Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why do American dress so casually today?” Good question. (OK, it’s a little odd but again it beats answering those questions about some of your more personal peccadilloes. We thought a “Tuna Melt” was just a sandwich, mmmkay?)
When your perpetually penned-in penman does get out to cover a live event he is pretty much stuck wearing his signature hat which—had he mastered the software—you would see him wearing at the bottom of this article. When there’s nothing special on the calendar he lives in free t-shirts from artists —The Mighty Cash Cats! Suze Lanier-Bramlett! Grrlz will be Boiz!–he has reviewed, Birkenstocks, since before they were trendy, and, of course, blue jeans.
When your mom dresses you until you graduate from college you tend to go way casual once you move out, ya know? Beyond that, who knows why else Americans dress casually? Our guest speaker Deirdre Clemente contributor to TIME and author of Dress Casual: How College Kids Redefined American Style was happy to provide additional input.
She says: “I study one of the most profound cultural changes of the 20th century: the rise of casual dress. As Americans, our casual style uniformly stresses comfort and practicality—two words that have gotten little attention in the history of fashion but have transformed how we live. “
(OK, Deirdre, we plugged your book so, make with the answers. Why do Americans dress so casually?)
Clemente continues: “The ‘why’ behind casual dress is a hand-clappingly perfect demonstration of fashion theorist, Malcolm Barnard’s idea that clothing does not reflect personal identity but actually constitutes it. As one of my students put it, ‘So, it’s not like ‘Hey, I’m a hipster and then I buy skinny jeans and get a haphazard haircut,’ but more like in becoming a hipster, I get the jeans and the haircut.’ Yes.”
She notes: “In wearing cargo shorts, polo shirts, New Balance sneakers and baseball hats, we are ‘living out’ our personal identifications as a middle-class Americans. Our country’s casual style is America’s calling card around the world—where people then make it their own. It is witnessed by the young boy on the Ivory Coast wearing a Steelers jersey and in the price of Levi’s on the black market in Russia. Street styles in Tokyo harken the campuses of Harvard and Yale in the 1950s—tweed sports coats paired with t-shirts and saddle shoes. Casual is diverse and casual is ever- changing, but casual was made in America.”
So casual is an American original like blues music. We dress casually because we’re proud to be Americans. (Plus some folks have no clue how to dress otherwise.)
Clemente concludes: “I’ve devoted the past decade of my life trying to understand “why” . . . we started dressing this way—and I’ve come to many conclusions. But for all the hours and articles, I’ve long known why I dress casual. It feels good.”
Why do Americans dress so casually today? Now you know.
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