Friday, July 25, 2014

Standards of Dress

Over the weekend, I drove down to Ft. Collins to purchase a couple of suits. "Business Suits" that is.

While I work as a lawyer, I really don't like buying formal wear at all. I'm not sure why, but it may be the peasant in me. I rarely wear suits, and never wear them except in court. A lot of times in court I'll wear a sports coat and tie, although I should probably wear suits more often. While sports coat and tie are very common here, even combined with black jeans and nice cowboy boots, as I will sometimes do, I actually was privy to a female lawyer, who moved in here from elsewhere, complaining about that recently, so perhaps I should forgo that for the most part and try to look a little more "lawyer like".

Anyhow, what a remarkable change in dress standards we have witnessed in the past half century. Up until at least the 1950s, men who worked in town wore suit and tie darned near every day, unless they have a fairly physical job. And they wore suit and tie quite a bit outside of work as well. Photographs as late as the 50s show, for example, men wearing suits just to board aircraft.

This started to change in the 60s, I suppose as a part of that turbulent era, as young males adopted jeans and t-shirts in a conscious, semi-conscious, or unconscious, effort to emulate the "working man", whether they were working men or not. And as the boomers of that era aged, the old clothing standards never really revived. Now it is common really to view sports coats and ties as being fairly dressed up, when they used to be regarded as fairly dressed down.

Taking this back a bit further, I recently watched one of the special features of the DVD version on the new Coen Brothers "True Grit" film. For those who have not seen the film, I highly recommend it. Anyhow, the portion of the special features addressing dress was quite interesting, with the clothing designer noting that for town dress, even though the majority of people in town would have been farmers, she would have expected them to be relatively formally dressed. That's probably fully correct.

As long time readers of this blog, i.e, me, as I'm probably the only reader, this blog is part of an effort, really, to look into the 1910 to 1920 time frame, but with a lot of interest in earlier in later eras. I'd expect the 1910 to 1920 era to have about the same sartorial standards as the earlier era depicted in True Grit, and which continued on for quite some time later. That is, even in that heavily agricultural era, in most of the US, town dress was fairly formal. Rural working dress would not have been of course, but people in town would not normally have been dressed down no matter what their station in life may have been.



I've recently had a couple of experiences that reminded me of this old post.

One of these was that I was in Court the other day, when a docket call was going on.  A docket call is when parties with various types of cases, usually criminal cases, appear before the court briefly.

When a person appears before the court, they probably ought to try to look sharp.  It makes some sort of impression on everyone, I'm quite sure. But sartorial standards  have fallen so low that it seems many people don't know that, and a few of those people are the lawyers, amazingly enough.

While I was there I noted that a large number of people appearing before the court were in t-shirts.  I suppose that was everyday attire, and that's what they had.  Nonetheless, it doesn't leave the best impression.  It particularly does not of the t-shirts have a vaguely legal theme.  One person had on t-shirt that had the words "Southern Justice" on it, with the scale of justice tipped to one side.  Granted, we aren't in the south, but if you are making an appearance in a criminal case, that's a bad idea.  Another person had one that said something about "Pirate's *****."  It was probably whimsical or even a little risque, but still, pirates were thieves and you probably don't want the court to associate you with them.

At one time, except for the extremely poor, shirt and tie would have been expected for men.  A person might even have risked being dressed down for failing to wear that, save for cases of poverty.  Following that old rule here remains a good idea.

Epilogue II


Another experience that caused me to ponder this a bit recently is that I've been doing a fair amount of traveling, which means that I've been getting a fair amount of airport and airplane time.

If you glance through photos from the 1950s or early 60s, when air travel really took off, of people traveling in airplanes, its a bit of a shock to see how dressed up everyone was.  Men, for example, routinely were in suit and tie.  Servicemen were in their dress uniforms.  Hardly anyone is really dressed down.

Now, just the opposite is true.  I cannot ever personally remember a time when people were not fairly informally dressed in the airport or on airplanes.  Indeed, if I see a man with a tie on, I know he's come right from, or going right to, a meeting.  Indeed, pretty much only business travelers routinely dress in a "dressed up" fashion, with "business casual" being the norm for them.

Recently, however, the level of dress has been amazingly varied.  Some people opt to travel in clothes designed for the gym, I guess, and are really dressed down.  I've travelled plenty of times in airplanes in my jeans, and thought I was comfortably dressed, but I can't imagine wearing trousers designed for the gym on an airplane.  I'd feel self conscious and uncomfortable.

