Monday, November 1, 2010

Are Manners Passe?

“Decorum: 1)whatever is suitable or proper; propriety; fitness    2) propriety and good taste in behavior, speech, dress, etc. 3) an act or requirement of polite behavior”        Webster’s Dictionary

Recently I attended a wedding and a funeral in the same week.  At both events, I was startled by the clothing worn by a few people. At the wedding, which was formal, several 20-something young men came in jeans and tee shirts, and one young couple arrived looking like they were headed to Home Depot or a Saturday hike.  He was in cargo shorts and a tee.

I felt offended that these young adults don’t have the sense of “ceremony” or “decorum” in their dress and behavior.  To me, that means that they know how to dress appropriately for an occasion, and if the occasion is special, to bump their dress code up a step. 

When a bride and groom and their parents spend a small fortune on the wedding, unless it is at the beach and the invitation reads “casual attire”, I believe it shows good manners to dress up for the celebration.  Can you not put on your best clothes for the most important day in your friend’s life?  Especially when you have had your own wedding and know how it feels to be feted?

At the funeral, some of the extended family wore graphic tees and jeans and hoodies.  Really?  Old sweatshirts and jeans at your uncle’s funeral?  Can’t you do better than this as a sign of respect?

I can hear all the objections and arguments in my head, and you can remind me of more.  I know that ‘the clothes don’t make the man’, and that ‘it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts’.  I am not promoting superficiality or hypocrisy.  I just think it’s sad that our culture, except perhaps the upper-income levels, doesn’t know how to dress up anymore.  And it’s not about the money.  These young people have plenty of resources.

HollyBirthdayParty My birthday dinner, 5th grade, with 3 best friends

When I was a kid (Oh, here she goes again, I can hear some of you groaning).  No, seriously, when I was a kid people dressed up to go to church.  In fact, people dressed up to go downtown shopping.   People dressed up to fly in an airplane.  I remember hats and high heels at the airport.  (Clearly, we have come to our senses in some regards.)  We went to school in school clothes and we came home and changed to play clothes to keep the school clothes nice.  Nowadays, teachers are happy when the child’s hair is combed and he doesn’t smell bad.

I know the defense of “lowering” (excuse the word bias) the church dress code is that people want to be real, and somehow dressing up is putting on airs and hypocritical.  If we go in our “everyday clothes” (by that they mean weekend clothes, not business casual) it’s a statement that our faith is an ‘everyday’ affair, not just for show on Sundays.  It’s about being transparent, who we really are when we gather together for worship.  I agree with those sentiments but I don’t think those values are limited to sloppy apparel. Let’s not polarize the congregation.  In the mindset of the dress-up days, I think people were wanting to ‘do our best for the Lord’, polishing shoes and ironing ruffles on Saturday night for the coming “Lord’s Day”.  It was a day to set apart from the ordinary.

I don’t care if people wear jeans to church or not.  I am glad if they are getting up to go to church!  Some congregations are purposely casual, meeting in storefront commercial buildings to take the ‘sting’ out of going to church in a traditional way that may have offended them.  That’s great.  Apostle Paul said he had become “all things to all men in order that he by some means might reach some”.

So, what am I fussing about?

It’s not a fuss, really.  It’s a worry.  I am worrying that our culture has forgotten how to CELEBRATE and in so doing is losing the distinctions of specialness, of what makes one day different from another and one occasion unique over others.  I know it is more practical nowadays for little girls to wear pants when they go to a birthday party at the Gymboree.  I just hope there are still party dresses somewhere in their lives.  A few years ago I was shopping for a dress and was dismayed that Mervyn’s had quit carrying adult dresses.  Period. What?

I don’t want to be thought a reactionary or an old fuddy duddy, quivering “In my day…”  All I am saying is that:

Dressing up on the outside creates a sense of specialness on the inside, that this occasion is a big deal, that we are celebratory.

I like it when a man puts on a coat and tie for a special occasion.

I think it is good to show respect for other people’s special occasions by dressing appropriately.

I think we should instill in our youth a sense of appropriateness in behavior as well as clothing.  But that is another big subject.

I  really invite your comments and you don’t have to agree with me.  I would like the dialogue.  If you set up a Google account you can respond.          


Susanne said...

I actually do agree with you. I think it sort of goes beyond the "clothes don't make the man" and it crosses the line of an I don't care attitude that seems to be so prevalent in today's society and like you said a lack of respect for the occasion.

I like that you tackled the subject. Hopefully you'll get lots of thoughts and good conversation.

Anneliese said...

I agree with you too! We know that the Lord looks at the heart ... but He also gave specific instructions on how the people were to prepare to meet with Him.
There is something about the outside showing what's on the inside and taking the time to show someone that their day is special, as in a wedding, or showing respect, as for a funeral.
In days gone by, people worried about what to wear to church, and that should never be a reason not to go... but even in poor countries, people put on their best when they know visitors are coming. I'm amazed how they even keep those clothes special, living in their huts. That is what I've seen.

Gilly said...

I'm inclined to agree with you, too, though I'm not sure my daughter would, being a different generation from us "old fogies" ;)

I have no objection to T-shirts and jeans at church, but I would expect them to be CLEAN T-shirts and jeans. Similarly, if someone's idea of "dressing smart" involved flowing skirts and scarves, well, that's OK too.

I would be very annoyed if wedding guests turned up looking overly casual. I do expect them to have at least tried! And as for a funeral......!

Though it does occur to me that maybe those young people actually didn't have what we would call appropriate clothing. If all your T-shirts have goodness knows what printed on them, and the only coats you have are hooded, well what do you do?

I thin k I could overlook some casualness in clothing provided the behaviour suited the occasion.

