My mom and dad didn’t go out to dinner very often, but when they did they dressed accordingly. I remember my dad wearing a sports jacket, button shirt and casual slacks, while my mom wore something fashionable—she had a knack for looking great without spending a lot.
Walk into a casual restaurant today and take a look at the clientele. You see T-shirts, jeans, sweat pants and men wearing baseball caps. It only gets worse in the summer when shorts, sleeveless shirts and flip-flops make an appearance. I guess that attire is OK for a picnic or a barbeque, but in a decent restaurant? C’mon. I don’t need to see a guy’s Fred Flintstone feet while I’m eating.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, some people have taken to wearing pajama pants outside their homes. They’ll only be in the car, they rationalize, or they’re just heading to the convenience store or running a few errands. In their pajamas?
It doesn’t end there. People go to work, church, and other social functions looking like slobs. And as more people adopt the “look,” the easier it becomes for others to go along.
I had a friend whose dad worked for IBM in the 1970s. He said you could identify the IBMers getting off the train from the “uniform” of pin striped suits, white button-down shirts, rep ties and wing-tipped shoes. The look was not unique to those who worked at Big Blue. Rather, it was the look of corporate America.
In those days, if you worked downtown, you wore a suit and tie. That’s just the way it was. Somewhere along the way, things changed. Not overnight. It was more incremental. So much so that that it was difficult to notice at first. Eventually, men shed ties and sport coats, turned in dress slacks for Dockers and traded dress shoes for every causal imaginable including gym shoes.
Casual Fridays became popular and soon gave way to Casual Every Day. Today, almost anything goes in the workplace. But it extends well beyond the office. Take a long look around the next time you’re in court. I always figured that if you’re going before a judge, a shirt with a collar and decent pair of slacks isn’t too much to ask. Ditto for attending a wake or boarding a plane.
When I see the shirtless guy at a sporting event, I recall the old-time baseball photos featuring men at Ebbits Field or Yankee Stadium wearing suits and fedoras. It seems wildly out of place now, but there was a time when going to the ball yard was an outing, an occasion. Similarly, going downtown for the day was a big deal that required the appropriate attire.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some snob who expects people to go and about as though they’re members of the Union League Club or a private county club. For me, it comes down to this: we’ve lost our sense of shame as a society. We’re more concerned about personal comfort than what’s appropriate in a given situation. We simply don’t care what other people think of us.
I recently talked with a friend about this problem and he immediately recalled a teenager girl he saw in church wearing a pair of sweatpants that had the word “sexy” across the back. He routinely sees people texting in church. That fascinates me. Years ago, we were admonished for letting our butts touch the pew while kneeling at Mass. “No three-point stances,” our teacher, Miss Clancy, would tell us. We were taught how to behave and never forgot it.
Of course, this scourge on society isn’t limited to clothing. Pay attention to the rude bumper stickers people place of their cars, the crude slogans on t-shirts or the “truck nuts” some pickup truck owners hang from the rear of their rigs. People conduct loud cell phone conversations wherever they please, and far too many folks are ready for a public confrontation at a moment’s notice. Others move through public places as though they are in a daze—unaware that they’re blocking aisles at a store or slowing the flow in a parking lot.
I have no idea how this problem can be solved. I guess it’s easier to identify problems than solve them. My concern is, too few people see this as a problem in the first place.