Are We A Nation of . . . Slobs?

Gorgeous friend Joni sent me this entertaining video about a professor who teaches that we’ve become a “Nation of Slobs” (that’s the course title!)

Professor Linda Przybyszewski teaches a class called “A Nation of Slobs” at the University of Notre Dame.

She says her students are amazed at the way Americans dressed in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. “My students very often are floored by the beauty of some of the vintage pictures that I show them,” she says.

We dressed up for more than just the theater back then – we put on gloves and hose and heels for going out to dinner and church. Men wore hats and suit coats to go to the ball game. And remember (well, we saw it in movies) when people dressed nicely to travel on a airplane?

What caused the “descent” into ultra-casual, some say sloppy, attire? The professor cites the social changes of the 60’s and migration to the suburbs, where more casual wear was the norm. Then came a growing desire for simpler, less expensive clothing and a sportier lifestyle.

Dr. Przybyszewski makes all her own clothing, because she can’t find pieces with the details she wants. She’s wearing a lovely retro style print dress in the video, with lots of buttons at the sleeve. Many of my blogger friends also enjoy a return to dressing up for everyday and I love their styles.

Beautiful Gabriala of Style Higher dresses to perfection
Susan of Fifty, Not Frumpy is impeccable

I’d like to take Dr. Przybyszewski’s class and learn more about the
economic/social/racial issues that influenced how Americans dressed. In
the movies we usually see upper-class white women with gloves and hats; did the blue collar women also dress up?

I am an in-betweener in modern style as I like to look put together, but rarely could I be called “dressed-up.” But I am enchanted by vintage clothing, used to dress in it more often, and have a small collection of dresses from the 40’s.

Have we progressed, to more casual, easy-to-move-in, easy-care clothing? Or regressed to a nation of . . . slobs? Love to hear your thoughts, as always.

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  3. I agree regarding the super casual sense toward dressing. I live in the Pacific Northwest where you see way too much cleavage in the summer, with our without the necessary under garments….I dress smartly with a casual flair and still get asked if I have something special I am headed to. I would rather be put together than embarrassed, sometimes I think I am in the minority:)

  4. Thank you! You are absolutely correct. I am a woman in her early 30s, and I, too, notice how sloppily people dress. I am British by birth, and my stay in the US has been, well, let's just say, educational. I do believe that the ever expanding waistlines of Americans result in a "I-couldn't-care-less-how-I-look attitude," but there is more at work, too: The quantity-over-quality mindset, confusing comfort with sloppyness, a decline of sewing and tailoring skills, etc.

    In the UK, there are still many tailors and dressmakers, and whilst there appears to be a resurgence of dressmakers in the US, most men wear trousers that are too long and pooling at the ankles, jackets that are too boxy with overly long sleeves, and so on. It is a clear sign that clothing is poorly fitting and not tailored. Yes, dry cleaning shops provide alterations, but only based on the customer's wishes. In my experience, they don't really know much about proper fit.

    It is entirely possible to be very well dressed indeed without spending a fortune. Ebay and charity shops are excellent sources for high-quality new or gently used clothing. Vintage finds almost always exceed modern clothing in terms of fibres, fabrics, and workmanship. A few alterations will create a great fit, and voilà, one is well dressed for a few quid.

  5. How much do the slobby wardrobes mirror the self confidence and self worth of those wearing them?

  6. Here in the UK, Tesco (big grocery store chain)actually had to issue a dress code that stated, on paper, that you are not allowed to shop in your pajamas….that you have to be wearing actual CLOTHES to come into the shop. So Americans, we are not alone in our slobbery. The British are coming…

  7. Great post and discussion. I love to dress up almost daily, but I understand that not everybody enjoys or wants to participate in what is fun and interesting to me. I remember the 70's when we transitioned to street clothes from nurses' uniforms when working on psychiatric units. Freedom! I think that having the choice to wear what we want is liberating.

  8. Hi Patti, thank you for introducing me to my new best friend (the professor…). So awesome she is teaching a class on this!!!! P.S. LOL, I saw my picture and I thought I accidentally clicked back to my blog for a second. 🙂

  9. Hm. I suppose that if I had lived in an age where one just HAD to wear a hat and gloves and fitted jacket and girdle, etc., I would be the one in the sweatpants, fighting against conformity and body binding. Probably some of the blogs I love today would also feature comfort slob clothing. The swings back and forth show that we still have freedom of expression and being different can be a political act. What would worry me most is if slobbery came and no one fought back.