But not as self conscious as I would feel at a store in my pj's, but that's antihero odd trend, mostly exhibited by women.  I'm starting to see a few women in stores wearing their pj's and slippers.  I appreciate people are pressed for time, but nobody is ever that pressed for time.  It looks sloppy and most people don't really want to be seeing non family members in their pj's, particularly in public.  I guess it says something about how informal our era has become that people shopping in their pajamas isn't wholly unusual.  Or just seeing somebody out in public in their pajamas isn't wholly unusual.

Epilogue III

The Clothing of Youth.

Recently I've also had an odd experience that causes me to recall this thread.

I pass a local high school everyday, and in the course of doing that, I notice some rather interesting clothing styles.

Teenagers in that age range have always given us some interesting clothing trends, to be followed by, or sometimes lead by, people in their early 20s.  For example, people in their 20s gave us all the interesting clothing associated with the Jazz Age, including shorter skirts and raccoon coats.  In the 1950s this age range gave us Levis and t-shirts for people who weren't really working in labor, although most clothing was still pretty conservative.  Photos from the 1930s and 1940s show this age range dressed like adults, which in the years of World War Two and the Great Depression, they were.  The 60s, of course, brought in all sorts of stuff, and when I was in high school we pretty much all wore t-shirts to school.

The oddest high school age trend I've noticed are girls who have adopted the "Furry Lifestyle", going to high school dressed as cats or wolves. That's just weird in my opinion, but some do it every day, even wearing tails.  Very odd.

But that's now what inspired me to write.  Every day when I go by the high school I see one kid who is wearing a suit and tie. Every day.  And he looks perfectly natural in it.  Indeed, I've seen him so often that way, I'd now be shocked if he wasn't dress that way.  Interesting to see that in somebody so young.

Epilogue IV

Manly Dressing.

Somewhat off topic, but a podcast episode on men's dress on the Art of Manliness. 

Epilogue V.

Clothing at Church.

Okay, now for one that's again observational, but a bit counterintuitive.

You can fairly easily find, on the net, various gentle reminders by at least Catholic clerics, and probably others, that when people arrive at Churches on Sunday, they perhaps ought to dress up a beyond their usual standards, which as noted is, in the US, a pretty low standard. But you won't find those here locally.  Indeed, looking back to when I was a kid, I can't recall the standards of dress for Sunday Mass being particularly high.  And my recollection is pretty good.

I'm not saying that there was never a year when those attending Mass on Sunday didn't dress up. There may have been, but I can't recall it, and my memory stretches back on that at least to the late 1960s.  People have, in the time I can recall, always worn their regular clothing. So here's a local phenomenon, at least, that counters the trend noted here to an extent. Whey would that be?

I'm not entirely certainly, but I suspect that reflects something about the conditions of the rural West and perhaps something about the demographic I'm recalling.  In an area where a lot of people had very rural jobs, or heavy labor jobs, their clothing may have been their clothing, and that was the way it was. So they wore what they wore.

This isn't to say they wore dirty clothing or anything of the type.  That would not be true.  But, for example, people from ranches wore blue jeans and boots, and a clean shirt.  Men of any walk of life only rarely wore a tie.  School age kids wore what they wore to school, if they went to public school, where there were not uniforms.

Having said thsi, I suspect that if a person went back further than the 1950s, they'd find a  different situation at work.

Now, having made this observation, I will add a couple.  One thing that I now see at Mass that I never saw when younger was young men wearing shorts.  We didn't have any shorts, and that may be the reason why, but I do wonder if our parents would have approved of that.

And another is that t-shirts have changed over the years, which is interesting. I've written on this before, but t-shirts seem to have their own trend line at Church, at least by my narrow personal observation.  When I was young, we would wear t-shirts to Mass, including the period of time during which I was a university student.  In the 1990s I was seeing a lot of t-shirts, including quite a few of the type with highly rude slogans on them, which really weren't appropriate for Mass, if appropriate for anywhere.  Now, however, that's increasingly uncommon.  T-shirts aren't disappearing, as noted earlier, but young people at Mass do not wear them as much as they used to.  Indeed, I'm seeing a lot of nicer athletic shirts of one kind or another now. T-shirts that do show up, in season, are generally pretty appropriate for general wear.  And very recently I've seen some young people who wear t-shirts that specifically have a religious message, indicating that these shirts were chosen intentionally for the message, making them oddly appropriate as an informal piece of apparel for this setting.

