Dressing sharp is one way to improve manners

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The lineup of June weddings and graduation ceremonies elicited the usual rounds of groans and complaints from some of my friends. We jokingly refer to ourselves as the fashion police, primarily because we mentally and verbally like to sentence people who wear ratty jeans, shorts and T-shirts to dress-up affairs to a year in the House of Mirrors.

I’ve been a fan of well-dressed women since I was a little girl. On a trip to New York several years ago, I planned a visit to Fifth Avenue just for the purpose of sitting on a bench and watching the fashionably dressed women walk by. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until too late those weekends on the Street of Fashion are left to tourists. Consequently, all I was able to witness was a parade of sloppily attired females who looked as if they were on their way to the Kansas City Zoo.

I am convinced that the way people dress has a lot to do with establishing the tone of an event. Many people are fed up with the poor manners and the bad language they run into practically everywhere they go. I have actually observed that individuals are less likely to misbehave when surrounded by men in suits and ties, and women in hats and gloves.

Additionally, cosmetic and diet plan sales still attest to the fact that women like to look good. While many females protest against the wearing of pantyhose today, for centuries, women fought off attempts to free themselves of corsets and girdles, preferring to retain the look of a well-toned body in spite of the temporary discomfort to which they subjected themselves.

And most of us have noticed that while some are loath to dress up themselves, they don’t miss an opportunity to spend hours behind the television watching celebrity weddings and other occasions where pomp and circumstance carry the day. So I suspect that deep in a lot of women's hearts, there is a yearning for the return of decorum. Maybe we are all sitting around hoping to receive an invitation that says "formal attire only." Perhaps we want somebody to set rules.

For some of us, as young women, dressing for the occasion was as much a part of the event as our attendance. Making certain that the dress, the shoes and, yes, even the makeup was right, was a part of the fun. It’s hard to imagine growing up as a female without this rite of passage. In adding up our wins and losses in the struggle for women’s liberation, some women count this rite as a serious loss.

I am certain that many will say that this is just another among the multitude of generational issues we face today. And I am sure, to a certain extent, that’s true. But I believe that it is true also that some people still judge individuals by the way they present themselves to the world at large. I think that must still be the case because I continue to hear job coaches telling people what they need to wear to be considered a good candidate for employment.

There are still many women who insist on being well-dressed. I suspect that those who wear jeans and halter tops to funerals and weddings have childhood issues from which they resent what they feel to be others dictating to them. In the end, I believe they only embarrass themselves because people for the most part don’t care about people who don’t seem to care about themselves, and such is the pity.

In any case, you don’t hear too much these days about "dress codes." But every now and then, the issue comes up. In these hard economic times, I doubt that anyone who has a decent job is willing to risk losing it by playing fast and loose with the job rules. Some employers have solved the problem by requiring employees to wear specific uniforms.

And with the economy at the forefront of most people’s agenda, they seem less concerned with minor social issues. It is more important today to protect the major gains women have made in negotiating the glass ceiling than to dwell on issues of fashion. But it is worth noting that many women complain that the fashion industry tends to cater to the young rather than the more matronly. Maybe the financial crunch will be good time to let the garment-makers know who carries the purse strings.

When money talks, there are few people who fail to listen.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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