Recovering the Lost Art of Dressing Up

Today I’m beginning a new series on old-fashioned habits and practices that I believe deserve a comeback. Because with all of the improvements in technology and convenience that our society boasts today, there are a few good, old-fashioned things we’ve lost. Simple things, like the art of writing letters, of dressing up, or of spending evenings together as a family.

I believe these “lost arts” and others like them deserve another look. More than that, they deserve a revival. These old-fashioned habits have the power to enrich our lives, to help us live slower and more intentionally in this hectic, attention-split world. Hence, the series.

Before we dive in, let me give a disclaimer that this is a series of “food for thought” posts. I’m not disdaining people who don’t share my opinions. These are my personal musings, but I hope they give you something to mull over–and maybe a nod in agreement if you’re feeling the same way!

Show up well for your life by dressing nicely every day. Here are thoughts on recovering the old-fashioned art of dressing up, plus places and occasions you should dress up for. "Fashion" is alive and well, but let's bring back STYLE! #oldfashionedliving #classicstyle

I was born in 1988, which means I’ve never lived in a decade where people routinely dressed up for anything other than a wedding.

Yes, dress has been getting more casual for a long time, but it seems like standards really began to plummet by the ’80s and ’90s. As a youngster, I poured over old pictures and family photo albums and marveled at how formal everyone looked. Dresses for women and slacks for men seemed to be the norm–whether people were headed for church or simply a backyard barbecue. Women wore pants and shorts, too, but even these had a tailored, chic look and were dressed up with a feminine blouse or scarf.

My mom confirmed my observations: “Everyone dressed nicer back then. You got dressed up to get on a plane!”

When I go into restaurants these days and see people dining in their tank tops and yoga pants, I feel like we’ve lost something.

Whatever happened to dressing up?

I suspect it’s a combination of the prevalence of lower-quality clothing (“fast fashion”) and a cultural mindset of casualness, not just in the way we dress but in the way we treat institutions and other people.

I realise it probably makes me sound like a crotchety old lady to bemoan the decline of dress standards. Yet the way we dress effects us every day of our lives, so isn’t this an important point to consider in an examined life?

There are a lot of positive things that can happen when you start dressing nicer. But as I’ve thought about it, one key consequence stands out: respect. We get more respect from others when we dress well. Even more importantly, we learn an attitude of respect ourselves. When you dress up for something, you show respect for the place, the event, the people present…and that unspoken token of respect often leads to actually feeling more respect for those things, and for enjoying them! Dressing nicely also shows that you respect yourself, and your current role and calling in life.

Let me give you an example. Walk onto almost any college campus, and you’ll encounter quite the spectrum of dress, from über casual to polished. If you were to sit in on a class, I can tell you it’s not the students in pajamas and hoodies who’d be engaged with the lecture. They’re usually the ones sitting in the back, texting on the sly and looking as bored as humanly possible. The students who speak up, take notes, and show an interest in the class are almost always the ones who are more dressed up. They look like they’re glad to be there and are making good use of their time, and they probably are.

It’s a bit of a chicken-or-the egg scenario, I suppose. Does dressing up make you confident and capable, or do you dress up because you’re already confident and capable? I think it works both ways, and that’s good news for those of us who want a practical way to improve our daily lives.

I love the fact that I can have a more efficient, positive morning of grocery shopping and running errands simply by dressing up. For me, that usually means doing my minimal makeup routine, wearing a skirt, and putting on jewelry and comfy flats. By contrast, when I feel sloppy looking I’m also more likely to slide into that role of frazzled, overly-busy mom who can’t find time to shower.

You see, dressing sloppily wraps you up in your self. It makes you feel self conscious and inward focused. So put yourself together first. Then you can mentally move past your appearance and enjoy the day and the tasks at hand.

When I wrote my post on Why Every Homemaker Should Dress for the Job She Wants, I got some backlash from people on Facebook who thought that advocating for dressing nicely means advocating impossibly high standards. While I do think it’s helpful to raise our standards when it comes to dress, I’m not saying you have to look like you stepped out of a 1950s movie set. (Although I do love some good old-fashioned eye candy with the colors and styles!) There’s a way to look nice without looking pretentious or like you’re going to a costume party.

How to dress nice every day: a few thoughts

If you want to dress nice every day, start by enjoying what you wear and being proud of the way you look. To get there, you’ll need to take stock of your current wardrobe and do some intentional editing, paring down to just the items you love. Purging the mediocre items from your closet will automatically improve your day-to-day appearance!

