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Do Clothes Really Make the Man or Woman?

I wonder. Has the idea of casual extended beyond the limits of clothes?

A friend was having trouble finding an outfit for an upcoming plane trip to Tanzania. It’s a long flight. I suggested sweats. Besides being comfortable, sweats don’t wrinkle and they keep you warm on chilly flights. She rejected my idea out of hand.

Guessing she envisioned a sweatshirt and baggy pants, not exactly the image I had in mind, I think I added something about not all sweats being sloppy. I’m not sure if I added that they often worked for me or not. Too casual she said, like traveling in pajamas.

Too casual for a 23 hour, overnight, multiple-stop-and-plane-change flight? Really?

She dresses for trips. For years her traveling uniform was a black silk jacket and scarf. She’s convinced her well-dressed outfit nabbed her an upgrade to business class on one of her international flights. In short, she thinks people treat you according to how you dress.

Is she right? Maybe, maybe not, but her comments made me think about that quote about clothes making the man–in her case the woman.

I grew up on the east coast where people dressed for work – jackets and ties for men, heels and dresses for women. And they dressed up for the symphony and the theater. People even dressed nicely for baseball games. It was simply expected. The term business casual had not yet been coined.

These days most of us do dress casual. I certainly do. My closet is filled with t-shirts, jeans, sweats and probably a dozen pair of flip-flops (even a pair with rhinestones). I don’t own a dress. Actually, I do, but it’s a formal dress with spaghetti straps and sequins–not exactly an outfit I’d pull on for coffee at Red Rock or to have dinner with a friend. Skirts, yes, but not a dress in sight.

I never really needed dresses. I was an emergency room nurse for years, I didn’t have to dress for an office and I didn’t have a lot of occasions that called for dresses. Besides, I looked good in pants. After I quit nursing, I was a co-owner of a construction company. No dresses on a job site.

The truth is I don’t really like dresses. I used to own a simple black dress. The kind that can be dressed up or down and in a pinch worn to a funeral. But even that’s changed. Now people often have celebrations of life and all black is too somber and depressing. I wore a green jacket to my mother’s service. Wear color to mine, please.

Maybe it’s a west coast thing. It’s not such a buttoned-down atmosphere out here. With so many people working outside the confines of an office, frequently in coffee shops, there’s a more casual dress code of late. What started out as Casual Fridays seems to have evolved into a now casual most-of-the-week ending in a Jeans Fridays. The very idea of dressing for work has changed. I know people who work at home, in their pajamas. (I don’t think they travel in them though.)

I wonder. Has the idea of casual extended beyond the limits of clothes?

It seems to have invaded everything in life. Casual conversation is now texting and email–with it’s own language and shorthand. Talk about casual comments. Casual sex is commonplace in movies, television and music videos. Song lyrics are explicit. In the years of early television, networks weren’t allowed to show anything that even suggested sex. Married couples slept in twin beds in pajamas. Today anything goes.

So in answer to my own question, yes, I think we live much more casually than we used to in almost every conceivable way. Don’t get me wrong. I like casual. Casual has its place.

And my friend is right as well. Casual or not, appearance is important. When I meet someone, the way I act and talk and dress is the first impression they have of me. It may well be their last one. Putting my best foot forward matters.

I almost hate to admit this, but I once voted against hiring someone because of my negative reaction to her scuffed and worn-down shoes–that first impression spoke volumes to me. Fortunately, I was outvoted.

It’s likely I’ll still wear comfy clothes when I travel. Never a sweatshirt and baggy pants or pajamas or anything that even resembles pajamas for that matter (especially the kind of pajamas I wear).

And, no, I’m not going to describe them.

cheryl gaffney February 16, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Casual is good, but people seem not to know where to draw the line. Some of my co-workers dress for the beach, but are visiting elderly people. The clients are not impressed. I remember when it was a special occasion, we would dress accordingly. I miss that. Now, whether you go to the opera in NY or a fabulous upscale restaurant, there are always people in jeans and tees. Call me old fashioned, but I miss that excitement.
Sue Clark February 16, 2012 at 09:08 PM
There is casual and then there is unkempt or sloppy....not the same. Casual tailored, casual beachwear, casual garden wear, etc. are all different. I like "creative" dress....putting together something that projects an image that is interesting with the hope that I can match the image.
randy albin February 16, 2012 at 09:25 PM
i am around the general public nearly every day. it seems that people judge you by your personal appearance and if you use a personal fragrance such as cologne. i frankly don't know where any of this gets you. become a nudist?
jess bray February 17, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I find an adult onesie pretty versatile (try www.funzee.com)
Joni Ratts February 23, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Me too, although I might have to be honest and say I don't dress up much anymore. But the opera in NY or an upscale restaurant? I wouldn't be wearing jeans and tee either - something nice for sure.
Joni Ratts February 23, 2012 at 04:18 AM
You are, m'dear, incredibly creative...and you fit the image!
Joni Ratts February 23, 2012 at 04:19 AM
A nudist? Not this gal, that's for sure.
randy albin February 23, 2012 at 09:56 PM
don't take any of this that seriously. just say that you look great today, ok?

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