Monday, November 21, 2011

Have We Become "Too Casual" In Modern Society?

This past weekend, I started reading my new (1955 edition) Emily Post Etiquette book I bought off (only $8.00 USD!), I visited Old Town Alexandria with my sister, niece, and nephew, and yesterday afternoon I watched the last two Season 3 episodes of Mad Men on AMC (they are re-showing two episodes from previous seasons on Sunday mornings).

On Saturday, I met with my sister and the kids (ages 17 and 15) and we spent the afternoon visiting the shops in Old Town before enjoying a fantastic meal at a quaint Italian restaurant. It was so fun hanging out with family while browsing the racks in a few consignment boutiques, including an overpriced vintage store that seemed to think 80s and 90s was 'vintage.' I did, however, find a beautiful 50s lucite and silvertone metal 'basketweave' bag on display in a window but it was scratched and filthy (yet they wanted $145.00 for it).

Before heading out to meet my sister, I shook off my lazy morning repose, put my makeup on, and dressed. I wore a 50s plaid wool pencil skirt, stockings, saddle shoes, a 50s black wool collared cardigan, pearls, and a lightweight, 50s era cashmere and alpaca blend, taupe-colored coat. Basically, I was wearing my usual Fall attire. Nothing 'fancy,' it was just another day like any other.

As the gang and I walked around town, I noticed quite a few people staring at me like I was a crazy woman. I get the odd look now and again (especially here in the DC area) but I am used to it. But, the number of stares seemed to be peculiarly high. Most of the 'gawkers'  were clad in North Face jackets, jeans, baseball hats, and college hoodies.
(Above: my alma mater)

I have nothing against hoodies or North Face. As an avid skier, I have several North Face items I love and rely on heavily during season. I even have a GMU hoodie and tee. I graduated from Mason twice (BA and MA). I often wear my hoodie and/or tee to the gym, when I am cleaning house, or when I am sick.  I know 'style' is a personal choice. If someone wants to wear hoodies to a nice restaurant or a baseball hat to Sunday brunch, who am I to judge? And more importantly, how does one's clothing (especially a stranger) effect me? In addition, how does *my* choice to wear vintage effect others? The answer to those questions is, "it doesn't."

Not taking personal taste into consideration, I would like to know why we, as a society, have become so casual. When did a nice hat, suit, and tie morph into "business casual?"

For example, these two looks below:

Became these:
The suit, tie, and hat have been replaced with untucked blouses, shapeless blazers, and tieless, unbuttoned shirts paired with pleated Dockers. Instead of day dresses and a sharp sweater (for the gents) on the weekend, we see hoodies and baseball hats.

This casual vein has permeated every locale from the workplace, weekend errands, sporting events, airline travel to cruising. When I was little, I actually remember dressing up whenever my family and I travelled on a plane. Even when we dined out, all of us dressed nicely. Nowadays, whether it's seat 11B on United Flight 916 non-stop to Denver or the corner table by the window in Ruth's Chris, people wear everything from Juicy Couture tracksuits to Old Navy tees.

On a recent flight to Fort Lauderdale, I saw a mother and teen daughter decked out in matching Victoria's Secret "Pink" tracksuits. What is funny is how the mom looked at me (wearing a 50s warm weather suit) like I was yesterday's garbage. Her face actually made a wide-eyed, scrunched nose look. Priceless.

Again, I am not judging anyone for their choice of wardrobe. I am trying to figure out how dressing super casual became the norm. Also, why do I get odd looks when I am dressed nicely and tastefully? Now, I am sure the main reason(s) people stare is simply because I wear vintage. I understand that seeing seamed stockings and saddle shoes on someone nowadays is not typical whatsoever! Despite the vintage element, I am still dressed well. I do not judge others' style. Sure, there is a part of me that wants to "call them out" on their audacity to stare at me like I am the weirdo when they look like they stumbled out bed. But, I refrain from doing so. It's not fair nor it is my place.

So, the questions are: why did "casual" become mainstream? And, is there such a thing as 'too casual?'


  1. It is largely a North American phenomenon. It is prevalent in the UK now as well, but there it is also more tied to the class issue. On the Continent, most people dress very well on a daily basis. I also found people tended to dress a bit better in Australia and NZ than they do here.
    I don't have any explanations for it...but I own 1 pair of sweat pants and they do not, ever, leave my house. I live right beside a gas station and if I run out for something from there? Off go the sweats, and on go the jeans. Very basic, and most people won't even notice...but it makes a difference I think.

