One can’t help admiring how dapper the Kennedy family looked. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was a world icon for modern fashion and femininity. Beyond Camelot, there was style. Check out the crowds: even Joe Public of 1963 looked pretty good.
Have you seen us lately? How did we go so wrong?
For all our civic and scientific advances, our society has devolved exponentially in appearance.
In any crowd, you will find a consistent majority that looks like it never transitioned out of pajamas or is perpetually between yoga and CrossFit classes – which, let’s be honest, if that was really the case, our body mass index would be a lot more attractive.
While discussing our collective unkemptness, a friend recalled how she and her sisters on Saturday night would get their Sunday outfits ready and iron their gloves. Her big family of modest means maintained a non-negotiable understanding: You wore your “Sunday best” on Sundays.
NOWADAYS, YOU WOULD be hard-pressed to find anyone who presses gloves, except maybe for a mime convention, and even the mimes have slacked off on ironing.
There are few events for which everyone consistently dresses up. Why is it important to look polished at a wedding, an interview, a funeral or a public ceremony? Something about making an effort in our appearance tells the world that what we’re doing matters to us.
Are we too caught up in our daily grind to be inconvenienced by clothes with structure? Have relaxed social norms manifested into relaxed-fitting clothing?
In that case, low-riders mark a low point in our culture. Is today’s sloppy Joe or Jane Public just another extension of our systemic laziness? The breakdown of the family is always game for blame: Moms and dads, if an active presence, are too busy and tired keeping food on the table to regulate kids’ wardrobe choices. Maybe our friends and relatives are too busy and too tired to call out a hot mess when they see it – or don’t see it as their place.
That’s fair, but whatever happened to that village of tough love? “I love you so much, I know you’re better than the way you’re dressing right now, and I don’t want you to end up on peopleofwalmart.com.”
Diet and exercise influence our appearance. At the same time, public opinion polls show that our self-confidence couldn’t be higher. We’re constantly preserving ourselves and our “selfies” in digital perpetuity. Substance outweighs style, but style goes a long way in delivering one’s message, especially when style and class are in short supply.
Rarely are we tailoring our own garments, so achieving that tailored look from off the rack is challenging if not impossible. Everything’s a trade-off, but our appearance is getting the blunt end of the ugly stick.
LET’S CUT THE TANGENTIAL threads and focus on one issue: what can we do to resuscitate a classier style?
“Class” isn’t about socioeconomic status. Whatever your income, color, creed, shape, size or sex, you can have class. Class and style come from the person, not the paycheck. It doesn’t take expensive rags from trendy stores. It takes a little time and effort, maybe a couple layers and some tasteful accessories.
I am not espousing the return of girdles or vacuuming in dresses, but a modish movement is overdue.
Let’s bring back gloves. Imagine the money we’d save on Purell. How about hats? I challenge anyone reading this to find a “say-something” hat at a resale shop.
Hats keep you warm, block cancer-causing rays and make you appear taller. I wore such a hat while traveling recently, a throwback experiment to when people dressed up to travel, and the response was positively startling. Granted, I ripped my tights on my suitcase and my son’s Velcro shoe strap snagged my sweater – legitimate reasons why people don’t dress up to travel. Even so, it’s hard to be upset when wearing a great hat.
A former boss used to say, “The clothes are holding me up.” Who hasn’t had a day like that? Sweats are nice to come home to, but they’re not going to hold you up in public when everything around you falls apart.
Own what you are – your size, your shape – and make it rock. Button it down, tuck it in, and you’ll be amazed at what transpires. Until we are issued our federally regulated ultraviolet and infrared ray-, insect- and germ-resistant jumpsuits, let’s reclaim our appearance and make it worthy of noting when people watch us on archived footage 50 years from now.
How we look on any given day might be the only thing we truly control.
(The writer is an educator and a recent transplant to the Augusta area.)