OAKLAND, Calif. — When the world finally collapses, it may be under a massive pile of ripped jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch.
When archeologists from space sift through our ashes on this cold dead rock, they will not find remains of the days of yore: the French cuffs, the sterling-silver tie bars, the sleek pencil skirts and silk blouses of the mid 20th century. No, those were replaced long ago with mutilated denim and logo T-shirts adopted for any occasion, devolving further into the rumpled, faded, polka-dot pajama bottoms tucked into black socks on a 42-year-old man at the Nob Hill in Alameda, Calif.
“I guess it is kinda bad, huh,” he said last week, hanging his head in mock shame and chuckling at his public display of apathy — not daring to reveal his identity for fear of his wife’s mortification. “Well, isn’t the world supposed to end this year? Then who cares, right? I might as well be comfortable when it happens.”
Casual every day
Somewhere along the line, especially here in the highly informal, tech-friendly Bay Area, Casual Fridays have become Casual Every Day with spiffy outfits relegated to the likes of attorneys, wait staff and TV news anchors. Fashion forward sometimes goes fashion sideways, careening over the embankment of good taste and down the slippery slope to sloppy.
“It looks likes people just don’t care anymore. People are very sloppy,” said Armando Osorio, 35, of Berkeley, Calif., who likened current style to the “before” looks on a makeover show. He says he dresses down — but neatly — for his job at a lumber company. But when he steps out on the weekends, it’s J. Crew for casual and a suit or sport coat for special events. “Yeah, it takes a little effort to look nice. And that’s the problem,” he said. “We have become way, way, way too lazy.”
Clothes by profession
To be sure, clothing choice depends on the occasion or line of work. You’d look loony wearing a suit to a beach party or repairing a car. And casual wear isn’t inherently bad. It’s less stuffy, there’s room for more creativity and individuality than in decades past, and it’s hands-down much more comfortable at the office.
But those still nursing a small flame at the shrine of style say it’s disappointing to see more and more holey jeans at the symphony and chic restaurants.
“I find it sad to see people in jeans at the theater,” said Michael Pagan, general manager for Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake hotel in San Francisco, a place where it was once expected for guests to dress up for a night out. But now?
“Someone in a suit certainly wouldn’t be out of place here, but you’d be surprised at what people wear,” Pagan said. “Tourists you can understand. They’ve been on a long flight, so they come in wearing shorts and stuff. But even people out for the night — club girls dress up in the Kim Kardashian kind of little dresses, but at the same time you’ll get the soccer mom type, almost to the point of wearing sweats, carrying backpacks, bad hair. The trend has gone way down for style.”
Pagan equated today’s fashions with texting. “These days, you have people who will always think ‘laugh out loud’ is spelled ‘lol,’ ” he said. “Extrapolate that out to the way people present themselves — abbreviated style, doing what’s fast and easy — and look what you get. Usually the only people in tuxedos and gowns here are us (the staff).”
One venue where common-sense fashion should surely rule the day is in a court of law. But on some doors at Wiley Manuel courthouse in Oakland, Calif., there are signs reading: “NO shorts; NO tank tops or tube tops; NO pajama pants/sweats; NO exposed stomachs.”
If Perry Mason were alive — and real — this would probably kill him.
“Defendants don’t care anymore. For some, it’s no different than going to McDonald’s,” said Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, who has presided over criminal cases for 29 years. He prefers a casual look himself, opting for golf shirts and khakis under his robes to put jurors at ease, he said. But there’s casual, and then there’s his pet peeve: people in saggy pants. “I told a guy the other day, ‘You’re already on probation and you come in my courtroom like that? I don’t need to see your underwear.’”
Etiquette and public speaking coach Holly Rauser of Morgan Hill says inappropriate dressing is a sign of a breakdown in respect, for oneself and others.
“The ‘Me’ Generation has become the Age of Rudeness,” she said. “We have overdone the self-esteem movement and forgotten to teach that other people have worth, too. We need to treat others with the respect that we ourselves demand.”
In some cases, people feel embarrassed for looking good. Sue Fox, an etiquette expert in Pleasanton, Calif., and author of “Etiquette for Dummies,” recently had a woman shop clerk actually apologize for being too dressed up because she’d just come from a funeral. “When did dressing nicely become something you have to apologize for?” Fox asked.
Indeed, the rules governing fashion decorum have become increasingly less stringent over the decades, particularly in the Bay Area and most notably in menswear, said style maven Dyanna Dawson, who blogs about San Francisco and New York street fashion. “A lot of men will wear jeans and casual shoes to their 9-to-5,” and that’s great, she said. But some of her male friends here say they feel “odd-man out” if they ever dare wear a suit to work.
The casual look “has allowed for more freedom of self expression in the ways people choose to dress,” Dawson said. “But the flip side is people who feel like they’d be ostracized in some way for dressing too well.”
Fox says research shows people behave better when they’re dressed up. “And it doesn’t have to be expensive clothes,” she said. “Just a clean ironed shirt for a dinner party or a job interview, tucked into nice slacks. How you dress, groom yourself and handle yourself in public are all part of your ‘packaging.’ Yes, you should wear what you like, but just because you love wearing shorts and sports sandals doesn’t mean that you should wear them to the opera in the city.”
While it’s been trendy the past few years for high school kids to wear pajama pants to class, some schools around the country have banned the trend. And in Shreveport, La., Commissioner Michael Williams received national attention in January for proposing an ordinance outlawing the wearing of pajamas in public, for students or adults.
“The moral fiber in America is dwindling away,” Williams was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal. “It’s pajamas today; what is it going to be tomorrow? Walking around in your underwear?”
Perhaps all is not lost. Even some high-school kids shun the “too cool to care” look amid the PJ trend. “It can be a signal of carelessness ... and it doesn’t put me in the right educational or social mindset,” said Shalaka Gole, 16, a student at California High School in San Ramon, Calif. “I normally don’t pass judgment on others who wear pajamas to school — to each their own, right? But however much my friends try to get me to wear sweats in public, to ‘put down my attire guard’ for one day, I never will.”