  2. Rueby,

    I totally agree about sweats staying at home! I try to make an effort because my mindset is like "why not? Life is too short, why not live it in style?" When I get up in the morning, off come the 50s chiffon nightie and on goes the 50s house coat. When I leave for work, I wear a vintage dress or suit. When I go out on a date, I will wear cocktail attire if the venue suits the clothes.

    As for the UK and other countries, I have family from Ireland, Norway, and the UK. When a few of my cousins from Britain came to the US for a visit a while back, I took them out to DC for drinks and dinner and they were floored with the numbers of blokes wearing tees and baseball hats! lol

  3. My husband recently switched jobs from a typical software developing shop to a not-for-profit on K Street. It was clear from the get go that khaki's and bowling shirts were no longer acceptable. While he doesn't wear vintage, he does wear the current trend in men's suits. He says it has made a big difference in how he feels. He says he finally feels like a grown-up (close to 40) and can now admit that he no longer feels underdressed when taking me out. I think people have gotten so used to being comfortable that they've forgotten how it feels to look good. I also wonder about the effect dressing well would have on a generation of 35-40s year old men who spend their free time playing video games and women who struggle to look like teenagers.

  4. Andrea,

    Great viewpoints you touched on!! My husband owns a government contracting firm here in Northern Virginia and for a while, he mainly worked out of his office and as a result, he wore the khakis and polo shirts. In the summer, he would wear vintage cuban shirts. However, in the last few years, he has to be on site every day for his clients and that means suits, white shirts, ties, and dress shoes! He tells me that he prefers wearing suits and wants to go shopping for more!

    I agree that people dress casual because they have forgotten and have grown accustomed to more casual attire. And that is funny about men in their late 30s-early 40s playing video games! lol! I work for my husband's firm as a tech writer and a lot of our engineers dress in polos and khakis during the week and on Friday it's usually shirts from! lol! All of their offices have nerf guns, Star Wars stuff, and video game-related items!

    As for the women who dress like teens, I have seen scores of them with their kids at Tysons wearing Juicy Couture track suit pants and Ed Hardy tees! lol!

  5. Hooray Tara! This post is great! I work in an office and the business casual you describe is long gone, it has morphed into coworkers wearing sweats, open-toed shoes w/ nasty feet, skin-tight leggings, pajama bottoms and slippers. Bare feet also. I want to carry a barf bag with me at all times.I am so sick of seeing other people's undies (or lack thereof) that I could scream. I honestly wonder what the heck has happened in society. Where did self respect go? It's probably hiding somewhere with manners and civility, both of which have disappeared as well. I could go on an on. This post has really touched a nerve with me. Im so glad I am not the only one who is amazed at this phenomenon.

  6. Ah, story of my life. People are overly casual here in Los's a calm relaxed vibe so people are a bit too relaxed in my opinion when they're going out for dinner or cocktails. There's a woman in my work building who refers to me as prissy even though she thinks I'm the sweetest person in the world. It's a term she just happens to use for my retro style...I was taken aback at first because I am NOT prissy..I like to look nice but that's a negative trait in my book. But I think it's that she's older and just uses it for anyone who's chic/fashionable. I do get the looks and I'm normally the one who stands out amongst the clothed crowd.

    I definitely think it has to do with mass production of clothing. People whore their work clothes for work back in the day and they wore nice clothes when going matter what time of day, they wore nice, presentable clothing. Now, we have a mish mash of ultra casual, work casual, business casual and everything is all blurred for the masses. People didn't buy clothing every week back then but nowadays we buy something "fun" anytime we see fit and so we have all these casual clothes that come so cheap and then have nothing of substance to wear when the night may call for it. It's depressing really! The 90s didn't help either!

  7. Danger Will Robinson,

    Thank you for reading my blog and posting your comments!

    Wow! The way you described your office is just, wow. I would be saddened and horrified. In my office building, there was a government contractor company on my floor (since relocated) and I was amazed at the way many employees would dress. I saw football jerseys, cargo shorts, sloppy tees, hoodies, and flip flops. There was construction going on in the building and at times, I couldn't tell who was with the renovation crew and who was working for the government contractor!

    I think people have gotten comfortable and like Andrea said, "have forgotten" how to dress well. Their workplace dress code is probably not an issue at all and no one corrects them. I really see this lazy style on airplanes and cruise ships. I have even seen cargo shorts and Gap tees in Ruth's Chris and Mortons.