For wardrobe decluttering advice, check out the first chapter of my book, Your Simple Home Handbook. If you want the “cliff notes” version, head to these blog posts:

As you declutter your closet, you’ll begin to hone in on your personal style and you’ll discover what clothes make you look and feel your best. You’ll also discover that your wardrobe might not be up to par with your newly-defined standards. If that’s the case, I recommend gradually rehabilitating your wardrobe with classy, foundational style staples like these 25 wardrobe essentials. These are classic pieces that will be chameleons to almost any situation, depending on how you choose to style them and dress them up or down.

The art of dressing well can improve your life on a daily basis! Here's how to look more put-together and stylish every day.

If you’re frustrated by trying to find wardrobe staples on your own, a style service like Stitch Fix can help. You fill out a style profile, and then you’ll be matched to a stylist who will select five items and have them shipped to you. Then you buy what you want and send the rest back.

Another fun way to improve your daily style is to find role models and people whose style you admire. These could be real-life women you know who have a good fashion sense, famous style icons, or even people from old movies and advertisements of a more fashionable era. For myself, I love the style of Sophia Coppola, who proves that you can look stylish but still be comfortable! When you’re online and find looks or style elements you’d like to try, save them to a Pinterest idea board. Gradually, you’ll train yourself to notice the elements of good style, and your clothing choices and shopping habits will become more intentional.

As a side note, you can improve anything you wear by having good posture and maintaining the three basic health pillars (good diet, exercise, and plenty of sleep!).

Places and occasions to consider dressing up for

The more you think about it, the more you’ll start to notice the casual bent that’s prevalent in our culture: pajamas to class, sneakers to business meetings, hoodies and sweatshirts everywhere, cargo shorts and graphic tees for guys, yoga pants for girls. Clothing like this isn’t inappropriate in itself, but too often we wear it in the wrong context.

Get into the fun of dressing up and consider how you can stand out (in a good way) by putting more care into your appearance.

For each of the following places and occasions, think about how you normally dress, then take your outfit just “one level up.” Do you wear exercise clothes when you go to the store? Try switching to nice jeans and a cute top. Already wearing that? Try putting on a comfortable dress one day. The idea is that you don’t need to go the whole nine yards, just take your outfit the extra mile(:

When to dress up:

  • eating out
  • dates
  • going to class
  • local events and festivals
  • clothes shopping
  • concerts
  • church
  • air travel
  • running errands
  • interviews and meetings
  • holidays
  • eating supper with your family at home (see #3 in this post)

Some of these may seem like a given, but unfortunately many no longer are! Even at home, why not treat yourself to looking nice? Wear clothes around the house that are comfortable but still make you feel put together. Sleep in something that makes you feel pretty or cute.

Basically, what do you want your wardrobe to say about you and the way you view life? I think every day is something special, and I don’t mind dressing up to show it.

[question]Do you believe in dressing nicely for the everyday? How do you keep your style classy yet comfortable?[/question]

This post is part of my “lost arts” series, where I pick an old-fashioned habit to discuss and talk about why we should blend it back into our modern-day lives. Here are the other posts in this series (I’ll be adding more in the coming months!):

Recovering the Lost Art of Porch Sitting

Recovering the Lost Art of Cooking from Scratch

Recovering the Lost Art of Taking a Bath

Recovering the Lost Art of Analog Living

Recovering the Lost Art of Old-Fashioned Blogging

Recovering the Lost Art of Solitude

Recovering the Lost Art of Writing Letters

And here’s my post on 5 Old-Fashioned Habits That Are Due for a Comeback


  1. I LOVE this post, Elsie! Earlier this week, I happened to read some of Elisabeth Elliot’s thoughts on dressing nicely to show respect to people. You’re so right that dressing better than you normally do really affects so much, from your attitude to the way other people treat you.

    1. Thank you, Hilary! Did you read that from a specific Elisabeth Elliot book? I’d love to read that! She is one of my favourite mentors.

      1. I dress up for grocery shopping, really anytime I am ” going public”. At home, I have a work ” uniform, that I can throw a flowing, long flannel or duster or sweater over for quick errands. I love dressing up for church to praise God, or just for my weekly grocery shopping and errands. The song “hey little girl” comes to mind when I feel sloppy. I think it is Dionne Warwick. Anyway , love the “Lost Part” posts. Thank you for them.

