Because... getting dressed should be fun!

Because... getting dressed should be fun!

Category: Special Occasion

Occasions of Dress

Occasions of Dress

My apologies for the delayed publication of this post… I’d love to blame Technical Difficulties, but it really comes down to Operator Error.

Gone are the days where women or men had one outfit for Sunday Best, and another for the rest of the week. Now we have closets full of clothes, and people regularly complain that they don’t have what they need for the occasion at hand, whether that be a baby shower, or job interview.

One of my favorite books about fashion and style is The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. I reread it regularly, and refer to it often. It is a book for anyone interested in the history of style and fashion in America, and the history of women in American society. In it, Linda Przybyszewski refers to a collected group of brilliant and determined academics as the Dress Doctors, who were “fashion influencers” long before the existence of social media. They believed in elevating everyday life by applying the principles of art and the occasions of dress. These multi-talented women found themselves relegated to the Home Economics departments of universities, and found a way to thrive and be taken seriously. “Home Ec” was an art, not merely a necessity. They preached that beauty can and should be found in the quotidian. After all, that’s where most of us live. The Dress Doctors considered dress to be:

one of our social duties for two reasons. First, because the world has to look at us whether it wants to or not. Second, because the world has work to do, and an inappropriately dressed individual can be distracting. These two reasons explain why “making the most of your looks is not vanity.” The effort “indicates proper self-regard and consideration of others.”

In The Lost Art of Dress, Ms. Przybyszewski outlines the Six Occasions of Dress  for older children and adults. These included: (1) School, (2) Spectator Sports and Active Sports, (3) Street, Travel, or Work, (4) Housework, (5) Afternoon Affairs or Tea, (6) After-Five or Formal Evenings. From what I see on the streets today, categories 1-4 seem to have collapsed into one for many Americans, unless they work in an office with a dress code at a level above Business Casual. Category 5 has disappeared completely for most of America, unless you count happy hour. After-Five and Formal Evenings still hold a place, albeit for most of us, very rare.

I am not the only person who has noticed that in our current culture, for many, dressing for the occasion is dead. I am called into workplaces for employee training for exactly that reason. (Or because employees are taking their work wear cues from Hollywood and Pinterest.) I have witnessed church wedding attendees in cargo shorts, logo tees, and flip-flops. (The wedding party was in full length dresses and tuxedos, so no, the wedding was not casual.) Even beach weddings with flip-flops don’t usually go to the cargo shorts and logo tees extreme.

Many blogs and articles complain about the “casualization”of American dress, and give myriad reasons for the shift to “dressing down.” Everything from ignorance of propriety, laziness, lack of discipline, the obesity epidemic, and fast fashion have all been blamed for sweatpants culture. The “high” cost of clothing is my favorite… This excuse does not come from those in the industry. Cost cannot be the reason. We buy more clothing than ever, and still spend a lower percentage of our income on clothes than we did in the 1950’s, when (after looking at lots of photos) we were certainly better dressed! More than anything, I think it reflects the infantilization of our modern American society.

Since the 1960’s and the Youthquake, maturity has taken a beating. Our culture has been chasing youth, or the illusion of youth, for more than a generation. We don’t even grow-up anymore. We “adult”. What rubbish! There are privileges that come with maturity as well as responsibilities. Why not celebrate the privileges rather than cling to immaturity. There is nothing wrong with a youthful attitude (I think it’s a necessity), but dressing like a teenager usually comes across as childish rather than youthful. Previously, one of the privileges of maturity included what you could wear. Women in their 20’s were not seen as mature enough for the elegant styles designed for a woman in her 40’s. I remember looking into my mother’s closet as a girl, and wondering when I would be old enough to wear some of her beautiful things. (Cocktail pretties, and later, a stunning silver St. John knit gown!)

