It was unbelievable! The gentleman was in his mid- sixties, father of five children and appeared to be a professional but clad in a collar-less vest, Bermuda shorts and flip-flop sandals. This was at Chicago airport where he was accompanied by his family. His three sons aging twenty, sixteen and thirteen were wearing multi colored vests, shorts and clogs. Other members of the family followed the same dress code. And when I looked around more than half of the population regardless of age, sex, education and social background was attired in a similar dress code. At one time people used to come wearing three piece suit and formal tie to airports and now it is a different pageant all together. Come to think of it even shopping malls, parks and other amusement outlets are full of people dressed similarly. This has become the modern dress code in summer across the globe.
Quite a few decades ago, we went for a conference to a small island called Guernsey from Birmingham. Everybody wore a formal suit for the regular proceedings but as we went out for evening stroll most had changed into jeans and half sleeves collared shirt. Quite a few doctors, from Asian background, preferred to remain in suit for the evening. Implying we had no concept of formal and leisure wear. There has been a gradual change in trend from the time that people used to wear creased trousers to informal loose iron free trousers. Western culture found jeans as relaxed and comfortable and conferred the special status of the most favourite part of apparel. Everyone has a favourite pair of jeans and people slip into them in leisure. Now lowers of tracksuits are in use around the globe where one does not jump into shorts but at the same time abandon creased trousers. Some people did not like covering their ankles so they cut off the last eight to twelve inches of trousers and then some enthusiasts wanted their knees to be exposed so some more inches were sacrificed at the altar of fashion and new design. Lately the consensus has been to expose only a part of knee so most shorts now cover a part of knees. New styles are being suggested in shorts with multiple pockets and cuts in a variety of material.
From a formal tie and full sleeve stiff collared shirt people gravitated towards a half sleeve soft collar shirt. Then they found more comfort in tee-shirts. Later collarless vests became the order of the day. This became popular with children and adults and old aged fellows took no time in adopting the comfort and ease of the vest. The worse is still coming the younger generation is now going for sleeveless vests, like going from a football vest to a basketball vest. We continue to wait till it changes to wrestling or even worse swimming set.
It is hard to imagine how people used to spend a whole day walking around in dress shoes. Emphasis shifted from beauty to utility and shoe makers started producing more comfortable casual shoes. Joggers sneaked their way in and were accepted as a part of informal dress even outside sports fields. For quite a few socks have become an accessory to dispense with so they prefer wearing joggers without socks which to us – traditionalists appears queer to say it politely. The last decade witnessed entry of sandals and eventually flip flops conquered the world. Now one comes across all age groups boastful of new trendy designed flip flops. For the first time they have received the stamp of approval outside bathroom and home. Now people feel proud of going around and driving in their chappals.
Young children can afford to appear casual and wear relaxed outfit but adults used to be more careful and considered to attire decently in old times. Our generation was instructed to adhere to a strict code at home and more so on leaving home. Are you going to wear these clothes in public? used to be the final question by our parents after arguments about the suitability of clothes for a ‘public appearance’. People walking on streets and in malls have revolutionized the dress code and ‘comfort’ has become the most important thing. I guess people might still be looking at mirror but only to make sure that they appear cool, comfy and perhaps scruffy
Gone are the days when people used to spend a lot of time in selecting clothes to be worn in formal and daily life. I hope you have not come to the class in your night clothes, used to be a favourite punch line of teachers on finding their students unkempt and dressed inappropriately. And now suddenly, being ‘properly dressed’ has lost its appeal and taken a low priority. Being comfortable and cool is more important and accepted as the ultimate criterion.
Winds of change started blowing from US and soon the whole of Europe embraced this dress code. Australia, Far East and China were quick to adopt it more because of harshness of weather. In the Middle East people who have adopted Western clothes have warmly accepted the new dress code. Children are usually seen in similar clothes and adults brought up in the West don’t feel shy to follow their example.
Most movies and TV serials portray common folks in these trend setting clothes. So it has a stamp of approval from fashion gurus. Malls and outlets are filled to brim with these clothes. In summer stores carry mind boggling variety of clothes in different styles and colors. All leading brands have quickly adapted the new trends and now what we used to pay for a proper all cotton full sleeve shirt we end up paying the same for a tattered vest and same holds true for a short as against a proper trouser. But what pinches the most is to pay the similar amount of money for a non-serious flip flop what we used to pay for a proper dress shoe and a sandal.
Our generation may have some reservations about the evolving dress code but for the young it is the new way of life and they accept it as a norm. The fashion should be dictated by utility and comfort but it must preserve human dignity and honor. May be the pendulum has swung too much towards fashion and comfort away from tradition and convention. Perhaps it will settle down in between comfort and convention in a few years’ time.