  2. I love this and quite literally, in the last few days, I have decided to dress like a lady. I feel so icky sometimes and I am sick of it. I always feel good when I dress well, like a woman. It also struck me, as a mother to a 3-year-old girl that she is watching me to see what it means to be a woman. I want her to be a lady, because she is precious, and so I need to model this to her. I am going to have to purge my wardrobe and do some thrift-shop adventures to find lady-like clothes, but I will get there! Thank you, Elsie! As always!

    1. Sarah, I am so glad you enjoyed this post! I love the way my mom put time into her appearance, and I want to model that for my children, too. I don’t know if I have a daughter yet, but I even like showing my son that I care for my appearance…he knows I like looking pretty for his dad, and why we dress up more for certain things!

  3. I always dress nice for church!! ALWAYS. I don’t go out a lot and so when I get a chance I love to dress up. Summer it is always a dress!!

  4. This is a a wonderful post! I definitely want to look good and feel good so this post really encouraged me to present myself in a respectful way.

  5. I so agree with you. I do believe people intentionally dress down to make it look like that people who dress nicely are not “cool” and take too much time to look that way. In contrast to the sloppy dressers who make you believe that they are hip/cool and are so able to pull off the “I don’t care” look. My daughter is 14 and I always tell her to take the time to put a nice outfit together. Thanks for your post 🙂

    1. Yes, we’re definitely saying something by the way we dress–and many people do intentionally dress down! That is awesome that you are encouraging your daughter to put thought into this area!

  6. I really enjoyed this. I think you just feel better about yourself when you look your best while doing whatever needs to be done for the day. work or errands a skirt or jeans and nice top, a day of cleaning or home projects yoga pants and a cute top with hair up and a little makeup on maybe. Dress your best for whatever the occassion. You can always make an exception and spend a cozy day in your pjs but it shouldnt be the norm.

    1. Yep, I agree–I definitely have those cozy sweatshirt/pj days sometimes! And those days definitely have a different vibe to them. I could not get done what I need to if I dressed like that every day! (And I’d eat way too much junk food…)

  7. Thank You so much for Your Site……..I really enjoy it a lot. I do not even consider these Things You have mentioned to be Old Fashioned. Never should we ever have let ourselves look sloppy while going out anywhere. We should never have started following others Whom started doing this. Did We do it just because it is easier? Anyways, You are so Right. Nothing should be above getting up in the morning, taking a shower & fixing up for whatever our day holds. I don’t care if You are a Man or a Woman, do something to make Yourself look like YOU care about Yourself & Those around You, PERIOD. It is just Good Grooming, Great Common Sense & One of the Reasons so many are so Depressed & Down today. Don’t ever use the excuse I have no one to dress up for? Even your Cat or Dog will notice the difference in how YOU Treat Them if You Uplift Yourself by doing something for Yourself. God Bless & Keep with the Uplifting & Helping Women to become Ladies once again.

  8. Hello! A friend of mine sent me your post and thought I would enjoy it. I thoroughly did, and 100% agree with all you wrote! It truly is a lost art. Recently, God laid modesty in my clothing on my heart, and I redid my entire wardrobe. I tend to pull my style inspiration from the 40s and 50s. They were classy, elegant, and decent. One of the things I have found fascinating is how differently I am treated. I have more people hold the door for me, or say hello since swapping my attire. It’s interesting!

    1. I am pouring over your Instagram–so lovely! I love the way that dressing in a more ladylike fashion usually brings modesty along with it. I think it’s classy and timeless to be modest.

  9. This is such a good blog article! I’ve seen more respect due to what I was wearing and I’ve heard other women tell of the respect they received by dressing up for students of all ages as well as for adults.

    I’m looking forward to this series of “lost arts” and other old-fashioned “goodness,” which needs to come back.

    Thank you for your blog!

    1. You’re welcome! I have so many ideas for this series! I won’t be doing them all in a row, but interspersing them with other content, too. But I’m quite excited!

