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What happened to the good ol' days?

June 27th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Sometimes I read the Dressaday blog. I say sometimes, because, although there are lots of pictures of unusual dresses, I have discovered I have different tastes than Erin, and so most (not all) of the dresses don’t catch my fancy. But I have to keep checking because (1) when she does post a picture of a dress that catches my fancy, it’s a one-in-a-million (or something like that) chance, and I can’t miss it, and (2) sometimes she brings up interesting sewing/clothing topics.

Recently, she wrote this post on what (not) to wear when traveling by air. Now, I have never been in an airport, much less flown on a plane (well-rooted country bumpkin that I am), but her post and the following comments raised a lot of interesting points for discussion. I’d like to talk about them all (or most of them), but tonight I’m only going to tackle the classic “Whatever happened to the good old days?” Which wasn’t actually brought up in the post, but was referenced repeatedly in the comments, and always comes up when the subject of how everyone else ought to dress is broached. So this is practically a rabbit trail off of the post, but I thought it might be small enough to tackle and finish in one evening.

People wear special clothes for special occasions.

People haven’t changed their clothing habits as much as they have changed what they hold to be “special”.

One thing that people consistently discard is that, back in the good old days, going to town, traveling, etc—were special occasions. Nowadays, if you sit back in the dark recesses of your house, only going out to town once a month, then You. Are. Weird.

But, betcha if you only left your house once a month, you’d dress up for it!

This is true of nearly every “special occasion” that leaves people crying, “Where’s the respect? In the olden days, people dressed nicely!”

Traveling—by boat, train or plane—was hugely expensive. It was a Big Deal. It was a Rare Occasion. Nowadays, traveling is taken for granted. It’s normal. It’s expected. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. Here or there or wherever—it’s a small world, and everyone’s doing it.

Graduating from high school used to be a Big Deal. Most people didn’t do it. You had to quit school and help earn money to feed the family. College was even more rare—among other things, you had to come up with all that cash. Nowadays? You’re practically considered a disgrace if you don’t finish high school. It’s like flunking kindergarten! It’s like not being potty trained! Ironically, there are now more graduations, even while it means less to those graduating. Now you do graduate from kindergarten! And first grade! And second grade!

Is it any wonder it’s considered a farce? Is it any wonder no one takes it seriously, or dresses seriously for it? Even graduating from college is considered more of a duty than a challenge or an ambition or an accomplishment. It is assumed that of course you will be going to college, and of course you will graduate. You might get a little (or a lot) of respect by which college you get into, or with what kind of honors you come out of it with, but only (and here I once again stick my tongue in my cheek) losers don’t go to college.

Why then should there be any sort of celebration when it’s over? If the out-come is already assumed, what are we celebrating? If we drop a rock, and—heavens!—it obeys the law of gravity and falls to the ground, do we celebrate it? Of course not! We expected this! The same could be said for graduations, and has a good deal to do with why some people see no reason not to wear jeans and a t-shirt to graduation.

Then there are weddings. So many people are horrified that people don’t “dress respectfully” like they used to for weddings. Quite frankly, I don’t think marriage is as respected (or “taken as seriously”) as it was in “the good old days”, either. People live together for years on end, they get married and divorced 3 different times in a row—how can people take the ceremony of marriage seriously anymore? It’s not like they feel it’s permanent or anything. So what’s the big deal?

Having sort of recently read “Pride and Prejudice“, I wonder how people nowadays can “relate” to the book. After all, the biggest scandal is when a girl runs of with a guy without being married to each other!! And, like, the father is all ready to disown the girl, and her sisters are all so distraught at how horrible she’s behaving, and it’s a disgrace to the whole family, and they’re barely saved from this great disaster when someone pays the guy a whole huge tons lot of money to marry the girl.

How totally alien to modern culture!

And if marriage is no longer important, why should the manner of dress worn at wedding ceremony be important?

In the olden days, people had working clothes, and “good clothes”. Maybe two pairs of working clothes, and one pair of good clothes. You wore working clothes almost all the time, and when you weren’t working, you wore the good clothes. That meant for religious gatherings, traveling, going to town, holidays, visiting, and important family events.

Nowadays, people have closets and closets full of clothes. People are ‘visiting’ or ‘in town’ nearly every day. It’s not special. It just is.

A lot of people bring up “respect”. Respect for themselves, respect for others. Even poor people, they say, had enough self-respect to dress well when they were with other people!

I agree a lot of poor people were very fastidious about their appearances. Often times, the saying would be “Cleanliness is next to godliness!” And that was the way a lot of them felt about it, too. If you felt like the only thing that differenced you from the wife-beater, the child-abuser, the drinker, the thief and other such types was the fact that you combed your hair and wore clean overalls, well, you’d probably be in the habit of combing your hair and wearing your clean overalls. What other merit could the poor person claim, except that he was clean (physically and, it is to be presumed, morally)? Otherwise, he was worthless. But, at least you could respect that he was a clean poor person.

Nowadays? Nowadays, cleanliness is also a given. Nowadays, one of the greatest advances of modern man is deodorant. “Thank goodness,” people say, “We didn’t live back with the Neanderthals when they didn’t have deodorant!” Of course we’re clean! We’re not stupid monkeys; we know how to bathe ourselves!

And nowadays, too, everyone wears jeans and t-shirts. This is a real difficulty for hotels who try to figure out who the rich people are so they can give them special treatment. How do you tell who are the rich people and who are the poor people when they can all come in through the doors in ratty t-shirts and abused jeans? (They’re clever, they’re finding all sorts of ways. Don’t worry, they’ll know who you are.)

People still worry about dressing special for special occasions. The question is, in this day an age, what is dressing special? And what is a special occasion? What leaves people standing in front of their closets, bewailing nothing good enough to wear?

I’m pretty sure it’s not traveling on a plane.

Posted in Contemplations, Websites | 4 Comments »

4 Responses

  1. Laura Says:

    Excellent point. I posted in the comments of that post that I couldn’t imagine wearing a skirt to travel – unless you’re the kind of person who always wears skirts, in which case more power to you, but I’d awkwardly flash someone accidently, I guarantee it.

    The P&P angle is interesting too; what always strikes me when I reread it/watch a movie version is that *the whole family* was going to be ruined by Lydia’s action. And when you have limited $ and no other options, your reputation is really the only resource you have that you can leverage, which was particularly true for women.

  2. Tatterdemalion Says:

    Hi Laura!

    “. . .when you have limited $ and no other options, your reputation is really the only resource you have that you can leverage. . .”

    Yes, exactly. And manner of appereance used to be much more directly tied to reputation. (As I said, nowadays it can get pretty hard to tell if the guy in shabby jeans is a “normal” guy or millionaire.).

    I’m hoping to get another piece written tonight to further expand my thought. . .but it might not get finished tonight!

  3. Laura Says:

    (As I said, nowadays it can get pretty hard to tell if the guy in shabby jeans is a “normal” guy or millionaire.)

    Living in Silicon Valley, I see this all the time. Shop assistants and waitrons have learned to ignore the ‘usual’ signs of cheap, unfashionable clothes. Of course, only the guys can really get away with this (oh, there’s a digression…)

  4. ok Says:

    good site hrwmuz

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