  8. Retro Natural,

    Good points! I have totally looked over the whole mass-produced clothing issue! I know many will go into Forever 21, H&M, Gap, Express, American Apparel, etc to buy a quick, "cute" outfit for clubbing. Also, the idea of the "mall" made clothing easier to obtain, easier to choose from because several stores are in one place, and because of competition between stores, prices are cheap. Cheap means mass produced, less quality materials are used, and as a result, overall style goes down.

    One of my friends says that the movie "Idiocracy" (2006) is a good satire and indicator for where society is heading. In the movie, people are basically wearing sack-like tops and pants emblazoned with fast food logos. I think that is a bit harsh though. lol

    Anyway, I agree that "prissy" is a negative! I think people say that when they feel threatened and/or insecure.

  9. I completely agree. I'm surprised that PINK pantsuit mom sneered at you! You probably looked fabulous. Maybe it's a confidence issue.
    But, I get the same bewildered stares too!

    I wrote about something quite similar in July -

  10. Vera Von Vixen,

    I just read your post you linked in your comment! Wonderful read with fantastic viewpoints! I often wear makeup and dress up in a day dress on the weekends even though I more than likely will not leave the house. Like you, I just feel better.

    Yes, the mid-40s, Pink tracksuit-clad woman bedazzled with heavy Stephen Dweck accessories, level 10 overprocessed hair, orange spray tan, and "bolt-ons" had the gall to look at me like *I* was the one who should feel bad about her style, or lack thereof! I simply nodded and smiled in an effort to be polite and take the high road but that just seemed to confuse her even more.

    I am often amused by the people who take it upon themselves to judge my look. I may not like their choice of jeans, Affliction tees, Abercrombie shirts, or Uggs but I would never give them the stink eye. They do not bother me.

    We all have different views of what constitutes good style. But despite any variation in personal interpretation, we should always strive to look our best.

  11. I know where your coming from on this?I was just thinking about this while at work.I live in the south and when I am out with my victory rolls and all kinds of comments or laughing which I don't understand.But alot of people here where thier college support shirts,carolina girl,and camo.I have often wondered what decade did people stop caring about thier appearance in public.Maybe it's long hours people put into work we now hardly take time for ourselves to put in that effert.I remember growing up I was always dressed nice and I still do that.Sometimes I think the world could use a little manners and keeping up appearance class.great post.xx

  12. I love this post, especially the last paragraph. It's not too bad for me anymore, I'm used to dressing in a different way and the people around me got used to it.

    For strangers... Well... I *like* to think I inject a little whimsy into their lives, but if someone gives me the "eyeflick and nose-wrinkle" they can get over themselves.

    Part of what you said really resonates with me- suitability of the garment for a given activity. Activewear is for wearing when you're being "Active." "Smart" clothes when you're being "smart." Etc etc.

  13. Also, I just have to say to Rueby-- I don't believe Australians dress nicer than North Americans. For work, yes, maybe. For every other time-- NO! It's kind of depressing sometimes. It's like a visual assault when I go outside. Maybe it's just Queensland... ;)

  14. OK, I am going to be a little contraversial...but I find this 'modern is too casual' thing which pervades vintage a *little* hypocritical. Mainly because it often follows a description of a modern dresser saying the vintage dresser is 'odd'. For me, it just seems a bit 'tit-for-tat'.

    People who wear vintage are normal and deserve respect. People who wear casual are normal and deserve respect. People who wear 'out there' modern clothes and loads of make up are normal and deserve respect.

    Now I am NOT talking about dirty or unkempt clothing, which is just slovenly. But casual clothing has enabled a lot of social mobility and this freedom to dress 'differently' has its roots in vintage ('Teddy Boys' being the vintage of their time, dressing Edwardian- a key part of the birth of youth culture).

    When I started out my adult life I would have been immediately 'marked' as not being able to afford certain clothes in the 50s. Fact. Luckily, in multi-cultural, multi-style London, I was able to let my actions do the talking. It was this freedom which allowed me to dress in vintage (predominantly 60s, 70s...and, yes, early 80s- in Britain this IS considered vintage) and which has allowed me to make a living.

  15. Matching tracksuits? Maybe they were on the amazing race? Lol! Though in all honesty I don't see why flying should be an 'occasion' to dress up for - it's cramped and cold and you just want to sleep. I really regretted dressing nicely the last time I flew because I was uncomfortable after a few hours sitting down - what I would have done for a pair of jersey pants!