  10. What a wonderful post Elsie! I was born in 1959 so obviously I’m much older than you but I couldn’t agree with you more regarding this post. As a child I saw my mother dress up to go out to dinner in a sweater set , skirt. pearls and heels, or a gorgeous dress!( and of course a girdle). I used to love watching her get ready! But even for the everyday my mother looked smart and put together in cigarette pants, beautiful tailored blouses and tops, along with adorable flats or sparkling clean Keds tennies! I posted a picture of my mother once on FB that was taken in the 60s. She looked beautiful even though the picture is one of an ordinary day and she is sitting in front of her beloved stereo. All of my FB friends then began a conversation on how gorgeous our mothers all looked back then and how they took such care of their appearances and clothing. Dressed for confidence and respect everyday. This made them all beautiful!
    I remember once in the early 70s my mother held a volunteer position for a charity and needed to go to a meeting in another state. She commissioned 2 new dresses to be made for her airplane trip! I can’t believe my eyes now when I see people get on a plane in pajamas!
    I recently lost my sister and her memorial service was at a funeral home. As our family were all arriving early for last minute preparations etc. a woman, an employee of the funeral home, was holding the door for us. As we passed through, myself, my other sister, my deceased sister’s adult daughter, the employee made the comments, “Oh my gosh you’re all in dresses! Why are you in dresses, nobody wears dresses anymore!” Needless to say she was in black slacks. We were all dressed out of respect for my dear sister!

    I think we would all feel a little bit better about ourselves if we always kept respect in mind.

    1. How interesting! I think a lot of people think about “fashion” these days, but fashion and style aren’t the same thing. As a whole, our culture has lost the latter.

    2. Very sorry for your loss. I find it amazing that people feel they have the right to comment on things like you wearing dresses ! Especially at a time like that!! What she SHOULD have said was “how lovely to see you all in dresses as not many people wear them anymore and you all look like ladies!!” Working where she does she should have had more respect for your grief.

    3. Hi, I’m 75 and remember the sweater set, skirt, pearls and teased out flip. Also, the white tennies. I don’t know how it is in other parts of the country, but in California there’s just too much skin showing. Even if it’s taut and tan, I still don’t want to see it. I feel like women really don’t value themselves anymore, because they don’t get pleasure from themselves, and so they’ve “let themselves go.” I’d be interested to know why this happened?

      1. I can’t answer for Mary Beth, but I think there must be so many factors that go into that! A lot of cultural shifts, and mistaken views about how to empower women.

  11. A fond recent memory I have was when I went to the store in a skirt and blouse and a man likely in his 70s said, “young lady, (I am 50!), it is so nice to see a woman in a skirt!”

  12. I have 3 daughters and we all love to dress up daily. We do not leave the house until all hair and teeth are brushed and perfume and deodorant is on 😁 my girls all have hair down past their waists and we always wear skirts or dresses down to the knees or longer. They are 13 10 & 7 but have done this since very little 🌼 my boys shave and must have teeth and hair brushed and they choose to wear trousers or jeans and proper shoes – they are now 21 and have done this since very little too. They are twins so we always received a lot of attention wherever we went and everyone always comments on our girls saying how lovely they look and how nice it is to see them looking like little girls.
    I am a firm believer in looking your best when you are out and about. It’s not hard to simply look near and smell nice and you don’t need expensive clothes or even a lot of them 🌷🌷🌷

    1. That is exactly right! I always loved how in old books, the heroes and heroines often have a strong sense of personal dignity–and that would translate to looking neat, even if they didn’t have a lot of wealth. I think your children will thank you for this upbringing some day (I know I’m grateful to my own mother for this!)

  13. I’m probably a little older than many of the posters so I can clearly remember a time when you ALWAYS dressed up for church, going out to dinner, going visiting, shopping at a nicer store like Hudson’s or Lord and Taylor,, or even flying on a plane. I miss it. I find any more that “comfortable” seems to have become synonymous with “sloppy.” Like some of your other posters I always dress for church at the very least. I guess just because the rest of the world wants to look like slobs doesn’t mean we have to!

    1. It is too bad dressing up nice is becoming a rarity! I’m glad we can still choose to stand out–in a good way–and maybe inspire others to take joy and pride in putting a good foot forward, too(:

  14. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I’m 54 and when I was a kid I was taught that you always dress your best when you go to church. That’s the least we can do for The Lord. My first few years of school I had to wear dresses to school, I can actually remember getting my first pair of jeans. My mom told me I could only wear those to play in! 😊 I’m sorry to say sometimes I wonder if people ever look in a mirror before they go out of the house. I like to be comfortable like everyone else but there is a time and a place for it. I’ll get on my soapbox and say leggings should never be worn without a long top or a dress over them. Ladies they aren’t pretty! 🤦🏻‍♀️ Thank you for your thoughts ! Nice to hear considering how things are now days.

    1. Yes, I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned! I don’t want to offend people who don’t share my opinions on dressing up, of course, but I love offering some food for thought! And there are so many options with clothing nowadays that you can definitely look nice and still be comfortable.

