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Jewish World Review Aug. 12, 1999 /30 Av, 5759

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Dressing Down...and Out --
DINING OUT RECENTLY with my wife in celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, I felt as if we had just landed on earth from some remote alien galaxy far, far away. The restaurant, although quite nice and certainly appropriate for a special evening, was not one of those places were you need to speak fluent French and take out a second mortgage on your home just to pay for dinner. I decided, therefore, to forego wearing a suit--choosing a more casual outfit; a sport jacket, tie and slacks. My bride looked beautiful in a simple but elegant black trapeze dress.

Gazing around the room as we were shown to our table, I noticed that no other man was wearing a tie or jacket. Many were in short sleeve polo shirts, some in T-shirts. Most wore jeans or Dockers and athletic shoes. My wife was the only woman in the restaurant wearing a dress...any kind of dress. As with the men, jeans appeared to be the garment of choice among the women (although in fairness, I do believe I spotted one skirt). Remember, this is a very nice, moderately expensive restaurant, in an upper-middle class neighborhood of Los Angeles.

As the Twentieth Century comes to an end, I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t come to the end of elegance as well. Elegance...the very word now sounds quaint, antiquated by today’s standards of no standards. In particular, I direct your attention to the ongoing dressing down of society. Although accelerated in the last decade or two, this is really a trend that has been going on for about one hundred years.

When the prim and proper Victorian age gave way to the early 1900’s, many of the burdensome clothing traditions, particularly for women, gave way as well. Gone were the multi-layers of petticoats and other various undergarments that could conceal all physical imperfections. Gone, also, were the vise-like cinch-tied corsets. High button shoes and thick wool bonnets were replaced by less bulky hats and lower cut shoes.

Men’s wear saw a shortening of the traditional long coat, with fewer buttons. Ascots and formal bows around the neck relaxed a bit into what would soon become the modern four-in-hand tie.

The machine age brought with it an ability to manufacture clothing which was affordable and used lighter-weight fabrics. Suddenly people were dressing much more comfortably than in the past, and they liked it. The seed for the concept of dressing for comfort had taken root.

Interestingly, once an article of clothing is discarded by society it never seems to come back. Sure, certain fads may resurrect a “look” or an accessory now and then, but not seriously, and not for any long duration. I don’t believe men will be wearing spats again anytime soon. Don’t expect women to start jumping back into corsets. Kid gloves for everyday wear will never return, I’m afraid. Nor will real hats (as opposed to baseball caps) for men or women. Not unlike strippers in a burlesque show, we shed various articles of clothing with each succeeding decade, and apparently we haven’t found our comfort level yet.

When corporate America invented casual Friday, it opened a dressing down flood gate throughout the world. According to Overseas digest, “studies show that almost 90 percent of employees are dressing down, at least some of the time, either through a casual dress code or on special casual days.”

Comfort is something that people are not willing to give up, once they have it. If a man is “allowed” to take off his jacket and tie on Friday, he will not be all that anxious to put it back on when Monday rolls around. There was a time not long ago, believe it or not, when a women wouldn’t consider coming to work in anything less than a dress, blouse and skirt, or suit.

Women’s Wear Daily reports that the ever-looser standards of appropriate dress at the office are a cause of consternation among some corporate executives, who have taken to hiring consultants to work with employees on meeting certain dress standards.

WWD interviewed a lawyer, recently hired to work in Congress, who expressed surprise at the bare looks of people in the hallways.

“I had heard people dress down during recess, but I thought it meant wearing a skirt without stockings. Then I got in the elevator and saw crop tops, short-shorts, and halters.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the streets of Shanghai are filled with people who haven’t bothered dressing at all. The New York Times has reported that the fashion rage there is pajamas.

Look around the room the next time you’re out at a fairly nice restaurant and see how few people are “dressed for dinner”. I don’t mean tuxedos and gowns, Go- forbid. Or even suits and dresses. I’d settle for just a little better attired than if they were going to a flea market.

As the trend of more and more comfort with less and less clothing continues into the Twenty-first Century, I don’t believe as some do, that we are headed for a completely naked society. Too many of us are still too shy for that, fortunately. Instead, watch for the one article of clothing that will make a come back. The muumuu--for both men and women. It may not be elegant, but it is the ultimate garment of total and complete comfort, while capable of concealing all physical imperfections.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


©1999, Greg Crosby