It was my birthday Friday, and our anniversary in a few weeks so Saturday night my husband took me to a fabulous dinner and performance of Cirque de la Symphonie.  It was INCREDIBLE!  If you've ever seen Cirque de Soleil you have an idea of the amazing feats of human performance going on while the symphony played wonderful pieces.  Amazing like Jarek and Darek, the Living Statues pictured below.  If you haven't seen these jaw-dropping performers, here's a link to a little preview video.
It was a delicious, exciting, enchanting, romantic and sublime evening.  I encourage you, no, I implore you, to find a performance near you and go.  And when you do, you sure as heck better dress appropriately!  Because the tragic outfits I saw that night have forced me (much like the Sunday Best experience) to once again shout from the rooftops, "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO EVENING WEAR!?!"

My parents had season symphony tickets while I was a teenager and I was lucky enough to go to a few performances every year.  The casual dressers bothered me back then too.  This is the first performance I've been to in several years and the blow it struck me was appallingly fresh.  We walked out the door behind a man in khakis and a ratty polo shirt and a woman in a very worn Docker-style skirt and Teva's.  I kid you not.  And among the appropriately dressed patrons were plenty of jeans and t-shirts.  The Ringling Brothers circus was at the venue 2 blocks down so I think they got lost. 
I wanted so badly to tap the couple on the shoulder and say, "Hello.  I'm writing an article about how people make their fashion decisions.  Could you please tell me what possessed you to put this on before you came here tonight?  Did you not know where you were going?" 

People, there IS such a thing as a Dress Code and how to dress appropriately.  I was pondering the confusion about how to honor a Dress Code and came up with too many possibilities for this post; the casualization of society has killed the standards, people would like to dress appropriately but don't know how or how to shop, too many titles for the same code, etc.  We'll explore them more in future posts.  Today we're talking about the symphony or opera.  So let's discuss WHY it's a good idea to dress up.
  • It's not about "fitting in" it's about respecting the situation, the performers, the people around you and yourself.  It's about showing you have class and that you understand where you are.  
  • As I often do I searched for other answers already given to this type of question and in about half a nanosecond I found some very wrong ones.  Such as, "Dress as nicely as you can.  No one will notice anyway." Wrong!  Everyone notices.  Someone else said, "Dress any way you want.  They're not going to throw you out."  Oh.. if only they would!!  I had a nice time daydreaming of the petite little usher at our entry manhandling the offenders right out onto the street.  Then there was this one, "The symphony doesn't care, they just want butts in the seats."  Sadly, that last part is true.  They DO care but they also need to fill the seats, especially in an economic cycle where people are cutting back on entertainment spending.  Trust me, they care.  One answer was particularly good and made the same point I'm trying to make about respecting the performers, the occasion and the venue and she added, "the others who have been going to symphonies in suits and evening gowns for decades, the ones whose season tickets and donations make the symphony possible at all."  Very insightful!!
  • Lastly, why WOULDN'T you want to dress up?  I honestly can't think of any reason I wouldn't want to pamper myself and treat myself to an evening of looking and feeling fabulous.  Mom's especially sometimes need to look for excuses like this, so take the opportunity when it knocks!
And when it comes knocking, what should you wear?  Well, most symphonies have an "informal dress code."  This does not mean you can dress "informally", it means the dress code is not forcible, but recommended. And the dress code at the multiple symphonies I found who actually post one is Business Formal to Business Casual.  Business Formal = suits and ties or tuxedos for the men and fancy dresses or evening gowns for the women.  Business Casual = sport coats for the men and cocktail dresses or fancy pant suits for the women.  The exception is the Saturday or Sunday matinee performance when casual dress (khakis and collared shirts) is more appropriate. 
No denim. Don't even think about it.  You can never go wrong with a black dress, which every woman should have in her wardrobe if she also has a pair of jeans.

In general, fancy dress tends to manifest itself either in color or fabric.  For example, a pair of nice pants and a top in all black can be just as fancy as a satin sheath dress or sequined skirt in a lighter color.  It's another version of the teeter-totter principle.  If I totter down, as in down to more casual pieces (which pants are for women) then I should also take the color down.  If I teeter up to a fancier cut garment, such as a fitted dress or skirt, I can up the color. 
I'm painting with very broad brush strokes here to help clarify the big picture.  I saw a gorgeous sequined black dress on Saturday night, as well as a lovely pair of pale pink satin pants and a matching embroidered strapless top over which the woman had draped a black pashmina to cover her shoulders.  Both women were wearing nice accessories, fabulous shoes and looked wonderful.

So how 'bout it?  Can't we all just dress up when the occasion calls for it?  Can we commit to elevating our style and enjoying those times we get to look amazing?  It'll be a refreshing change for the better that our society could really benefit from.

Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on why you think Evening Wear  (or appropriate dressing in general) has taken such a hit.  Simply click the word "Comments" at the top of this post.

I can hold my tongue no longer.  Not that I ever could.  But about this particular topic I've really hit the end of my rope.  WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO SUNDAY DRESS??

Below are some very accurate examples of four outfits I saw today at church.  Yes, this very day.  The only differences being that most of the men had not worn jackets.  It's summer after all.  But I found dead-on pictures of the denim jumper, jean jacket, flip flops, and t-shirts. The Hollister t-shirt was a different color but the striped hoodie is identical.  Now, there were also very appropriately dressed women.  One had on a great black pencil skirt/wrap top combo that I would have loved in my own closet.  But the fact that the outfits below were not merely represented but almost a majority was a travesty.    

