I miss the fancy days when people dressed up in suits or dresses with jackets in matching fabric, the most clutch-able pearl necklaces and chain-smoked throughout a transatlantic flight on Pan Am. Maybe you didn’t think to wear your seatbelt, lung cancer certainly never crossed your mind, and your biggest concern may have been where to store your pillbox hat to keep it from getting bent out of shape.
Truth be told, the best of those days happened before I was even born, but I still miss the idea of them. Sentimentally, it was a much simpler time and life was definitely clearer, but on a much shallower level, I honestly just miss the clothes.
Even as the decades passed, people continued to get dressed to travel, to work, to eat out, to go to church, even to grocery shop. And as it goes, the way people dressed did reflect in some symmetry the temper of society — genteel, simple, concerned with etiquette, social nuance and a voluntary solidarity.
It seemed to be shortly after the millennium turned that things on a sartorial level started shifting dramatically. We can definitely point a finger at the instant and continued popularity of stretchy, expensive jeans. We can also credit Juicy Couture, whose velour track suits paved the way for the now multi-billion-dollar athleisure category. And soon, whether in closets or stores, trousers, dresses and hosiery became replaced with jeans, sneakers and technical fabric polos.
It would seem that given the habitually casual aesthetic over the last 15 years, that we would be in good company when we found ourselves homebound earlier this year. But it hasn’t been quite that simple. After several weeks in oversized T-shirts, elastic waist shorts and endless pairs of exercise tights, we started to walk past our closets only to lament over high heels. No matter how comfy the jersey or washed linen or French terry popovers might have been, we wanted a reason to wear silk charmeuse and lace and organza.
It became clear that the years of stockpiling denim and sneakers and Lycra-powered clothing was less a rejection of formality or manners but more the sliding scale of choice. And this spring, when events and travel and restaurants and church were all scaled back and pull-on joggers became all that was reasonable to wear, we realized that dressing up may have been more of a privilege that we, ourselves, turned into a chore.
Eventually, dams give way to cracks. Even as I type this, I am sitting at my desk in a fleece jacket and shorts, tapping my toe in a pair of vintage, pointed-toe Narciso Rodriguez stilettos. The day will return when we travel at will and functions and events invite us with the same predictability as before. But in the meantime, it may be time to consider how much of our current dressing habits are born out of comfort and mindlessness and if we are willing to put some of that apathy on the altar to gain a little dignity and presence.
We all have to wear clothes, often reluctantly, but maybe it’s time to approach the daily wardrobe with a little more thoughtfulness. Dressing well is certainly a courtesy to others, but it is mostly for yourself. By reengaging with the art of getting dressed, we may get one step closer to normal, whatever that might be.