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« Hmmmm…. | Main | Food, Eating, Health Linkage »

March 15, 2009

Dressing Up is Hard to Do

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It is for me, anyway. My wife, on the other hand, loves dressing up -- especially in "fun" clothes. And it doesn't bother her in the least to change clothes two or even three times a day.

Not me. I'll change clothes perhaps once a day if company comes or we are going out to someplace fancy. Even then, I'll try to minimize the amount of changing. For instance, in the morning I'll put on the shirt that will be necessary later. And I'll wear black socks instead of the usual white crew socks of my crew socks 'n' jeans ensemble. Doubtless this demonstrates that I'm a creature of sloth and inertia.

But, Honest!! I wasn't always this way. Back in the 1970s I used to wear jacket-and-necktie based outfits to work. Though that's because it was expected of us in those pre-casual days. And if I had a big date (or any date) on Saturday evening, I'd make a real effort to look spiffy. I suppose I should chalk that up to goal-motivation.

Alas, even this proves that, left to my own devices, I'm a lazy, jeans-and-sweater-wearing slob requiring outside motivation to dress appropriately.

Could it be [grasps at straw] that my behavior is, at root, simply one more case of boorish male-ness, so it isn't really my fault? I need to come up with some kind of good excuse to offer Nancy because I'm facing an evening at the opera in May.



(By the way, the title of this posting is a take-off on the title of an early-60s Neil Sedaka song. You have my permission to sing it to the melody.)

posted by Donald at March 15, 2009


The overall dressing down trend of the past 40 years is, I think, a shame. Certain clothes really can have an effect on attitude, both in the wearer and those he/she comes across during the day.

That said, I'm a jeans and oxford shirt wearer at work.

Posted by: JV on March 15, 2009 4:04 PM

Could it be [grasps at straw] that my behavior is, at root, simply one more case of boorish male-ness, so it isn't really my fault?

My dearest Donald, I'm afraid that your excuse won't fly. In some parts of the world, France, Italy and Japan, men take time to make themselves look good for women. I’m afraid, the culture of the slop is decidedly American for both men and women, NYC excluded.

Posted by: chic noir on March 15, 2009 4:56 PM

Come on, man! As a male of the human species, if you are so inclined, you can look respectably not slovenly with only a few sartorial readies.

I abhor having to think about clothes, so I tend to try to fit the elements of business attire into more casual settings (e.g., slacks and shirts that can pass with a jacket and tie but can also be worn by themselves).

I thank God I'm not a woman and don't have any reason to concern myself with the multiplicity of gradations along the formal--casual spectrum and have "outfits" specifically geared to each at the ready.

Posted by: Muswell Hillbilly on March 15, 2009 6:15 PM

"I thank God I'm not a woman?" Sounds like an orthodox Jew!

Donald, I think it's nice that you provide a bland background for you wife to really shine in her fashion choices. Nothing is more creepy than a man who takes too long preening before going out!

See if Nancy agrees.

Posted by: Sister Wolf on March 15, 2009 9:03 PM

Sister Wolf:


"Casual" wear for me means going out in slacks and jackets that aren't "dry clean only". Also, I couldn't bear the thought of having to go out without first applying hair product and something from

I draw the line at manscaping, though. That's just wrong.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 15, 2009 11:12 PM

I've totally changed my mind about formality. Not what I wear -- I still like "dressing up" -- but what formality really is.

Formality is a set of rules for what to wear in what situation. You're not sure what to wear? Look up the situation, and formality tells you what to wear. It's like a mental dictionary.

Like sounds and meanings, the pairings are mostly arbitrary -- it used to be formal to wear nothing on your head (say 17th C), then it became formal to wear hats (say 1850 - 1900), and now it's not formal once again. Formality used to require breeches and stockings, then full-length trousers, and in some groups now shorts and socks, just like 400 years ago!

Like sounds and meanings, formality is a solution to a coordination game (from game theory), where it doesn't matter what we decide on, as long as we all decide on and agree to the same thing. We all agree that our maternal parent should be pronounced "mom," "mother," or whatever -- it could well have been whatever the Chinese or Swahili words are, as long as everyone else pronounced it that way.

Like sounds and meanings, the pairing can change over time. We don't pronounce the word for mother the same way that Middle English, Old English, or proto-Indo-European speakers did. But the concept was always there, and people had no trouble referring to it. Merely pronouncing differently now does not mean The English Language Has Become Hopelessly Corrupted.

