything from sneakers to high heels. You can dress them up or dress them down. They are practical. They save on other clothes. As a youngster I would slip into a pair of jeans after school in order to preserve my school clothes. Jeans do not need to be ironed. They do not need to be laundered after each wearing. They last forever. Is it any wonder then that jeans have become perhaps the most popular clothing item of all times? They have earned a place in our closets, maybe not a big place but at least a place.

John S. writes:

I’m not sure I’d want to go back to the days when men had to wear suits and women had to wear dresses to be seen in public.

That being said, I’m still appalled at modern fashion. Over the past dozen years, women’s clothing has become almost absurdly sexualized. I can hardly go to the local supermarket without seeing some grandmother tottering around in sky-high heels and skin-tight black leggings. I saw some of the annual discussion of the “sexy nurse” or “sexy cop” outfits some women wear for Halloween – nobody mentioned the fact that the everyday attire of a lot of women is at least that “sexy.”

It’s interesting that men’s clothing has veered off in the exact opposite direction over the same period – into what can only be called “burqa-esque” styling, seemingly deliberately designed to make its wearers look as unattractive and non-sexual as possible.

Laura writes:

That’s an interesting point. The exception with regard to men would be among homosexuals, who favor tight-fitting clothing chosen to show off their figures.

Sibyl writes:

Mrs. P. brings up a really good point. Jeans truly are American in nature. They are also leveling in nature — they create the illusion that everyone is just a citizen: man, woman, child, rich, poor, rural, urban, educated, ignorant. They function almost exactly as the Maoist jacket with the little truncated collar. Jeans become the uniform, the universal reducer, that allows us to continue in the fantasy of individualism. And as Mrs. P points out, this predates 60’s feminism. What jeans connote is the idea of interchangeable human beings, and that our differences are really not that important. It was about 15 years ago that I looked around in a crowd and thought, “Wow. We have done to ourselves voluntarily what communists in Russia and China have done forcibly: we’ve made ourselves units of production, to the denigration of our personhood.”

I for one have decided to forgo wearing jeans, except when doing heavy work in the yard or going out in the deep snow. If we want to change the culture, we have to change our own habits. Interestingly, although I do not require my daughters to wear skirts, they do much more often than most other girls. They do as I do. That’s part of my power as a mother and as a grown woman. I encourage women who wish to see the culture change to see how much it can change without their ever having to speak a word.

Laura writes:

I have come to loathe denim.

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