Our society is overdue for a makeover

  • Follow Opinion columns

Did you watch the archived footage from 1963 on the John F. Kennedy assassination anniversary?

President Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and children John and Caroline wear their Sunday best in April 1963 in Palm Beach, Fla., where they attended an Easter service.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and children John and Caroline wear their Sunday best in April 1963 in Palm Beach, Fla., where they attended an Easter service.

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.)

Comments (4)

Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
specsta 12/01/13 - 03:20 am

Too Sexy For My Shirt

Interesting commentary.

There are a lot of folks, however, who have no sense of style. Just like there are people who are inept at sports or terrible at repairing things, there are many people who have no idea how to dress themselves.

The other factor is the influence of popular culture. When celebrities dress like they rolled out of a trash bin and people try to emulate it, bad style abounds.

Also, some folks just can't afford to dress better. If you have to wear a pair of shoes until holes poke through, or you only own ONE good pair of slacks, making a fashion statement is not at the forefront of priorities. Clothes are more and more expensive and just like everything else, you have to pay for quality. Some folks can't.

Finally, as long as there is a demand for and acceptance of fake hair, fake nails, snap-on gold teeth, fake butts, too much tanning, glow-in-the-dark super-white teeth, colored contacts, lip injections, ugly tattoos, chest implants (men and women), and other body modifications that make people look ridiculous - it is only a dream to think that folks might actually shop for a wardrobe that is complementary and tailored to the body.

Riverman1 12/01/13 - 08:23 am

When At the R Position, Dress Appropriately

I understand the writer’s point and it’s interesting to view films of the 1940s sporting events where all the men wore suits and hats, but it’s almost funny today. The fact is styles change and the writer wearing her business clothes in the wrong setting is beyond pity. It reminds me of Mr. Cleaver, Beaver's dad, wearing a tie to dinner.

If you were going to take a ride on a time travel machine, you had best choose your clothes to fit the time and setting. It could be if the time machine plops you down at an UGA game in a row where the people are spelling out GEORGIA and you are at the R position, you had best be topless with a red R painted on your chest.

deestafford 12/01/13 - 11:03 am

Dress, decorum, manners, and class went out the window

when we allowed the protests of the left in the 60's to change from a disciplined society to one of unkeptness and anything goes "as long as it feels good, do it" philosophy. Sadly, those standards have gone and will never return. If something doesn't improve, it declines. It can't stay the same. We are not improving.

KSL 12/03/13 - 04:52 pm

No we aren't.

I am appalled at what goes now.

Back to Top