So, it's not really possible for formality to increase or decrease over time -- instead, we move from one equilibrium to another, like the Great Vowel Shift.

We happen to be at a point where formality doesn't require neckties or hats or even blazers or suits. But that doesn't mean our time is less formal. If you doubt this, rewind back and see what people wore during the 17th C or the 14th C -- no neckties or hats. Yet we don't think that the court of the Sun King was less formal than Victorian England.

Because we innately judge the past as a golden time, and that civilization becomes steadily more corrupted, this reflection makes us realize that there's nothing inherently formal about hats or neckties, just as there's nothing inherently ducky about the sounds in "duck."

Posted by: agnostic on March 16, 2009 12:50 AM


It's odd, isn't it, how North American men are not only inept at 3 of the great ways to get with the ladies: 1) talking to them; 2) dancing; and 3) dressing well...but we're proud of our ineptitude.

Speaking as a moderately okay conversationalist, a mediocre dancer (I can at least follow the beat, but I lapse in moments of excitement into White Man's Overbite complete with Alarming Nerd Neck Movements), and a TERRIBLE HORRIBLE AWFUL dresser, I can say that I at least have the decency to be ashamed of my failures, especially in clothing.

As a result of that shame, I am allowing my beloved to slowly work her magic on me in the clothing department. Eventually she'll make a man of me. And I won't be a peacock type trying to outshine her in public. Sister's right about that being a no-no too. But, maybe, one day, with the gentle but persistent guidance of my beloved, I might end up being a passably dressed man.

But, as I said, North Am men's slobbishness, and pride in it, is a mystery. But maybe we should amend that to English-speaking. I get the feeling our yob/lad/chav buddies in the Old Country aren't too hot at getting snazzed up for the ladies, or at dancing, or at talking to them. If Aussies and Kiwis are the same, maybe it's not a North Am thing, it's an English thing.

Distrust of smooth continental/latin types is deeply ingrained in our culture. I think that's it.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 16, 2009 11:14 AM

Do Quebecois guys fit the North Am mold, or are they more Frenchy?

Posted by: agnostic on March 16, 2009 12:34 PM

Everything seems fine except for the white socks. They spoil style immeasurably, unless you are wearing trainers. Donald, do you wear trainers while painting those nice pictures?

Posted by: Pupu on March 16, 2009 1:21 PM

I prefer ragamuffin, but if one must dress up surely it should be top hat and tails? The business suit and the dinner jacket seem to me to fall between two stools.

Posted by: dearieme on March 16, 2009 3:29 PM

I'm an exception, I guess, but that's because my girlfriend dons skirt, pumps and pearls to go to the store for a gallon of milk.

Given the proliferation of outlet malls, as well as the Web, dressing well is no harder or more expensive than dressing poorly. The bonus is the $195 shirts I got at the Barney's warehouse sale for $35 will last 10 times longer than some rag from Macy's. Stitch count is everything!

Patrick & Sister-baloney. It's her job to make sure she outshines me sartorially. But she's got it easy; she's the 5'10" 125 lb. swimmer, and I'm the 285 lb. power lifter!

And Spike, there are some interesting benefits arising from manscaping. Try it and see what your SO thinks.

Posted by: Brutus on March 16, 2009 9:10 PM

Quebec guys from my area of the world are working class Ti-Jean types, trucker caps, nicotine-stained teeth, dirty jeans and hair, pickup trucks, and the ugliest French known to mankind:

Frenchman: Bonjour. Comment t'appeles-tu?

Quebec guy: Peets pot la la twee mote tsee moh la la eh la? La?

Montreal people are more stylish, and the women, well! The women! I don't remember noticing the men (for some reason they weren't as interesting to me), but they seemed urban-chic on the whole. Certainly better dressed than either the French or English guys of the Ottawa area.

When it comes to fashion, Montreal might as well be Europe. And her fashions (MTL is of course a woman) never do make it the 100 or so miles west to Ottawa. Not six months later. Not two years later. We have one boutique in Ottawa (schad) that sells MTL fashions. Just one that I know of. No market here for MTL style, either male or female.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 17, 2009 10:23 AM

Do Quebecois guys fit the North Am mold, or are they more Frenchy?

More French IIRC. The folks for Toronto were defintly American.
Patrick HIt's odd, isn't it, how North American men are not only inept at 3 of the great ways to get with the ladies: 1) talking to them; 2) dancing; and 3) dressing well...but we're proud of our ineptitude.

Posted by: chic noir on March 17, 2009 8:11 PM

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