Dress code

February 22, 2017 § 6 Comments

I remember that it was turquoise – a small, turquoise, rectangular box that epitomised glamour for me. It lived behind the rows of brown envelopes where my mother kept the cash she had allocated to various items for the month’s budget, each envelope meticulously labelled: chemist, groceries, bus fare, school fees… 

The tiny box only came out on special occasions, containing as it did my mother’s mascara. This was not the tube and wand affair of today’s mascara, however. One compartment held a black substance that required a drop of water to be activated, the other a miniature brush, like a fairy toothbrush, for applying the moistened mascara.

My mother’s idea of everyday make-up was minimalist. Most days, a slick of lipstick was all she wore. But on nights when she and my father were going out, out came the mascara box. And I, just four or five years old, in my nightie and fluffy pink slippers, hung around in the doorway to their bedroom, enthralled by her preparations.

My father wore a suit, always; my mothera long, brightly patterned dress, marcasite at her throat and ears, a dab of Chanel at her wrists. One blue curler provided just the right amount of lift for a section of her short, dark hair, and she dab-dab-dabbed at her eyelashes with that teeny tiny toothbrush. And then they would leave in a cloud of perfume and cologne, while I sat in Granny Bridger, the babysitter’s lap, for one last story before bed.

Today, going out is a much more casual affair. Go to the theatre, and you’ll find people in shorts, jeans, even slip slops. Some restaurants only permit long trousers and closed shoes, but you can wear a good pair of jeans. It’s a far cry from the formality of dress codes gone by.

Even the workplace is a lot more casual. As a freelance writer, I most often resort to a uniform of jeans and a T-shirt, but it’s not just me – many offices I visit seem to have a similar dress code. And while I love the comfort of casual clothes, sometimes I miss dressing up.

I know performers and chefs can do their jobs just as well regardless of what we wear, but there was something respectful about putting on something special for a special night out; a sense that this was a treat, a small celebration in the midst of an otherwise mundane life. And I think, in some small way, you behave differently when you’re well-dressed. There’s a sense of decorum that prevails.

I know those distressed jeans and T-shirt are more comfortable, but I wonder sometimes if we haven’t become a bit too comfortable in life as in our theatres and restaurants. I wonder if we couldn’t do with a bit more decorum, a bit more discomfort, a bit more of a sense of occasion.

Maybe one day the pendulum will swing back to a more respectful, more genteel, more gracious way of navigating the world. In the meantime, I’m putting my mascara on, just in case.


§ 6 Responses to Dress code

  • Thabo says:

    Many moons ago, when the Phantom of the Opera was on in Pretoria, I was baffled as to how to dress, as I had never been to the State Theatre, nor an opera, so wondered if it was Black Tie. I went with the smart casual look, blazer, dark pants and shirt but no tie. I was surprised on arrival seeing some in dress down mode that I never even knew went to the opera. I guess things are different in terms of dress code these days, including when I went to a Memorial service a few weeks ago, where one of my friends even piped “you win the best dressed award” to me (it was in Cape Town so you can imagine)

    Liked by 1 person

  • Ladies in hats and gloves, men in fedoras, bowlers, straw boaters – always a hat but NEVER a baseball cap! I miss the decorum of proper dress. No wonder our parents were shocked when we turned out in the ’60s in tie-dye and jeans!!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Marie Keates says:

    I remember my sister using the spit on mascara. I think you’re right, we have become far too casual.

    Liked by 1 person

  • charliesbird says:

    Yip, I loved watching those evening preparations too, the puff of powder and the spritz of Blue Grass – if I was lucky, she’d spritz a small hanky for me to snuggle up with while they were out.
    And I have to agree, I mortify myself sometimes, arriving at work in cargo pants or shorts (albeit smart ones)… although infinitely grateful the white safari suits have disappeared from doctor’s wardrobes…


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