Monday, September 3, 2012

Thoughts on Clothes, Culture, and Impressions

I read an article recently that lamented our informality. People used to dress up to go out. To travel. To shop. People used to have a sense of the social importance of dress. I’m all for dressing well, for dressing with intention. When I’m not feeling inexcusably lazy, I like for my clothes to speak for me in a way. But I can understand the cultural laziness. The article mourns our lack of respect for the ability to dine out - to be waited upon; but when I go out, I’ve noticed a difference in the attitude of restaurants. We aren’t being waited upon so much as we are consuming, and the role of the consumer is not a respected one. The article “Modern Guide to Dressing Up” in the Catholic Register, made some good points about the trend toward casual dressing, and her focus was more on the “blase attitude toward our daily activities” that is “at the root of our modern blase attitudes about dress and manners,” but I think it’s important to look at another reason for dressing down in restaurants or airplanes, stores, and churches, the attitude of those serving - the waiters, stewards, shopkeepers, and even ministers is not one to inspire a feeling of formality or respect in us. In our consumer society, where the goal is to ‘process orders’ and increase profits, relationship between people is diminished, we are formed “to live lives of detachment” from the people around us. And so the waitress doesn’t wait on diners so much as she “takes care of table 25” and when the diners attempt a leisurely dinner, she may be encouraged to “move them along”. Because dining out isn’t an occasion, it’s a business, and diners aren’t people as much as they’re consumers.
We don’t always recognize the depersonalization of the experience consciously, but it affects us on some level, and we dress accordingly. Why bother pretending this is special? Why bother enjoying the experience when the restaurant makes it clear that you are just another number. Not all restaurants, not all shops, and certainly not all churches fall in to the sin of depersonalizing, but it’s common enough to alter our cultural experience. And it isn’t just the fault of restaurants and airlines, the trouble is everywhere. It isn’t so much a loss of gratitude, as the author of the article claims, it’s a loss of the awareness of being a person. A lost sense of self. Which might be one reason we eat out so often, we’re hungry for recognition and respect. We want to experience a moment when we are seen as real people, not just characters on television or numbers in a profit margin.

The discussion of a “blase attitude toward our daily lives” both fascinates and horrifies me. It’s something that I am trying to weed out of my own life. To view each day as whole within itself, a gift, a sacred space. A superstitious tendency to avoid planning too far in advance, lest my certainty in my own future tempt God to teach me otherwise is a part of my make up, but so is the habit of living the past, present, and future in a jumbled mess all at once. Neither is ideal for creating an attitude of contentment in the moment. I fall too easily into Rilke’s words; “desires are just memories from our future”, living both the long and the actualization at once, and so failing completely to work at attaining in the time at hand. At the same time, I am absorbed with the desire to ‘‘make each hour holy’’; so absorbed, in fact that I often fail to make anything of any hour. The present is pushed away for tomorrow. I wonder if this attitude is more common than I think. Perhaps we are all planning to make tomorrow holy, passing by the present in our minds in search of a moment when we are ready to truly being living.


  1. Common, I don't know. But certainly shared by me. c:

    Sometimes, I imagine I'd like to go back to the medieval tradition of dressing according to our profession/role in society. TBH, that is one of the few things that ever attracted me to the religious lifestyle: I would never have joined an order that did away with the habit (sp?). Probably also why I wear a veil at Mass (it can be awkward in parishes that aren't accustomed to it).

    But then I think that people are too judgmental already and that I like a sense of freedom and spontaneity in dress.

  2. I LOVE habits. I wanted to join an order with full, black habits, but I was trying to figure out how to smuggle in eye-makeup, so I knew it wasn't really for me.

    I wear a 'veil' (almost always a headscarf of some kind rather than a real veil) at Mass as well, and I started orginally for purely aesthetic reasons, it only grew into an acutal devotion later..

    Freedom and spontaneity are essential, I just wish 'freedom' for some people didn't mean pants with words on the back or other failures in judgement. :)

  3. Oh yes, the elven-year-olds with rears that read "cute" are very disturbing to me.

    O.O <---- disturbed face, in case you didn't know