Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The New Casualness

"Can't you see that Betty Helen has no idea what goes on here?" he said. "She's either evil or lobotomized, Why did she just tell you that the Western Union messenger was your friend?"

"It's hard for a normal person to tell who's an artist and who isn't these days," Guido said. "It's the new casualness. Holly says it's making slobs of us all. Betty Helen has the right attitude. Now, for example, the other day, a guy selling office equipment came in dressed like a bank president. Then the guy from the bank came in dressed like a college professor, Then Cyril Serber came in. He's the poet and classicist but he works out with weights. He came up on his way from the gym and Betty Helen probably thought he was from the delicatessen. So you see, it's easy to be confused."

Laurie Colwin, Happy All the Time, page 77. Copyright 1971

As you can see from the excerpt above, the New Casualness has been driving us all crazy since the 1970's. Once the iron curtain of rigid dress codes began to fall, there was no turning back. Yet we are all left adrift on a sea of too much choice.
In my own experience, I began high school in a system where boys wore shirts and ties and girls were forbidden to wear pants to school, and four years later we were wearing shorts and tshirts to class (with our swim suits on underneath so we could drive directly to Salt Creek Beach after class let out in June.)
My daughter says perhaps we need to implement new rules, a modern dress code 'containment' policy, so we will all know what Not to Wear in any situation. And certainly there is no shortage of advice out there.
(If you want to make a grown woman cry, just tell her she is invited to a daytime wedding and put semi-formal on the invite and then drop the news that it's outside. Or a beach wedding - what on earth would you wear to that?)
Do we need new rules? And if we do, what would those rules be?


beangirl said...

I had a very long comment typed out and then it occured to me that I might be better served using all that for a post myself. So suffice it to say, "Ack". And "see post soon re: all this mess".

Venus de Hilo said...

I can still recite my (lenient, even for the mid-70s) high school dress code:
"No bare feet are allowed in the classroom buildings or on the main street; blue jeans should not to be in terminal condition; hair should be clean and kempt and as much out of the face as the activity requires."
Needless to say, there were always some who pushed even these lax boundaries as far as possible.

As for new rules, well, I think one's garment should cover one's underwear, but maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy.

Karen said...

I love how many of the same books we've read. No one I know has even HEARD of Laurie Colwin, and most people haven't made it through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.