Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dressing in the Age of Anything Goes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dressing in the Age of Anything Goes

Article excerpt

The old lament, "I have nothing to wear," is often uttered most loudly and falsely by those with bulging closets. Yet the complaint is becoming truer by the day for everyone as old rules of fashion fall away and new choices become possible. In an age of anything-goes attire, even those who once considered their wardrobes ample can feel sartorially challenged, fretting that nothing is quite right for a particular occasion.

Some of the problem can be traced to casual Friday, which requires a whole new way of dressing. Adding to the confusion is a vocabulary of fashion terms that attempt to define degrees of formality and informality. Consider these examples.

When organizers of a weekend seminar describe dinner attire, they call the style "dressy casual." What an oxymoron! Does that mean a pantsuit? A skirt and flats? Jeans with a strand of pearls? And is there an opposite term - "casual dressy"? Similar vagueness characterizes a tour company's recommended dress for evenings: "smart casual." Pressed for a clearer explanation, a company representative goes vague. "We're very relaxed," she says, unable to translate "relaxed" into wardrobe terms. Elsewhere, when an insurance company hosts a holiday party for employees, it requests "semi-formal" attire. But when guests show up, the prevailing look is informal. As one woman wryly observes afterwards, "Semi-formal now means no jeans or T-shirts." Another invitation, this one to a winter wedding, also creates uncertainty. "Black tie optional," it reads, leaving guests to wonder, "How optional?" The confusion becomes comic when a shopper, preparing for an August garden wedding in an upscale suburb of Chicago, asks a few well-dressed sales clerks for advice. "Wear black - definitely black," says a salesman at Henri Bendel, naming the color once considered inappropriate for weddings. No wonder Miss Manners finds that there's now more black at weddings than at funerals. "Wear a pantsuit," advises the well-polished owner of a pricey suburban boutique, adding that she never wears anything else. …

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