For those whose parents were busy chasing an extended adolescence, and missed out on the education of what to wear when, I have taken liberties with the Dress Doctor’s 6 Occasions for our modern age. Your wardrobe needs to fit your life, so if you never attend weddings or eat out at nice restaurants because that violates some deeply held principle, don’t worry about that category! Most funerals are not planned, and shopping is the last thing you need to be doing when grieving, or supporting those that are; please make sure you at least have something that fits the Solemn Occasion category…

School/Work

School:  At one time, elementary school children, high school students, and college students all had their own styles of dress. Now, university students can be seen at class in their pajamas, and many other students attend classes dressed for athletic competition, or they look ready to clean out the garage. School is the child’s equivalent of work, and students should be dressed for it. Not necessarily shirts and ties, but in comfortable, not ready-to-roll-in-the-dirt, clothes. (Or where I live: ready-to-go-hunting clothes.) Creating a distinction between school clothes and play clothes (as in previous generations) creates a structure that supports the business that study is. When I taught in a school with uniforms, I (and other teachers!) dreaded out-of-uniform days for the attitude shift in the children. There was less respect for others, and less concentration on schoolwork. When students dress for play, they demonstrate play behavior and manners from the first bell to the last.

Work:  The same principle applies to adults and work. Unless you are a yoga instructor, or personal trainer, you don’t need to wear fitness gear all day long. I understand the appeal of athleisure, but by definition, work is not leisure, so save athleisure for non-office time. If you work from home, like I often do, and are caring for children or slipping in housework between business calls, dress in a manner that you will not find you embarrassed if a client or business associate drops by, and throw an apron over your clothes if you worry about stains. (I wear mine when having coffee because I am a mess.) Check your business dress code. If you need to make up your own, unless your job requires dirty physical labor, it is usually better to find yourself overdressed than underdressed.

Leisure/Play

Going to a game? Playing after work or on the weekend? Gardening or hitting the building supply store for work on that project? Great! Wear what works for your sport, hobby, or project. And think about where else you may choose to go. Please think twice before going to brunch after spinning at the gym. You don’t need to be marinating in your own juices for the next two hours, especially at a restaurant.

My husband and I take ballroom dance classes, so some of my leisure/play wear looks like what someone else might wear to a wedding. That fits my lifestyle, but maybe not yours. I keep a box of clothes to wear for yardwork and camping under my bed; they don’t need to take up my valuable closet real estate.

Occasions

Festive: In festive occasions, I include events such as wedding or baby showers, dinners out for celebrations, casual or daytime weddings, and other similar affairs. Often these outfits are brighter in color, or have bolder patterns than work wear, but if your workplace is more casual, you may have pieces that cross over well. A brightly colored dress, or trousers with a cheerful blouse can usually fill in the gap, especially with some added sparkle. Leave your work tote or everyday bag at home. Try something smaller and less utilitarian.

Solemn: As I mentioned above, solemn occasions are not usually planned. A court date or jury duty, funerals, or other important appointments are less of a stress if you already have something appropriate to wear. My least favorite appointment is being called to help someone buy an outfit for a funeral, even if it is a privilege to help during a difficult time. If your work wear is conservative and neutral, you probably have what you need, but if most of your clothing is leisure wear, making sure you have a neutral trouser outfit with a subdued top, or a easy to throw on (not party) dress in your closet can be an emergency lifesaver. This is the time to leave the sparkle at home, but adding a bit of subtle sheen looks like you made an effort.

If you find you need to buy a new dress for a festive or solemn occasion, and they are rare in your world, please don’t spend a fortune on your outfit. Are you really going to wear it again? If not, look at renting, or check out the consignment stores in your area. The cost per wear on party outfits is a budget buster! Spend your money where you make your money, not on a party frock!

Special Event Wear

Other events are much dressier. Does your company have a holiday cocktail party every year? Or do you have formal occasions to attend? I used to have two dresses for the military ball we would attend each year. We moved every three years, so I would just alternate years. If anyone was bothered that I wore the same dress, that wasn’t my problem. Now I don’t have any, because our life doesn’t require gala wear. Buy for the life you live. If clubwear doesn’t fit your life, then leave it behind in the store, no matter how cute that little dress is… I have a few dresses I wear for ballroom dance events, and these can cross over for cocktail parties and other (exceedingly rare) events of that type. I am looking for a new dress to wear for my son’s wedding next fall, and am hoping to find one I love that I will be able to wear again.

