Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dressing like adults

Is there a wistful longing for more appropriate clothing in churches, schools, businesses etc. moving through our culture?


You've probably already seen this, from last week:

"Casual Friday" has become a staple of American office culture. But what about "Casual Sunday"?

For decades, houses of worship have been consecrated by tidy congregations in their very best dress. Trim suits and ties pulled straight enough to choke the fidgety young parishioner were the norm, anything less being sure to draw the scorn of the flock.

But the culture has changed, and with it the Church. For some preachers and priests, word of this "new day" is written not in any holy book, but rather on the T-shirts young worshippers now wear to Sunday Mass.[...]

"I'll say it from the pulpit," Rev. Pilcher declares. "This isn't the camper's mass, this isn't the hunter's mass, it's the Holy Mass."

Speaking with Our Sunday Visitor, a religious publication, Father Pilcher described one uncomfortable showdown with a young woman and her family.

She had worn a "skimpy" dress to a church service. When asked, privately, if she would take a more conservative tack for future engagements, the woman angrily refused, citing other churches that had welcomed her particular style. The young lady's parents were soon in Father Pilcher's office, defending their daughter's right to bare arms, among other things.

"I asked them if it would be O.K. if I wore only a bathing suit with the right liturgical colors and thongs to celebrate Mass. But my argument didn't work," he said. Appropriate or not, the family held their line, inviting the pastor to do just that.

Typical Catholic blogosphere modesty article? Not really--this one was posted on the ABC News website, which makes it somewhat unusual.

Then there's this, today:

When San Jose (Calif.) Piedmont principal Traci Williams decided to actually enforce a longstanding ban on miniskirts at the school, her school wide dress-code sweeps found a very surprised target: The school's cheerleading squad. Now members of the Pirates' spirit team are facing a season wearing sweatpants under their uniforms during all school days to avoid violating the dress code, a measure that they're none too pleased about.

"Pockets are hanging out," Williams told the Mercury News of skirts that had been identified in recent clothing sweeps. "Cheeks are hanging out. We don't want them bending over."

While the cheerleaders feel the school administration should ease up on its enforcement of the rule, the Mercury News reported that plenty of other students had been sent into a special building until their parents arrived with a change of clothes, all because their skirts were deemed to be too skimpy.

The cheerleaders are mad that their $300 uniforms are verboten. But the school principle pointed out that a rival school's cheerleaders wore skirts that were at least mid-thigh, making them permissible under the dress code; the problem isn't cheerleader skirts, but cheerleader skirts so short as to be indecent. Which, again, is not exactly new--what is new is a school principle putting her foot down and demanding a change in the way students show up for school.

And students aren't the only ones facing dress code crackdowns; some teachers in Pennsylvania are, too:

Monessen School District in Washington County recently updated its dress code for teachers after an administrator said visitors had a hard time distinguishing between teachers and students. Many other district forbid teachers from wearing jeans, ball caps and revealing clothes to work.

"There are 501 school districts in Pennsylvania. I think there might be 501 policies on dress for teachers," said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Monessen Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Chelen said the school board maintained a longtime ban on flip-flops and sneakers but also ruled out golf shirts for men and sleeveless clothing for women.

"Things were starting to get a little too casual," she said. [...]

Although fashions come and go, Chelen said there should be one constant: Teachers should dress more formally than students.

In other words, teachers are the adults, and they need to dress like adults.

In pondering the myriad modesty debates in the Catholic blogosphere, I've come to a conclusion of sorts. I think the real crux of the problem is what I just said above: the past few generations of adults have resisted to the hilt the idea that there is such a thing as adult clothing or that we should be bound by such a notion. Jen Fulwiler's recent article hints at a possible reason why; in our culture that celebrates recreational sex and worships youth as a prerequisite for sexiness, nobody wants to be told to dress, or act, our ages.

Look at the litany of clothing articles which keep getting mentioned as inappropriate for Sunday Mass: shorts, tee-shirts with inappropriate messages or words, spaghetti-strap tops or dresses, halter tops, exercise clothing such as sweat pants or yoga pants, too-short skirts or dresses, flip-flops, and so on. Now look at some pictures

and here.

Those are all articles of children's clothing from the 1940s and 1950s (similar to children's clothing of many earlier decades). Short pants, little strappy tops or dresses or halter sunsuits, obvious "playclothes," short little dresses designed to go well above chubby little knees for the child's ease of movement, soft, slipper shoes (which you can find if you browse the website above; it would take forever for me to link to all the pictures I liked!), sheer blouses and dresses designed to be work at the beach over a swimsuit--these were things that children wore.