    There are some places that I think casual wear should not be allowed, such as the races, theatre and opera (mostly because we lack real occassions to dress up - I don't expect to go to any balls or galas in my life sadly) and I think it is fun. Apart from that I'm not really bothered by what others wear unless they're wearing a dressing gown and slippers to the shops :/ I've grown more relaxed about it I guess, and I think some in the vintage community can be overly harsh on people who are wearing things that would be considered appropriate and fashionable by their peers, and I think that attitude springs out of the defensiveness which arises when we are viwed as 'odd' ourselves.

    I enjoy wearing vintage but I'm glad to have the freedom to dress down on days when I just don't feel like it (chronic depression can do that to you). I would love to see more beautiful outfits when I am out and about, but that has to be balanced against how I'm happy we have less prescriptive social norms and that it is harder to be classist in a world where you'd be hard pressed to differentiate couture and high street fashion at a distance.

  16. Vintage_Kitten,

    Thank you for your thoughts and comments! I had actually gotten snickered at and pointed at. I usually smile and acknowledge their presence even if a tiny part of me is tempted to say something defensive or snarky.

    I grew up in the south too. I am from Richmond. Whenever I go home to visit my parents, I often see camo, "Ain't Skerd" tees, and NASCAR apparel in nice restaurants. Now, not everyone does that but I see it. I think the occasion should be a guideline for what is appropriate and what is not.

  17. StephC,

    Thank you for your comments and insight! I typically ignore the stares and funny faces but every so often when I get pointed at or "nose-wrinkled" at, I so want to say something. I don't but boy, am I tempted!

    Moreover, I have even had people come up to see and compliment my style and sometimes we have a lovely conversation. I have even had people ask to take my picture with them (this happened on a cruise in '07).

    I think clothing should suit the occasion and setting. I am just amazed when I see office professionals wearing baggy jeans and Ed Hardy tees. (I was out at lunch and saw this last week). \Now, for weekend wear, if that is your style, great. But work, no.

  18. Perdita,

    I really appreciate your comments and views! I don't think I am "odd" for being vintage. I just get "odd looks!"

    I am normal to the max for sure. Just because I am vintage does not mean I am some mad woman! But, boy o boy, do people often look at me like I am! lol!

    People are normal for wearing what they like. What is not "normal" nor acceptable is being rude by staring or pointing.

    I am all for respecting others' style choices but what I take issue with is inappropriate casualness. This means seeing people in tees and baseball hats and an upscale, fine dining restaurant, seeing office employees wearing football jerseys and cargo shorts, and pajama bottoms paired with hoodies on airplanes. Moreover, I have seen cruise passengers wearing baggy jeans and hoodies in the dining room on formal night. Yes, it is their right but when the ship has a dress code, why not at least try to make an effort and dress appropriately?

    As for the history of casual wear, I know that chic Coco Chanel loved her fisherman-influenced striped boatneck shirts paired with long, wide leg black pants. It was a casual look in the 20s and 30s but it had style. Casualness and style do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts.

    And as for the issue of 80s being vintage or not, I guess I tend to see the 80s and not "real" vintage because I was born in the mid-70s and to classify 80s as vintage means I am getting older! Ack!

    For example, when I was 13, I was fascinated with poodle skirts and cat eye glasses. My sister worked at consignment shop when she was in college. When she would bring home 50s and 60s wares and describe them as "vintage" to my parents, my mum would say, "Oh not they are not!" I guess if we are born before and/or when an era is vintage, we are in a bit of denial! lol!

  19. Emma,

    Thank you for your witty and astute comments! That "amazing race" comment is a riot!! lol!

    As for airplane travel, I understand about comfort being more important but comfort and style can go hand in hand. Modern airplanes have more seats crammed in, they sit on the tarmac longer due to heavy traffic, and the elegance of flying is gone due to budget cuts.

    As for comfort and style on weekends, again, they can go hand in hand whilst in public. They are not mutually exclusive elements. For example, during my lovely day out with family, my sister wore a lovely merino wool v-neck sweater paired with a scarf and nice pair of dark rinse jeans and wedge boots. She topped the look with a houndstooth jacket. Casual but chic.

    But at home, I do wear my college sweatshirt, especially during the winter and when I am sick. I have had it for 16 years and it is so soft and cozy. I have been wearing it a lot lately whilst visiting my parents. My dad has some medical issues right now and it is easier to throw on my sweatshirt and yoga pants to help mum around the house and when doing errands for dad. Putting my hair in rolls and doing the makeup is too wasteful.