I think that might entitle me to be called "a grumpy old woman"!

Connie said...

Sometimes I feel like I am lost in the wrong generation and the wrong country. Did my parents feel this way?

I, too, am appalled at people's apparel. While it really sticks out at weddings and funerals, I feel the same way when I see them shopping and going to school in their pajamas.

I often feel like crying out, enough is enough! Our culture seems intent on degrading and tearing down our standards. I wish we were putting this much effort into improving.

Our culture is being 'dumbed' down - a smart person knows that just by looking at the clothing and listening to people talk for a few moments.

Nichole said...

Couldn't disagree with you more:) Just kidding. I only voice my opinion because YOU are no ordinary mother-in-law and I love to talk about how we see things differently! I see clothing as something that you happened to grab for the day. I was often made fun of growing up, by mean girls with better clothes. Mine were usually hand-me-downs that didn't fit quite right and didn't have the NAME BRAND. I still regret the way I made my parents feel for not being able to afford what I NEEDED to fit in. They totally ruined my life. It took me many years to understand that it is what's on the inside that counts and I really hope I never forget that.
I know I didn't have the fanciest of weddings, but I would not have minded one bit if people showed up in their normal clothes. I just wanted people to come celebrate with us, by means of hugs, conversation and seeing how pretty I was on that day:) I really couldn't care less about what they wore! If a wedding says formal dress on it, even though I love to dress up, a little part of me always thinks, hmm...snobby. And at a funeral, I didn't realize I was being judged by the old folks on what I was wearing. I was hoping it was a time to grieve and talk about the person's life. At my funeral, please don't wear a fancy dress, come in your jammies with a warm, compassionate heart for those that loved me! That won't impress me, my family or even God. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to dress up. But only because I am feeling it on that certain day. I go to the store in my sweats, ripped jeans and hoodies all the time. And by goodness, my mommy says I look cute in anything and I'm inclined to believe her:)

Val said...

I just found your blog, and if this post is any indications, I think we're kindred spirits. As a 20 something myself, I'm absolutely disgusted by how people dress. As a society we don't care to put effort into anything anymore, including how we look. My husband and I are on a sort of personal crusade to do our part to have some old fashioned class. We're "those people" at church who come every week in a suit with bow tie (him, obvisously!) and I'm the sort who wears dresses, suits, heels, and even hats! Now granted, I don't fly in them, but I do believe that it's important to try to look descent. Sure, comfy clothes are nice, but why should we want to be frumps every minute of every day?

I could go on and on regarding this topic....needless to say, I think you are right now! I look forward to reading more posts!

Lindsay said...

Wow, I really see both sides of the issue. I think it's SO important not to alienate people by making them feel uncomfortable because of their appearance. Some people truly do not have "party clothes," and I have known MANY girls and boys who only feel comfortable in baggy sweatshirts and jeans that hide their body. (Of course, clothes that fit them properly might do wonders, but that's not my call). But anyone can wash and iron!

I work as a teacher, and I always wear heels and professional clothes because it is a way of showing that I am serious about what I do. Dressing well gives me confidence, and the heels make me taller than the middle school boys. :) There are other teachers who look sloppy every day, but they insist that their teaching is what matters. I disagree. The way we present ourselves does communicate a message about our work.

That said, weddings and funerals aren't what they used to be, momma. Think of all the weddings you've been to in the last five years. Nowadays, ANYTHING goes, and so it's up to the bride and groom to communicate the dress code so that the guests can dress appropriately. Since casual dress at a wedding is UNHEARD of in Africa, I tried to warn Arthur that he might see some very unusual styles at our Portland wedding. I had to show him dozens of friends' wedding pictures before he believed that groomsmen could be in short sleeves. After that, he wanted to put "no flip flops" on the invitations, and hire a bouncer for the door! Even so, he loves coming to the states because he can wear his four-sizes-too-big sweatpants everyday.

I haven't been to many funerals, but I distinctly remember Great-Grandma Josie's funeral when I was five years old. You laid out two outfits for me to choose from, both perfectly washed and ironed (and both hand-me-downs from Emily). One was a blue dress with pink roses and matching pink tights, the other was a very subtle gray striped dress with a high collar and a tie. I chose the pink even though I knew the other one was the perfect choice for a funeral. (Where else would I wear it?) At the service, so many people commented on my pretty pink and blue dress that I remember feeling terribly guilty for dressing like I was going to a party. Strange memory, huh? Don't worry, mom, you didn't give me a complex. I think it's fine for little girls to wear pink tights to a funeral.

And as for Nichole, you DEFINITELY know how to dress for a party! I've seen you casual but never less than 100% adorable.


Hollace said...

Dear Girlfriends,
Thank you so much for talking about these things with me. I have learned a lot from each of you. As I muse on it, I see that I am partly (maybe mostly) a product of the way I was raised in which appearances were important. I see that it can be both uplifting in attitude to dress appropriately, and can be judgmental when applied to others negatively. I am not sure if its possible to hold one set of standards for ourselves and another one for others that is acceptant. (At first I said "that is forgiving" but that implies an error on their part so I changed it to acceptant. Freudian slip.)
How can it be that I agree with everyone of you, both those who agree and who disagree?
Each of you have brought up valuable points, such as the effort made in the poorest of countries to save something special for visitors, and the positive sense of professionalism that comes from dressing nicely at work, and the bottom line: making an effort. I guess there are many sides to this question and I need to work on being more loving to those who have different values than mine.
I have loved talking this over with you! Thanks for sharing!
P.S. Lindsay, I am glad you wore your Sunday dress to GG's funeral. It probably made everyone happy to see a bright little girl.