Land Of The Free, Home Of The Sweatpants

What one learns. Did you know that dressing like a rumpled mess is a sign of “freedom” and a declaration of one’s “Americanness?” Neither did I until now:

Screen capture of Time.
Screen capture of Time.

The writer states she doesn’t see dressing “casual” as being the opposite of “formal.” Rather, it’s the opposite of “confined.” She also asserts:

To dress casual is quintessentially to dress as an American and to live, or to dream of living, fast and loose and carefree.

Observing that is supposed to be, presumably, suitably – no pun intended – patriotic?

However, note she opens by declaring this:

I happen to own 17 pairs of sweatpants, but I am a convert to casual….

Hold on a moment. Think about that. Are sweatpants “casual” dress?

Absolutely not. They are for athletic activities. Those activities are also, as we sadly know, usually also not something most Americans are doing while wearing their sweatpants.

She also claims:

….In wearing cargo shorts, polo shirts, New Balance sneakers, and baseball hats, we are “living out” our personal identifications as a middle-class Americans. Our country’s casual style is America’s calling card around the world—where people then make it their own….

Interestingly, we also constantly hear and read of Americans who admire the style sense one often encounters in Europe – especially on women. Yet those women here are not all wearing ball gowns and 4 inch heels to breakfast. Nor are men in tuxedos 24 hours a day. They simply appear generally to take more pride in their personal dress and appearance.

Audrey Hepburn did not wear sweatpants. There is a canyon’s width of difference between “casual” polo shirts, trousers and even jeans, etc., and looking like a seventh grader in gym class. Despite that writer spending much of the article discoursing on the history of “casual” dress in America, and its “unisexing,” etc., and so on, she is blurring that distinction badly. And it is a vital one.

Free Stock Photo: Illustrated map of Europe, c. 1990.
Free Stock Photo: Illustrated map of Europe, c 1990.

Case in point. Waiting for a flight, I recall sitting at London’s Stansted Airport a few years ago and briefly being struck by the passengers. Stansted is a “budget hub.” People milling around were from probably all European nationalities.

You knew you weren’t in a similar sized U.S. airport. The men walking by were on the whole reasonably well-dressed; jeans were few, sneakers fewer. Women were often perhaps dressed down for travel, yes, but I saw no sweatpants. Baseball caps have made increasing inroads here on younger women since the 1990s (yes, yes, global capitalism and all that), but they are still not nearly as commonplace as in the U.S., and that morning I recall having seen none.

Noticing all that was – at the risk of sounding sorta down on my homeland on this subject – refreshing. I had first noticed this “issue” over two decades ago. I’ve slipped in references to it, as here at JFK Airport, in Frontiers:

Excerpt from
Excerpt from “Frontiers,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

Apparently, though, we are to believe that dressing like a slob is a display of “equality.” Hmm. Well, it can also be termed simply dressing like a slob.

That writer is, we are informed at the outset, also an educator. Seeing that, a red flag went up for me. About a decade ago, my sister had thought she wanted to teach secondary school English and foreign languages. For student teaching in an affluent Long Island, New York high school, the first day she had turned up in a business smart blazer, skirt and short heels.

Reasonable, right? No. Her supervising teacher politely told her off, saying her outfit was “too sexual” and “too authoritarian.”

My sister told me, contempt dripping from her voice, that every day that woman showed up looking like she had just rolled out of bed. Her whole wardrobe seemed to consist of oversized sweatshirts, sloppy sweatpants, awful sneakers, and even flipflops. She usually looked, my sister also noted, far worse than the female students.

And she was hardly alone among the women in that. My sister said the men were usually atrociously dressed too. It was little wonder, my sister also pointed out, that the students themselves seemed unmotivated, unengaged and uninspired: the teachers were their “equal” so what need was there to take their studies seriously.

There is a difference between fashion and dress. Yes, fashion changes with the times of course, but how we dress is not just about how we feel about ourselves, it’s about how we project ourselves to the world. Man or woman, if you look like you just can’t be bothered, you may interpret that as liberating and a declaration of your personal freedom, but don’t be surprised either if others see it as an indication of laziness, indifference, and even a poor attitude.

Hope you’re having a good Saturday! 🙂