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!
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.
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
- going to class
- local events and festivals
- clothes shopping
- air travel
- running errands
- interviews and meetings
- 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.
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!):
And here’s my post on 5 Old-Fashioned Habits That Are Due for a Comeback