Ask the Fashion Police

Why are there so few opportunities to get dressed up?

From our ASK.fm inbox comes this question from someone who shares our love of getting “dressed up”:

why are there so few opportunities to get dressed up

overdressed retro woman

This isn’t so much a question-and-answer as it is an opportunity for us to indulge in a quick rant on one of our favourite subjects, namely the phenomenon we’ve dubbed The Cult of the Casual.

In very simple terms, people today are pretty obsessed with the idea of being “comfy” at all costs: even if it means going to the supermarket in their pyjamas or dressing like a giant bunny rabbit to relax in front of the TV. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable: in fact, we’d argue that it’s impossible to be truly stylish unless you feel totally at ease with what you’re wearing. But for those of us who like to get dressed up every now and again (or, you know, ALL THE TIME), the jeans-for-everything culture can make life a little awkward.

The fact is, these days you don’t actually need to be “dressed up” to be accused of being dressed up. You just have to be dressed in ANYTHING other than jeans/sweats/leggings/onesies. Skirts, dresses or even smart trousers are all deemed “dressy” and outfits which would have seemed perfectly ordinary twenty years ago, say, now seem totally over-dressed to many people. And boy, will they let you know it. We’ve written about this before, but those of us who enjoy fashion are often looked down upon by those who don’t. Taking an interest in your appearance is seen as vain and shallow, and choosing to wear high heels or a dress, instead of the “comfy” option of sweats n’ sneakers, say, can result in endless questioning, and even sneering, from people who just can’t understand why you’d want to go to “SOOOO much trouble!” with your outfit.

Why is this the case?

Honestly, your guess is as good as ours, but this shift in dress standards isn’t something that happened overnight. People dress casually now for almost everything: work, socialising, special occasions. Perhaps the shift is due to changing lifestyles and work patterns, with more people working from home, or going into non-office-based jobs, which don’t have formal dress codes. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of fashion: whereas the trend used to be for more polished, pulled-together looks, these days things are much more relaxed, and it’s no longer fashionable to look like you’re “trying too hard”. Perhaps it’s just a reaction to relatively affluent, more laid-back times, in which people (or SOME people, anyway) feel less need to use clothing as an indicator of social class or wealth. Dining out, for instance, is far more common, and much less of an “occasion” for many people these days than it used to be, and in reaction to this, restaurants have less formal dress codes (or none at all), with many other establishments following suit. When people don’t HAVE to get “dressed up” for social events or work, a lot of them just won’t bother… which is absolutely fine by us, as long as they don’t try to insist that those who WANT to dress-up should be equally casual.

So, what’s a fashion-loving woman (or man), with a closet full of beautiful clothes, and absolutely nowhere suitable to wear them, supposed to do? 

There isn’t an easy answer to this, but we generally tend to follow one (or even both) or two options:

1) If you don’t have a reason to get dressed up, create one

Throw a party and have a dress code. Arrange a big night out somewhere you know you won’t be looked down on for being “over dressed”. Or, as our original questioner says, just GET dressed up to wash the dishes, if that’s what it takes. And if that’s not enough for you…

2) Brazen it out

The thing about being over-dressed is that it’s only really an issue if you LET it be an issue. We’re not suggesting you should wear your best evening gown to the supermarket, of course, but there really is no reason at all why you shouldn’t wear A dress. As long as it’s not wildly inappropriate, the chances are that people will care less about what you’re wearing than you think they will. Sure, your colleagues, or other people who see you regularly, may make the odd comment at first, but they’ll get used to it, and pretty soon they’ll stop thinking of you as being “dressed up”, and start to realise that you’re just wearing what you ALWAYS wear. It’s not always easy, but if you can get through that initial period of questions and comments, it’ll be yesterday’s news, and you’ll be able to wear what you want, without anyone batting an eyelid.

If you really DO want to dress like you’re going to the Oscars, on the other hand, we’re afraid we can’t help you with that one.

Image: © Mikhail Malyugin | Dreamstime.com

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