Somewhere along the way clothing designers stopped making clothes for children and those for adults noticeably different. Now the tide is turning the other way, and clothes for children are being "tarted up" in ways they shouldn't be. But I really think the resistance to wearing nice clothing of even the business casual variety to Mass, to transact business in town, to restaurants that don't feature clowns and drive-thru windows started when people stopped wanting to grow up and take on adult responsibilities and adult lifestyles.

Alas, that's a problem that no amount of clever bulletin notices will fix.


John Thayer Jensen said...

I wonder, too, if the T-shirts with written content might be regulated - in my opinion, advertising isn't really appropriate for Mass - and T-shirts with skulls and other death symbols really have no business at Mass (or, dare I say it, anywhere - but perhaps that is going too far :-))


Jeff Miller said...

I wrote a parody called "Casual Sunday" a couple of years back. http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2008/06/casual-sunday/

Geoff G. said...

Regarding this:

Although fashions come and go, Chelen said there should be one constant: Teachers should dress more formally than students.

I'll just point out that both teachers and students were required to wear ties in my school. Although teachers were required to wear a jacket; we could get away with just a sweater (although we often wore blazers ourselves).

JMB said...

I would like to see my Board of Education instill a dress code for teachers in my school district. Some of them wear jeans and flip flops on Fridays. I also don't think it's appropriate to wear tee shirts with words on the front. The funny thing is, the teachers are always demanding "respect" for their profession. Well, I think dressing professionally would go a long way in that direction. You can't blame parents for not taking a teacher seriously when she shows up to work in yoga pants.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no excuse for the rags we wear.

~ Marie

rdcobb said...

My husband used to get teased by his colleagues for teaching college in dress pants, blazer, and tie. He now does go slightly more casual at times (jeans with blazer and tie), but he always felt that showing up in "the suit" for the first week made it clear to his students that no matter how much he laughed and joked around in class he still meant business and expected respect.

I was noticing the number of women my age (34), though, who obviously still shop exclusively in the juniors section where all of the clothes are cut to bare bellies. I see them constantly trying to pull their shorts down and their pants up. It reminds me of something Wendy Shalit wrote about how if you keep feeling the need to adjust your top that's your conscience telling you that you are wearing something immodest.

But I try to be generous and assume that they can't afford better fitting clothes or they are in a transitional weight stage...as much as my body as changed through four pregnancies and as tight as our budget it is I've been in both scenarios.

Roger Cook said...

In Texas summers, though, I suffer (and sweat badly) if I wear the traditional suit (tee shirt, slacks, knee socks, long-sleeve shirt, tie, jacket). How beholden are we to be to clothes designed for a climate much farther north than where we are living?

Anonymous said...

Y'know, I've sorta gotten used to the 'other' people in 'different'
kinds of clothing and inserting or putting pieces of metal here and there on their bodies, needling their bodies with ink, or slapping paint and false hair on their eyebrows and different places. (I wore a wig after surgery for a while).

But I don't think I could ever answer the doorbell in p.js. or slouch around in thermal polyester, or stuff my corpulence in denim, or even perch a bird's nest in my hair.

My elderly neighbor is very prim and proper, but sometimes at 5:00 AM I see her in a housecoat while walking her dog. I even took her picture in her woolly white bathrobe when the weather forecaster predicted the high more than 100 degrees at noon. At 6:00 AM, when my husband and I were walking our dog our neighbor had pulled up a lawn chair and was sitting in her driveway with a cup of tea watching the sunrise, her robe thrown over the back of her chair, but fully dressed for the day. My husband said, 'I've been waiting for this opportunity, go get the camera; we haven't any photos of us all together and here's a good opportunity with the sun rising.' I don't take photos very well, pressing the on/off switch out of sync with the shutter, but we have two great photos. And, the lovely fuzzy bathrobe is easily changed in the photo shop to another item of clothing, with the wonders of modern technology.

I think the only thing I cannot stand at Mass is sunbathing, swimwear, visible underwear, or someone who has spent a lot of money on their clothing and won't exchange a 'sign of peace', or is in some way limited by their clothing selection to interact sociably.

Anonymous said...

