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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Gripe

Dressing Down for Dinner

November 21, 1998|GREG CROSBY | Greg Crosby is a freelance writer and former corporate vice president

Dining out recently with my wife in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary, I felt as if we had just landed on Earth from some remote galaxy. The restaurant, although quite nice and certainly appropriate for a special evening, was not one of those places where you need to speak fluent French and take out a second mortgage on your home just to pay for dinner. I decided, therefore, to forgo wearing a suit, choosing a more casual outfit: a sport jacket, tie and slacks. My bride looked beautiful in a simple but elegant black trapeze dress.

Gazing around the room as we were shown to our table, I noticed that no other man was wearing a tie or jacket. Many were in short-sleeved polo shirts, some in T-shirts. Most wore jeans or Dockers and athletic shoes. My wife was the only woman in the restaurant wearing a dress. As with the men, jeans appeared to be the garment of choice among the women. Remember, this is a very nice, moderately expensive restaurant, in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Los Angeles.

As the 20th century ends, I can't help but wonder if we haven't come to the end of elegance as well. Elegance: The very word now sounds quaint, antiquated by today's standards of no standards.

The Machine Age brought with it an ability to manufacture clothing that was affordable and lighter weight. Suddenly people were dressing much more comfortably than in the past, and they liked it. The seed for the concept of dressing for comfort had taken root.

When corporate America invented casual Friday, it opened a dressing-down floodgate. Comfort is something that people are not willing to give up, once they have it. If a man removes his jacket and tie on Friday, he will not be all that anxious to put it back on when Monday rolls around. There was a time not long ago when a woman wouldn't consider going to work in anything less than a dress, blouse and skirt or suit.

Look around the room the next time you're in a nice restaurant and see how few people are "dressed for dinner." I don't even mean suits and dresses. I'd settle for just a little better attired than if they were going to a flea market.

As the trend of more and more comfort with less and less clothing continues into the 21st century, watch for the one article of clothing that may make a comeback: the muumuu--for both men and women. It may not be elegant, but it is the ultimate garment of total and complete comfort, while capable of concealing all physical imperfections.

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