What categories of dress do you need for your lifestyle? Did I leave out a category that is a must for you? Please let me know in the comments below; I love to hear from you!

 

Holiday Dressing

Holiday Dressing

What makes a great holiday outfit? Ugly Christmas sweaters aside, what feels festive to you? It should really depend on the event. Caroling on a chilly night requires a different  ensemble than the office holiday ‘do. (Speaking of the holiday office ‘do… It’s still office, and NOT the place for cleavage, bra or booty!)

Some Sparkle

Sparkle doesn’t have to be diamonds. Choose the metallic shade that looks best on you. Statement earrings are a great way to keep attention on you (your face), and avoids the jangle of bracelets and the swinging and catching of necklaces that many find annoying. An inexpensive pair can be your holiday go-to. A metallic clutch to go along is another easy and inexpensive touch. Jeans, a tee and your earrings and clutch change the whole vibe from van driving to festive! Metallic “clutches” are everywhere this year. Look beyond the handbags to cosmetic bags and electronics gear organizers. Also look in the office supplies at supply pouches… These tend to be less expensive than the ones you find in the handbag department, and you can use them next year to keep your tote organized!

Some Cozy

What’s cozy? Please don’t  wear puppies or kittens! Think corduroy, cut or uncut, velvet, velveteen, velour, faux fur, fuzzy or marled knits. I have seen some great velvety cosmetic bags at my local big box store (red circles on the front…) with a tassel zipper pull that would make a great clutch. Cozy isn’t only for tops, though. Try corduroy or velvet jeans, or a faux fur scarf, in whatever color makes you look radiant. The point of faux is to be faux, so don’t worry about picking a “realistic” color!

Some Elegance

The soft sheen of pearls or pewter brings light to the darkness of winter. Imagine the glow of of white mistletoe berries contrasted with the green leaves. The draping of a waterfall cardigan can bring an elegant feel, or the luxurious hand of cashmere warms and regulates temperature like a dream. Lace, anyone? An oversized statement necklace, bracelet or ring that isn’t blingy feels elegant as well. Yours might be a wide silver cuff bracelet. Antique pieces and family heirlooms (grandma’s brooch or locket, or your aunt’s wedding ring that she wore on the boat over from the old country) all speak of tradition and connection. Don’t save them for “good”! If a holiday celebration isn’t good, what is? (I drink box wine from crystal, so any day is good for me!)

Some Color

The traditional reds and greens of the season feel festive, but avoid pairing them together. Even in their grown up version (burgundy and hunter) they can feel cliché, and look childish rather than youthful. The easy mix is with black, and since that can be too harsh for many complexions, why not try your favorite shade of red/pink or green with winter white, grey, taupe, or blue? Light blue and white are a great holiday combo, too, evoking clear skies and a snowy landscape. If you must wear all black, please at least add colored jewelry and a pashmina to soften and cheer your look.

Comfort!

Comfortable is a must for me! If the dress requires 2 Spanx and a pliers to pull up the zipper, you aren’t going to have very much fun. Unless you are a starlet whose job is to be stunning and you can act well enough to be happy even when boa-constricted, please try on your outfit before it’s time to head out the door, and determine if you are garbed in something you can spend the night nibbling, dancing, and socializing in. If sitting and entertaining small children are in the plan, take that into account, as well. Too tight trousers to the holiday concert will make you wish you the sugar-plum fairy would just drop dead so you can get home and into your jammies. Uncomfortable clothes = Bah, humbug!

What is your favorite holiday outfit? What item do you wear that always makes you feel special? Share in the comments below!

And many thanks to Katherine at #notlamb for the LinkUp!

Red, White, and Blue

Red, White, and Blue

I am thankful for the freedom with which I have been blessed, by no more than an accident of birth. There are many other places I could have been born, and into such different circumstances. When I was a Spanish teacher, my middle-schoolers completed a unit on the flags of Spanish speaking countries, which brought with it a discussion about the symbolism of colors. We would end the unit with each child designing a flag for his or her own imaginary country. As you can imagine, there were some very creative and unusual choices!

