Do me a favor: take a moment to close your eyes and picture Clark Gable. What do you see? The darkly dancing eyes, the sly grin, the eyebrows. And what else? Forever linked with those perfect brows: the rakish hat, immaculate suit, shiny Italian loafers. Now imagine good ole' Clark in cargo shorts and a ratty baseball cap'not quite the same, is it?
Flair and good style has historically packed a wallop in terms of career and influence, but while celebrities are revered for designer duds, us normals seem to have backslid into a quicksand of fashion apathy. Nowadays "overdressed" is practically a dirty word, conjuring up images of a pretentious blow-hard in an ascot surrounded by expensive cigar smoke. Party fears are assuaged with a "P.S: Don't worry, dress casual!" Phew, that was scary! Dressing too
well seems to spark derision and suspicion'put on a fancy dress and heels in the daytime, and you're sure to be bombarded with the inevitable: "You're all dressed up! Where are YOU going?" The question is, do we have
to be going somewhere to dress up? When did looking nice become an anomaly? And is it time we collectively ask ourselves, just when did we all get so damn slovenly?
The notion of good packaging doesn't exist solely for perfumes and hot dogs: you are also a package, projecting a specific message onto the world everyday, whether consciously or not. There seems to be a shared general comfort in dressing down, almost as if blending in with the crowd has become the new personal norm. A prime example of the pervasiveness of casual is "pajama day" at junior high and high schools- - a day for students to wear their threadbare jammies and shuffle around the school halls in their slippers. Is this a case of teaching kids to not feel pressured to look perfect, or it is instead raising a generation of grown-ups who will always live within the confines of an elastic waistband?
Los Angeles is a city often cited for leading the style-phobic pack, an opinion I regretfully agree with. I've witnessed more than a few hostile encounters between schlubby patrons and bouncers enforcing a "no T-shirts, no sandals" dress code. It's as if they are aghast that anyone would dare assume they even own
anything with buttons. Restaurants with slightly dressier clientele are immediately slammed for being snooty or pretentious, or only catering to the rich and/or famous. Who perpetrated the stereotype that only the rich dress well? That is a ridiculous, outdated notion that should have faded out alongside certain blonde heiresses with an affinity for pink rabbit fur coats and exposed nether regions (ahem, P-Hilton).
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not waxing poetic about the bygone days of whalebone corsets and girdles (good riddance to whale-killing organ crushers), far from it. Casual attire has its rightful place; who hasn't trudged into a CVS at midnight for some cold meds in ratty sweatpants and a hoodie? This isn't the 50's--there's no pressure to wear a face full of makeup just to go grocery shopping and a woman wearing trousers is no longer front page outrage fodder. We aren't constrained by class or strict gender roles, fashion is free and playful as it's ever been, and that is something to embrace and celebrate. I just wish people celebrated it more often instead of drowning their personalities in the risk-free uniform of their peers.
I think it's valid to mourn the loss of obligation people once felt towards each other and themselves, the obligation of looking good, keeping up physical ideals, treating every day as a prideful event. Fact is, negligence about one's appearance does not radiate that bohemian "je ne sais quoi" vibe; it instead very plainly states: "I don't care." Not caring might be cool for the sullen girl in that implausible romantic comedy, but in the real world, it's a very visible barrier that can hinder everything from relationships to career. There is something to be said for dressing not as you are, but who you want
to be. It's called a "power suit" for a reason: a well-tailored outfit immediately straightens your spine, makes you walk with purpose. Confidence is tangible, and it may just be hanging in ignored depths of your closet.
Some may decry the unfairness of outer packaging taking precedence over inner substance, but realistically, we can have both. I feel it all it boils down to respect. Couture designer (and notoriously sharp dresser) Tom Ford puts it like this: ""Dressing well is a kind of good manners, if you ask me. When you're standing in a room, your effect is the same as a chair's effect, or a sculpture's. You're part of someone's view, you're part of that world, and so you should dress well. I find it's a show of respect to try to put on your best face and look as good as you can."
Respect begins with yourself: no event in your life is lowly and therefore shouldn't be accompanied with lowly clothing. No one is advocating showing up to brunch in a ballgown or spending your life savings on a blazer, but a little bit of thought goes a long way and may open doors you never knew existed. I think it's high time we put the tired notion of being "overdressed" to bed, right next to those rumpled pajama jeans and gym clothes (you aren't really
going to the gym, are you?). Let's put our best foot forward and jam it into a statement shoe, for chrissakes!