T-Shirts and jeans (tattered with decorative holes and tears) at one’s place of work? No problem! You won’t be “dressed down” for dressing down by wearing these singular items of clothing. As a culture, we’ve gone from classy to cool — also known as “informal” — and from thence to “casual,” and finally to cruddy and coarse. One can only hope that given enough time, the pendulum will swing in the other direction before everyone — no matter what his or her body type! — is buffaloed into making an appearance in the buff and such an affront to our sensibilities becomes de rigueur — in warmer climates, anyway.
For it has become clear that certainly one of the most profound cultural changes originating late in the 20th century and continuing into the new century has been the gradual rise of casual dress. As with any other such change, it began slowly, in the beginning limiting itself to more personal settings — home, athletics etc. — but as the century went on, the social circumstances in which such raiment was considered “acceptable” moved into areas previously restricted to more formal attire such as church, public celebrations and the workplace.
Of course, in one sense, these “new” fashions released us from generations of tight-fitting and physically restrictive clothing that hampered blood flow and body movement, and probably emotional development as well. But in the process of clothing becoming both loose and less, its wearers were also being reshaped, eventually becoming altogether too little and too loose both morally and ethically!
Indeed, they were influenced by the attitudes radiating from and signified by the new “looser” styles of raiment. The goal of “comfort” went much further than mere fashion; it also produced a desire to be “comfortable” morally, ethically and practically. Such a desire required the abandonment of far more important things than corsets and high starched collars — that is, standards and principles!
As Americans, our casual style of life and dress represents a sort of “utilitarian chic” composed of an admixture of comfort and practicality, two concepts relatively new in the “fashion” industry. One hundred years ago, the closest thing to casual was sportswear — tweed blazers, plus-fours, knitted golf dresses and oxford shoes. As the 20th Century “progressed,” casual came to encompass and absorb everything from workmen’s garb (work boots and lumberman jackets) to the khaki and camo of Army regalia.
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