By Sheila Painter
“Back in my day, we wouldn’t have worn that!”
Have you ever said such a thing? Have you ever thought it?
Clothing has certainly changed over the decades, and appropriate garb for particular events has been altered as well. When you traveled in the 1940s and 50s, it was an occasion to dress up. Airplane, train and automobile travel called for proper clothing. Men always dressed in suits, shirts, ties and hats. Women wore dresses, stockings, appropriate jewelry, hats and gloves. It was important to have your handbag and dress shoes match each other.
Going out to dinner at a restaurant, attending a movie or theater performance, going to church or a social function…all called for getting dressed up. Even outerwear. Fancy coats, shawls or furs for women, respectable formal coats for men, and clean, shined shoes for all was a must. Do you recall how women never appeared in slacks?
Would we want to return to those dress codes?
Those days may be over, but they say that fashion is cyclical…what goes around comes around. Paisley, tie-dyes, and shoulder pads make a comeback. Wide-legged pants, hoop earrings, platform shoes keep showing up. Will peplums, sailor shirts, Nehru jackets or spats ever return?
“We are living in an age of constant self-reinvention, thanks to the multiple identities people are able to have through technology. This may bleed over into the fashion mentality—identities are transient and not defining, but something to be played and experimented with. People take themselves less seriously and try on different things/clothes freely in this day and age,” says Dr. Montana Miller, associate professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University.
Miller also points out that an aspect of today’s culture is its “glocal” nature—our ease in accessing global trends and culture is mixed with still-strong pressure to conform to local norms. So this could be why you see teenagers at the mall wearing such similar clothing.
When your grandmother talked about going to the beach in their day, women’s bathing suits were long, elaborate affairs, and even bare legs had to be covered. No stockings? No swimming. And no being on the beach, either…it was just too indecent without your striped stockings.
Off to a picnic? Men wore a suit complete with tie and straw hat. And women’s dress ensembles weren’t complete without a hat and parasol. Imagine today’s youth setting out for an outdoor expedition dressed like that!
T-shirts hadn’t even been invented yet, and we all wore shirts and blouses. Years later, somebody had the clever idea to create undershirts with pictures and phrases, and T-shirts were born. Hard to imagine a current-day wardrobe without them, no matter how old we are.
The ‘Mother Dress Code’
As you were growing up, you probably couldn’t even fathom the wearing of bikinis, micro-mini skirts, bell bottom jeans, flip-flop sandals, or one-size-fits-all.
I remember having to adhere to a dress code when I was in school. If you knelt down and your skirt hem didn’t touch the floor, you were sent home to change. The “Mother Dress Code” was in effect wherever you went: “You’re not going out like that, young lady! Go change your clothes now!” was the prevailing law of my youth.
Today’s youth probably can’t imagine yesterday’s clothing regimen. But have we taken a step in the right or wrong direction? It seems that fashion is in the eye—and sometimes the age—of the beholder.