Indeed, in spite of my earlier comments on t-shirts, I somewhat wonder if this all indicates a trend line away from t-shirts.  They're not going to disappear, but they do seem to dominate less of the clothing worn by people than they did only a decade ago.

Epilogue VI.

Clothing at Church.

But then, on the other hand. . . . 

Sometimes, after you write something, you find a reason that you have to reconsider or modify your prior stated item.  And this weekend I happened to observe something that causes me to do that.  It's a minor item, and I've already noted it on the post on hats and caps.  The item is women's head coverings at church, or more specifically the Catholic Mass.

Women at Mass, 1940s.

It was once a rule that women attending Mass, in some localities, had to have their heads covered.  I don't recall this rule personally, and indeed my personal recollection is quite the opposite.  But I was aware that hit had been a rule.  I'd just forgotten it.

In fact, it was further a rule that Catholic Priests, for much of the 20th Century, had to wear a hat while outdoors. Typically that was the typical men's business wear type hats of the time.  I.e., we'd expect a Fedora or a hat of that type. As I understand it, and I may not understand it well, this rule had to do with expressing respect.

This is all largely a thing of the past, which shows our changing views on this topic, but I recalled it as I happened to see two separate families at Mass in which the woman or girls were wearing lace head coverings.  It was practically startling in light of the fact that it is so rare.  Indeed, all of these girls and women were dressed very conservatively.  That shouldn't be read to mean something like Amish, which would be completely false, but simply nicely conservatively dressed.  Indeed, the conservative dress was really working for them, which points out the irony of conservative dress in loose clothing standards times being attention getting, irrespective of its intent.

I was aware that some people have continued on this old practice voluntarily, which isn't to say that I'm making a pitch for the rule to be returned.  Not at all.  I'm merely noting it.  And, by the same token I should note that certain religions have an actual rule requiring daily conservative dress, with strict Orthodox Jews being the most notable.  It's interesting that in their case, this does indeed make their appearance more distinct than in former eras, when many people were somewhat similarly dressed on a daily basis.

Epilogue VII

Men dressing their age

Just before this update, I posted Pope's "An Essay on Criticism", which is the source of the quote "fools rush in where Angels fear to tread".   I note that, as what I'm about to say is probably foolish.

I was at an event recently which had young people at it.  It was on a really nice day, the first really nice sunny day we'd had for awhile.  It was an outdoor sporting event, but one of those individual sports of skill, as opposed to a team sport.  And its a sport that probably sees a lot more participation from adults than it does from children, but most of the people who engage in it learned the sport as children, as its generally outdoorsy, usually people dress somewhat in that fashion while engaging in it, assuming that they don't have clothing specially made for it, which some do.

Anyhow, while at this a father and son set showed up, which is a gratifying thing to see, but they were both dressed, well. . . sort of like toddlers.

That may sound like a peculiar description, and in part that's because of my age.  Allow me to define it further.  Both father and son (son probably about 10 or 11, father probably 30 something) were wearing baseball caps with the brims completely flat, in the style currently popular with teens.  Both had their hats a bit off kilter directionally as well, which is common with aficionados of that cap genre.  Both were wearing floppy shorts, and both we wearing the brightly colored jersey of some athletic team.  It presented, shall we say, an extremely youthful appearance.

It was also clothing that was generally inappropriate for the activity, although you could get by.  But the odd thing is that it made father and son look like twins separated by a vast gulf of time.

Now, part of my reaction to this is no doubt as this clothing style simply didn't exist when I was young.  Wearing team jerseys was common, and I don't have an objection to it, but the shorts and off kilter cap look would have gotten us beat up when I was a teen, and there's no way that we would have affected that style.  I think it odd looking when I see teens wearing it now, but then teens have always tended, to a certain degree, to angle for odd clothing, although I can't really think of that being the case when I was a teen (maybe we wore badger robes rather than bear robes. . . its' been a long time ago).

Anyhow, while its not apparent to us, Americans have a reputation as being the sloppiest dressed people on the planet, and while its up to people to dress how they want to dress, stuff like this sort of contributes to that.  And at some age, you just can't get by dressing like a youngster anymore.