This isn't a trend isolated to my town.  The demise of Sunday Best has been surfing in on the wave of casualization that began sweeping across America with the dot com boom. "Too cool for old school" 20 and 30 year olds, with their start-up cash, attended meetings in shorts and t-shirts.  They were doing business a new way and certainly adopted a new uniform for it.  But when that bubble burst, why didn't appropriate style return?  I'm part of the dot com generation but never went in for the hyper-casual philosophy. 

Once again, I've found a topic I could write a book about but I've done my best to edit myself to a few key points.

  1. Casual clothing is disrespectful.  No, church is not a fashion show.  But let's be honest, the only people who drag out that mantra are the ones trying to excuse their own clothing choices!! Julie Beck, one of the leaders of the women's organization in the LDS church, gave a fantastic talk in 2007 about what women who really understand the religion do.  One small part of that talk is so very applicable here.  "I have visited sacrament meetings in some of the poorest places on the earth where mothers have dressed with great care in their Sunday best despite walking for miles on dusty streets and using worn-out public transportation. They bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. These mothers know they are going to sacrament meeting, where covenants are renewed.  ...These mothers have influence and power."  (Click here for her entire talk.)
  2. There really are appropriate and inappropriate outfit options for nearly every occasion.  Several years ago, while I was still in the singles ward and living in Phoenix a letter was read from the pulpit.  All LDS people know that if a letter is read in church, the same letter would have been read that Sunday to at least the entire stake, if not region.  So again, not an isolated incident. The dress code had apparently hit rock bottom and needed to be dealt with.  I remember two things from that Sunday.  First, that I wanted to stand up and cheer that it was finally being discussed, and second, the highlights of the letter.  A) Denim is not appropriate.  In any form.  B) Casual, printed and/or tight-fitting t-shirts are not appropriate.  C) Rubber flip flops are not appropriate.  I would hasten to add that sweatshirts are also not appropriate.  Another point of that letter was that if anyone didn't have or could not afford appropriate Sunday clothing to please talk to their leaders so that help could be provided.  It was and is THAT important to show our church meetings the proper level of respect. 
  3. Men have it easier because they have a church "uniform."  A man's suit makes dressing for church very easy.  He grabs the suit, a button down shirt, tie and appropriate shoes.  The only variations tend to be no jacket in the summer months, shirt sleeve length, and the addition of a sweater in the winter months.  Women would find dressing properly for church much easier if they had their own version of a uniform, aka, the capsule wardrobe.  Capsule wardrobes for various occasions will be discussed in greater detail in upcoming posts, but for now, create your own church "uniform" by putting together outfits with your very best skirts and dresses.  If it helps, hang them together in your closet.  Don't worry about how many you have.  Most men only have 2 suits they wear regularly and a few other trousers.  More important than wearing something new every week is wearing something respectful.  

Sunday best used to have meaning.  It was clear to everyone.  There was clothing reserved for Sunday so that it would always look it's best.  And it wasn't just a version of the same clothing worn throughout the week.  Its only a couple hours out of the week, but some of the most important.  I have to agree with Ms. Dolly, "Dressed like a dream your spirits seem to turn about.  That Sunday shine is a certain sign that you feel as fine as you look!"
Here's another great question we received!

Q: Help! I have a funeral to attend but I don't want to wear black.  My sister passed away after a lifetime of battling illness.  Our family wants to celebrate her many victories, instead of mourning in dark clothes.  What in the world do I choose that will be appropriate?

A:  What a wonderful idea to celebrate her at an obviously difficult time.  I've never enjoyed black for funerals.  I guess I look for any small way to express joy for the person's life.  Sometimes dark clothing is the only appropriate option but in this case, where you've agreed as a family to strike out from the norm, I definitely see your dilemma.  Sticking with an overall conservative ensemble will still be the most respectful of the occasion but here are a couple of options to complete your look.

1. Something that was her favorite.  Is there a dress, blouse or skirt she always loved on you?  If it's conservative, pair it with a neutral piece and a piece of jewelry she gifted you.
2.  Something you bought together or matching.  We're not talking those matching Tweedle-Dee/Tweedle-Dum t-shirts here, but maybe there's a nice dress, etc. that you both loved so much you each bought one.
3.  Something in her favorite color or her favorite color on you.  Maybe she always loved it when you wore yellow, even though it was a big fashion step for you. 
4.  Something she made you.  Many people today make their own jewelry and other accessories nowadays.  Do you have a piece or two she did for you?  Choose a neutral ensemble that will really showcase that item.
5.  If all else fails, choose a conservative outfit that flatters you, and accessorize with her favorite flower.  And think outside the lapel!  Flowers will look beautiful and elegant in your hair or on a simple ribbon choker around your neck.  Even the retro wrist corsage is a chic option.

As a side note for those attending funerals but who aren't related to the deceased, take your cue for appropriate attire from the family.  Start by researching the religious and cultural systems of the bereaved family.  For example, Korean's wear white to funerals.  Buddhists frown on red.  Hindu's wear white if you're a member of the family, otherwise you should wear dark colors.  Many customs, including Jewish, require women, men or both to cover their heads so bring a conservative scarf, just in case.

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