When I reflect on the Red, White, and Blue that symbolizes our nation, it is easy to understand why the same colors have been chosen by so many nations for their national ensign. Color has many associations; these vary dramatically from culture to culture, particularly in the East and West. For many in the West, red symbolizes Courage, and the blood shed for the founding of a nation. White symbolizes not only purity (a bride’s white dress) but also Justice. Blue (as your average Webelo will remind you) is a color symbolizing Loyalty. Apt choices for a flag, and a valuable reminder as to the ideals to which we aspire.

As for fashion, I have never been keen on clothing with our flag emblazoned all over it (especially on the backside of bottoms!), but I defend your right to wear it as an expression of free speech. I would rather we took respectful care of the flags we fly, and properly dispose of them when they are faded and tattered. (And the same for the clothing as well. The ripped and torn flag tee does our national symbol no honor.)

On this day, and all days, let us remember to respect others by treating them with Courage, Justice, and Loyalty, and make ourselves worthy of the title American.

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday

Since Throwback Thursday seems to be the ubiquitous default, I’ll give it a try. As I have few to no previous posts to choose from, instead of an old post, I’ll ponder what items or trends I wish would take another spin through fashion culture.

I love the clothing of the very late 50’s through the early 70’s, before hippie chic took over. You know, the styles that drove people to swoon and discuss the wardrobe logistics of Mad Men more seriously than politics around the office coffee maker. (The P word is a topic I really would like to avoid here in Closet Play land, but I am sure it will be inevitable as it also affects style and fashion.) I realize is that it is not only the clothes themselves, but the idea that occasions were to be dressed for, and that different occasions merit different clothing choices. Are we losing our sense of the special, because so many go almost everywhere in the same clothing worn for cleaning the garage?

I remember, as a child, dressing up to get on an airplane to fly East to visit our family. We did this regularly. Not Easter Sunday dressed up, but not in play clothes, either. Today, I am agog at the people in airports in their jammies, hauling around blankets, stuffed toys, and full sized pillows. No, I am not talking about children. I get it for toddlers. Very small children have carte blanche go everywhere in their jammies. I am talking about adults, dressed as pre-schoolers. I, too, want to be comfortable, because Lord knows that passengers are even more tightly wedged into aircraft than ever before, but comfort is not only found in jammies and gym clothes.

Yes, I miss those fabulous 60’s clothes, but even more, the sense of occasion that dressing nicely brings.

What style or items do you miss?

Why just for special occasions?

Why just for special occasions?

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of June. Wedding season. And beautiful brides everywhere are slipping into the only custom fitted item they will ever wear. I know, every bride wants to look stunning, and unforgettable on her wedding day. But what about the other 364 days in the year? (Or 365 if it’s a leap year…) Why not all the rest of the years of her life?

At one time, all our clothing was custom fitted. We had less clothing, it fit us properly, and we looked better in it because it was made for us and our unique bodies. Now, I understand that buying custom-made clothing is not in the average budget, nor even in the generous budget, but what about tailoring off-the-rack items to fit like custom made? The clothes in the stores are not designed to fit you. They are designed to fit a fit model, so if you are a fit model, my apologies, they are designed to fit YOU, just not anyone else out there.

So why not take your off-the-rack items to the tailor or seamstress? Most people would say it’s not worth it. For those “fast fashion” fixes to be thrown out after a season, it’s probably not. But for those clothes you depend on day after day, be they your jeans, work trousers, jackets, blouses, quality tee shirts, try it!  Alterations/tailoring should be an expected part of your clothing budget. The extra you spend on tailoring just might keep you from feeling like you need a “better fitting” pair of black pants, bringing the total in your closet to five.

Shouldn’t the clothes you wear daily make you feel and look fabulous? Why only spend for the special occasions? You will most likely never wear that wedding dress again, but those favorite jeans or trousers are likely to see the light of day more than a hundred times this year. That’s the clothing worth investing in!

2017 JUN 14