  15. I love this blog post and totally agree with you!

    Have you read the book – The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish? I borrowed it from my library a while back and it was very interesting.

  16. I love this post ,it’s so true,people hardly ever dress up anymore . As a personal choice I have decided to only wear classic style clothing such as dresses and skirts and blouses ,but that also means shopping online because I can never find anything in my size or style in stores without spending an arm and a leg and I am on a budget. I have a few favourite dresses that I wear to the mall and when I do I get so many compliments .

    1. Sounds like you have a lovely style! And similar to what I gravitate towards(: It is like digging for buried treasure to find good classic pieces in budget, though. I’ve found some gems at thrift stores!

  17. And I just purchased the book Maria mencioned: The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish.

  18. I definitely would love to polish my wardrobe a bit. As for going to run errands or air travel, I am still trying to find the cross between looking put together and comfortable because comfort trumps all for me! I am also pretty active and love to bike/walk to various locations so I believe you also must take lifestyle into consideration. Love the Lost Arts series!

    1. Glad you like the series! I have some more ideas to continue it this year. And yes, lifestyle will be a big factor for putting together a wardrobe. My lifestyle has changed a bit over the years according to where we live and what we’re up to, so I think our wardrobes are always evolving.

  19. I love this post and would like a way to dress up more at home. It’s not always convenient to wear a kaftan at home because housekeeping in wide sleeves is messy, but a kaftan is definitely my favorite at-home dressing. My husband is put off by pants on women and I like to keep him attracted to me. Any ideas on what to wear at home?

    I know one of the reasons I don’t dress up daily is feeling I’m not “worth” it. I’ve almost gotten over that through self talk. Also, I have the ability to make nice outfits VERY inexpensively, and I’m afraid others will think I’m flaunting money (which I don’t have) or showing off. I’m trying to get to the point where I can just be me and relax.

    1. For home, could you wear a skirt with a few interchangeable tops? Or for the kaftan, would it work to keep the sleeves in by simply tying ribbons around them to hold them close to your arms? You have to get past that false mindset of not being worth it! Clearly, your husband cares about the way you look and appreciates your efforts.

  20. I forgot to say that I’m 75, and we are retired, so my husband is with me 24/7 and sees me at my worst. We can’t afford to go out, so I try to create the fantasy at home. I enjoy it. Also my husband is 85 and always dresses up to go out.

  21. I loved this. As a child, dressing up was an exciting way to mark the approach of a holiday. Getting your hair done, buying the new pants suit or dress was part of the ritual. It was how you knew a special occasion was on the way. It may sound silly, but to this day I splurge on a new dress for Passover Seder or the High Holidays and enjoy it as another ritual of the holiday.
    This year I was shocked when someone argued in response to my putting “dressy casual” on an invitation to a party I was hosting. They literally wanted to wear sweat pants, and were infuriated when I said, because it was a cocktail party, I had something different in mind.
    I also think there’s a difference between casual and …inappropriate. I could not imagine wearing pyjamas outside the house, though I do wear jeans a lot. Still, I think at least being able to dress up and attend a variety of events is important.

    1. We always looked forward to getting “Easter dresses” when I was growing up, and bringing out certain outfits at Christmastime. Now I’m going to a liturgical church and there are different colours associated with different Sundays…sometimes I try to dress accordingly. It’s fun and I like to participate in the symbolism.

      I can’t believe someone would object to dressy casual at a cocktail party! It’s fun to dress up for parties, and we need more opportunities to do it!

  22. I have chosen to dress as a woman. I feel so disgusting here and there and I am tired of it. I generally feel great when I dress well, similar to a lady. It additionally struck me, as a mother to a 3-year-old young lady that she is watching me understand to be a lady. I need her to be a woman since she is valuable.

  23. I wear a dress almost every day. Do minimal makeup (when you are over 60 less is more) and of course heels. Makes me feel good especially when we were in lockdown.

    1. I love it! I’m finding that “less is more” makeup is my style in my 30s right now, too! I went to the thrift store the other day and found a couple of skirts I can dress up or down…which is the best kind!

  24. I grew up in the 60s , desperately wanting to wear long dresses, as in earlier times ( l hated the mini skirt ) .Well , l learned to sew and realised l could wear the kind of clothes l loved and make them to fit me too …
    So in my 60s l dress up nearly all the time , as heck , l like it

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