In the theme of this blog, I flat out do not think this occurred with men at all up until fairly recently.  Men always dressed like adults.  If you heard criticism of a man dressing under his age, it was for trying to affect one of the adult style of the era. So, for example, if you had a guy in his 50s wearing chains and keeping his shirt unbuttoned, in the 1970s, he'd get a verbal busing behind his back, no doubt.  A guy that age probably couldn't have gotten away dressing in a Zoot Suit in the 40s, for that matter. But to dress as "youthful" as we see some adults dress now would not only spark some degree of ridicule, but you'd really have people talking about you in a former era, if you were a man.  With women this seems to be markedly less of a trend now, and women still have the age old social control of getting criticism from their fellows if they dress too much like a teen, when they're not.  So we don't really find the phenomenon of women dressing way down in age to be common.

Epilogue VIII

It turns out that essays of this type are more common than I'd thought, or that I would have guessed.  A website I stumbled on has an entire series of them, basically cast in the vein of assistance.

An essay related to this topic, Four Reasons To Learn Style Rules.

And, Style, Not Sin, Part 1

Style, Not Sin, Part 2..

An essay on shoes from the same source; Style Starts With Shoes.

What probably is not obvious to folks is that in spite of what we'd think, even in the US which has next to no clothing rules left, people still judge each other by appearances.  People don't think that this is the case, but it tends to be to a surprising degree.

Epilogue IX

Regarding the courtroom item noted above, I'm not the only lawyer to have noted this, the Bow Tie Lawyer has commented on it recently as well. 


Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

I have been reminded of this thread from time to time over the past year for one reason or another, and I've been tempted to repost it, or to post a comment to it. As reposting can be a little irritating, I think I'll just comment on it instead.

Anyhow, as noted, I've been reminded of this entry from time to time, and was particularly reminded of it this morning, as the Today Show was on, and the host, Matt Lauer, was offering news commentary from Florida, where the Republican National Convention is about to get rolling. As those following the news are aware, there is also a major Tropical Storm in that neighborhood right now.

I suppose that provides the reason for Lauer's dress, or lack thereof, but it's certainly a major contrast with how things used to be done. Indeed, it even contrast enormously with what used to be regarded as appropriate. Lauser was out in a t-shirt with a light jacket on. He sort of looked like he'd just gotten out of bed, or walked out of the gym.

The purpose here is not to criticize Lauer, but rather to note that a television news host would not have even thought of doing such a thing up until very, very, recently. Up until at least the 1970s, a television reporter at least had a tie on. For the most part, they wore suit and tie. If they were outdoors, and in the hot and humid south, you would sometimes see them with a button down short sleeved shirt, with a tie. Had this same story been broadcast in 1972, rather than 2012, we would have seen no lower standard of dress than that.

This sort of brings up the topic of overseas broadcasts from areas of strife. I can recall seeing broadcast from the Middle East from 20 to 30 years ago where the journalist lacked a tie, but usually had on a short sleeve dress shirt. I recall reading the comment of one such reporter that he dressed that way in Israel as that was the standard of business dress there. In other words, he wanted to fit in. Reporters in combat zones sometimes could be seen in quasi military dress and, if with US troops, in actual US military dress. Now, reporters do not appear in US uniform, but you'll sometimes see the quasi military dress. However, you'll even occasionally see t-shirts, which are an American item and marks a person as an American.

All this is not to criticize anyone, but merely to point out a fairly substantial example of the evolution of the standard of dress. It is still the case that broadcast journalist are amongst the most likely to appear in suit and tie, but even that has seen some substantial retreats, as noted above.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

As another example, here in my office I have up a series of Wyoming State Historical Society calendars. The photograph for September depicts students in the Half Acre Gym watching a Play-o-Graph of a UW Montana State football game. the students appear to be all male, or nearly all male, and they also are almost all wearing coat and tie. The photo was taken in 1925. Hard to imagine a similar scene today.

Pat said...

Sort of related to this, on my way to work this morning I saw a young woman parked by the side of the highway, standing besides her car, making a cell phone call. It would appear her car, a relatively new car, had broken down by the side of the road.

She was wearing pajama bottoms. I suppose she'd probably just dropped a child off at school, but this provides about as good of reason as any I can think of to at least dress before going out.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

I happened to be on the net early this morning (couldn't sleep last night, and up too early this morning) surfing the net, and in doing that ran across an article a fellow had published on one of the popular electronic news/commentary websites. His article was "Why You Should Become A Lawyer."

His #1 reason was that you get to wear a suit, correctly noting that Americans are terribly dressed as a rule. His #4 reason was "suit and tie."

I have to say, having two out of the seven reason be clothed related is a bit odd.