  20. Hahaha thanks for your comment! Loved the Norwegian parts in there!! Hehe :) I totally know how you feel, having to go home and cut them yourself. Ikke bra!! ;)

  21. People are just not used to seeing smartly dressed women anymore! Especially vintage ones! Take it as a kind of compliment that you stand out. I get funny looks too, more because of my hair, kind of a "WTF?" stare. But I dont care as I like it! I think I'm the only gal in my town with Bettie Bangs! ;)

  22. Oh actually, I just remembered something that could be relevant to this discussion - the other month I was turned away from a bar that didn't allow 'formal wear'!! At that point in time I was -really- frustrated with how casual wear had so become the norm that instead of turning away people wearing thongs or an uncollared shirt, bars were now turning away people in nice cocktail dresses and suits! I just want there to be more respect and acceptance running both ways.

  23. I have to chime in again. Last nite, after I posted here, I went to the mall and bought bedroom slippers. I was chatting with the salesclerk, who is probably a college student, about the slippers and how cute they were. She said she liked the fact that they have a hard plastic sole and then told me, very proudly, that she always wears slippers out and rarely bothers with shoes anymore. I just said "wow." And I couldn't wait to tell you this story, speak of the devil! (let the record reflect that I will not be wearing the slippers outside of my house.)

  24. Los tiempos cambiaron muchisimo ahora es comfort over nicely dressed.
    La gente se esta pareciendo mas desordenada sobre todo algunos jovenes.
    Aqui todos me miran raro y en California todos quieren ser mis amigos.
    Yo pienso porque vivo en una small village, donde no les gustan los colores fuertes. No te preocupes amor..como dice una bloggera amiga"it is better to be looked over than to be overlooked." a mi me pregunto una prima que si siempre me disfraso?

  25. Great post, I have to say I used to get a lot of stares when I was younger but strangely I get more compliments as I've got older and still have my luminous red set hair! However I may have become immune to the stares, it's been going on for so many years now, it annoys me but I don't want it to affect me so I ignore it as much as I can!

  26. Really enjoyed reading this post, I think I stumbled upon your blog when looking up care tips for Stop Staring dresses :P

    I've recently started to dress more "vintage" after repressing this for many years as a result of being a shy girl and feeling daunted by the stares of passers by. I don't care how others dress and don't tend to stare unless they are wearing something that is really vulgar and revealing. I'm still learning to deal with peoples comments and looks, though I must say it does annoy me!
    I too am pretty disappointed in how casual fashion has become in modern times, the quality is quite bad a lot of the time too. Contemporary mens wear is especially bad in my opinion, unless it is formal wear of course. It's really such a shame.

  27. i don't always dress vintage (mainly due to lack of optionsin my wardrobe) but i always dress in a way most people considder "different". i think what bothers me most is when i hear people think i dress how i do for attention. i agree with live and let live and i have friends who enjoy many different styles of life and fashion. but i dress how i do because it makes me happy and that is how i am comfortable. I know what clothes look good on me and wearing them makes me feel good. i recently started sewing and my New Years Resolution is to make my own wardrobe of vintage style clothing and be more presentable. I was raised a jeans and t shirt girl but i feel so shlumpy when i am dressed so casual. ready to move into my own <3

    i was looking at pix from the 40s and 50s of my family and was so amazed at how beautiful they looked just to walk around the park. hats and gloves and dress shoes oh my! i wanna bring some more of that glamour and self respect into my life

  28. I love this post. I'm also 100% for paying respect to all walks of life. That seems to me to include dressing like an adult when I leave the house. Some of my friends have 'taken me aside' to talk about my odd choice of clothing, meaning vintage, not being appropriate, yet we show up to have dinner with them and the lady is in flipflops, the man is in a tank top displaying his body hair, and both are in athletic shorts. I wonder too if it is an obsession with youth? I always want to stop and thank someone who is dressed classically and beautifully, but usually don't. So let me thank you now!

  29. hey, i've got a question for you! i came across an amazing vintage revlon lipstick tube yesterday at a flea market and got it for two bucks. i froze my favorite red lipsticks last night (one mac bullet and one revlon). they came out easily, but they were way too small for the vintage compact. by a long shot. any ideas? or do you know of any modern lipsticks that are a bit "thicker" around the middle? thanks! J

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