Monday, August 04, 2008

Dressing Like Charlie

I should not have been surprised.

On my last visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles, half of the men were dressed like pirates. The crowd had more bandanas and ear rings than the crew in Long John Silver's pub.

But then, over the weekend, having walked out of the latest mummy movie (and that says something because I'm a sucker for mummy films), I was sitting in the lobby area, jotting notes about projects and waiting for my more mummy-tolerant relatives, when something struck me:

At least a third of the men wandering in and out of the theater were dressed like Charlie Brown.

There they were, with baggy Charlie Brown shorts, and sneakers or running shoes, and t-shirts. Many had baseball caps.

Now I'm as casual as the next person (see photo above) but the collection of Charlies sparked memories. Remember those photographs of the crowds at Yankee Stadium in the 1920s or even the 1950s? The men in those photos looked like grown-ups. They were sporting fedoras or Panama hats. You can also see a lot of jackets and ties.

There was a distinct contrast between the men in the old photos and a large percentage of the guys I saw the other day. Does this mean that there is some extended adolescence going on or is this just part of the BoBo culture that David Brooks writes about or does this represent a general casualness which has probably infected most of us. (I plead guilty.)

What's going on?

[Update: Check out this post at Cultural Offering. ]


Kurt Harden said...

Well said. We had a fundraising event the other night and the crowd was casual with heavy-on-the-casual-side. This was a dinner to raise thousands of dollars for our local football program. One fellow not only showed up in gym shorts and a t-shirt, he saw fit to make fun of my "overdressing." I was decked out in a button-down and khakis. Sad.

Michael Wade said...

Good example. I'm surprised at how some people dress for religious services.

It may be linked to the "embracing your inner child" attitude. There are many adults who simply resist growing up. In addition to the men, you can find a surprising number of older women who dress like teenagers. This doesn't mean, of course, that these individuals aren't smart or, aside from the garb, mature but their appearance isn't sending the message that they are serious people.

As you note, they are heavy-on-the-casual-side.

Anonymous said...

Maybe people got tired of being really really uncomfortable for no apparent reason? The last time I went to the shore, I didn't see anyone dressed in a full bathing suit, nor did I observe many suit and ties in 95 degree heat the last ball game I went to. I would finally point out that it is really expensive to dress well, and those of us on a budget (espicially those of us (me) who shop in the big and tall section) find it a lot more affordable to dress casually than to the nines.

All that said, it is really impressive to me when someone dresses well. If and when I can afford to do so, I'll dress in excellent clothes, too.

Michael Wade said...


I don't think it's a question of excellent clothes or of expense. The people in the old photographs probably made much less than people today. Some of the casual clothing costs more than more formal apparel. It's a fashion issue.

Your point about comfort being an influence is a good one. Many of us opt for the more casual clothing because it's more comfortable. At what point, however, should comfort not govern?

DarkoV said...

I'm afraid if guys wore fedoras these days, they'd even wear these hats backwards.

If you want to see folks dressed up these days for a social function, I believe the only place to witness such attention to personal appearance is any Sunday at any African-American church. It is a humbling experience and on that should set some greater example.

Going to (on an occasional basis) a Catholic service on Sunday is, as previous commenters have noted, a sad, sad experience. What the heck is wrong with a nice summer weight linen suit? You walk and breath differently.