@JTJ: "T-shirts with skulls and other death symbols really have no business at Mass"

I disagree. Any walk through most gothic churches in Europe will show you that skulls are all over Catholicism. You can't find a Great Masters painting of St. Francis without a skull. While I think *any* pictures or words on a T-shirt are tacky and adolescent, I do have a fashion-forward belt with silvery outlines of skulls on it, and another elegant purse with skull-and-crossbones on it; I find death symbolism loaded with meaning, in a very Catholic sense.

The crucifix *is* a "death symbol".


Geoff G. said...

Roger Cook, when I was in the Old Guard in Washington DC, we were expected to stand in the direct sun in a dark blue heavy 100% wool uniform (with a tie, white shirt, t-shirt and white gloves), heavy wool trousers and a dark blue cap and black leather shoes. Often for well over an hour at a time. Yes, even in the sweltering and highly humid DC summers (and remember, that place is a swamp, literally as well as figuratively).

Whatever else that experience has done, it's made it considerably easier to dress formally in an air-conditioned office.

One thing moving from a northern climate to Ft. Benning, GA and Ft. Campbell, KY and having a job that was largely conducted outdoors taught me was that the human body is marvelously capable of adapting itself.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I generally wear a button down shirt to church. If I were teaching in a classroom, I think I would do the same. Sometimes a wear a tie, but not in hot weather. Occasionally I wear a suit, but never in hot weather. People in Texas shouldn't have to sweat all day in clothes that are not appropriate for the climate, but the loose, lightweight, short sleeved garments should have some basic formality, and cover a fair amount of skin.

Anonymous said...

In considering clothing from the 1930's, it is important to keep in mind that the world was experiencing the Great Depression. People were poor and didn't have money for new clothes, so often girls would wear same clothes until they got quite short. In the late 1930's and 1940's during World War II, cloth and clothing were rationed in many countries and in any case, a war-time industry was operating so that resources were going toward the war effort, not clothing. During this time, girls wore same dresses as they grew even though dresses thus became shorter and shorter. Another point is that girls clothing was always, always worn with underwear, either an undershirt under the blouse, or a slip under a dress or skirt. Clothing may have gotten a little skimpier using less fabric, and some fabrics were sheer, but the undershirt and slips kept the sheer items from being too revealing. I also noticed at one of the websites an ankle-length First Communion dress from 1940's, and I see the leotards were much more modest than today. So, even as the sundresses and playclothes covered less, formal clothing existed for formal occasions such as First Communion (or graduation, there was an ankle-length graduation dress for a girl in 1940's), and I think a lot of the reason for using less fabric was in fact the Depression and then the war. Circumstances and necessity changed the fashions at that time.

Charlotte said...

Red, you know I've said lots about this topic in your commboxes over a long period of time.

Here's one thing I've never said: The fashions of the 1980's, when you and I were in middle school and high school, were disgustingly and inappropriately adult: gobs of heavy makeup, curled/teased/hairsprayed hair, overly-formal dress clothes that were fussy (those awful, huge lace peter-pan collars on women's dresses), dramatic gold jewelry that sometimes overtook the clothes you wore, and all that preppie stuff that emphasized brands and status and money, money, money.

Me, personally, I hated it, and wore little of it, eventually moving to an alternative/punk look. But even then, it's not like it wasn't all around me, and if I had to dress up, I had to succumb to it anyway. Thus, I find many of today's fashions a breath of fresh air from those days - days when "business attire" was synonymous with "fashion."

Keep in mind that most women have very staid and solid impressions about fashion that were formed during their teenage years, either sticking to what worked for them and what they first learned from those years, or rejecting it. I mostly reject it. And so if current fashion reflects a spirit of "I don't want to grow up" - at least for those of us who came into young adulthood in the 80's - I think that's great, since I look back at photos of myself and my friends in my yearbooks, and I think we look like hookers with all that adult makeup and jewelry, or else like little girls wearing clothes much too sophisticated and adult for our ages, making us appear ridiculous.

We can argue about skulls and Hooters t-shirts and flipflops. But when we start arguing about spaghetti straps and certain fabrics and pants, etc., that's where we're teetering into territory where the fighting begins. Like it or not, as I've said before, casual is here to stay - with "dressy" now being a new state of casual.

Instead of bemoaning the loss of pumps, pantyhose, and ties, and insisting that such things are the ONLY way to still look appropriate, I think we would do much better to discuss what's appropriate given what's ACTUALLY OUT THERE TO BE PURCHASED BY NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS IN NORMAL STORES.

I swear there's people out there who are still arguing for life to look like it's 1984. Those clothes are long gone. Instead, given what we have to work with, what is acceptable?