  10. Even the office has become sloppy. And don't get me started on how we dress going to the theatre or ballet. Sadly our sloppy behaviour has reared its ugly head in more than just our wardrobes. How we treat each other, spiritual sloppiness, greed, subject matter on television/movies/internet, etc. Too much temptation, not enough discipline and respect.

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  12. Sorry to say – slobs! Same in Canada, people don't make an effort

  13. I see this as being a two-sided coin. On the one hand, the dressed up days of yore certainly were tyrannical to a degree. You "had" to wear gloves or hose or hats, your hemline had to be just so, and God forbid you break the rules established for your social stratum. On the other hand, it is boring to see everyone (as I did recently at an outdoor show) dressed in khakis and polo shirts. There are infinite threads to this conversation, as you rightly point out. I'd love to think that at this point in history we can dress as we please, all dressed up or down, and be perfectly comfortable in doing so. That's progress to me.

  14. Hello Sherrie – I love your book "Forever Cool". I'll have to pick up "Steal This Style." Thanks for stopping by; I'd love to attend one of your seminars sometime.

  15. Thanks for sharing. It's true that it's gotten worse. Have you seen how boys and/or guys wear their pants underneath their butt. As for wearing pajama bottoms outside of the house, I don't get it. Half the time, I'm thinking the person is coming from the emergency room.

  16. You should see what people wear in my neighborhood! Actually, if you follow my blog faithfully the outfits I post are almost always far dressier than anyone around me in the pictures. Back in January I attended a funeral where one young woman was wearing rubber shower style flip flops!

  17. I always try to look neat and put-together without sacrificing comfort. It CAN be done.

  18. I wrote 2 books that depict this issue, and much more. "Forever Cool" and "Steal This Style" (both Random House). I also give seminars that discuss casual style–and how it need not be sloppy at all. One of my seminars at the Phoenix Museum, discussed "Style Inheritance". What are we passing on? What did we inherit?

  19. Interesting video, sign me up with you Patti, I would love to take this course. I, too, thinks its sad that our society has become so relaxed, lazy, or " so called slobs". I'm more in your category of being put together, but I always try to dress appropriately for the occasion. One thing I learned while teaching school was the more professional I dressed, the more respect I received from my students.

  20. Patti, glad to see someone actually caring about the way our younger generation is dressing. I was taught by my Mother to lay out my clothing & choose the best accessories at a very tender age. Even when expecting my children I dressed stylishly and yes gloves.They were shirred and almost to the elbow ,lovely. Maybe with a few more gals like you we can get this era back to caring how they look in public Donna

  21. This is so true, just look at all the pictures being taken of the Wal-Mart shoppers. Need to address the hair being un-kept as well. Look at all those 20's and 30's pictures, men and women even wore suits and dresses walking the beaches!

  22. Wonderful post, Patti. It's true that things have gotten progressively more casual. But I think there's a backlash in the making. I see people dressing up more and I think it's the result of a greater overall interest in fashion. There was a time where dressing up was almost like wearing a hat: you felt self-concious because no one else was doing it.

    This year, we've seen so many more dresses and I think that tells you something. Even at that, I think the focus on comfort will tend to make even dresses and suits more relaxed. And I love the fact that I can look smart and professional in a pant suit without having such a rigid set of rules for dressing. That said, I hope that I never get so bad that I wear yoga pants non-stop. Although, when I'm puttering around home, I guarantee you, I'm not dressing up. What about you?

  23. I feel that it is nice to be dressed as "a lady". If I am doing housework, I wear appropriate clothing but when I go out, I take some care with my appearance. I love the look of older European women with good walking shoes, stockings and skirts.

  24. I'm definitely glad I'm not compelled to wear dresses, girdles, hose/stocking, and heels. But I see all kinds of hideousness and slovenliness around me on a daily basis… it has gone a bit too far. Although, I am guilty of running to the convenience store in PJs….

  25. You questioned whether it was only the upper class women that dressed up. I think poor women wore hats and gloves too, obviously just not as fine. Think of poor, African American women attending church back then.

  26. "Freedom to choose is surely better" — so well said, C.

  27. A nation of slobs? Yes, but it's more than that…I'd say a western world of slobs. Australia is no exception.

  28. I think it's fine either way. If people don't care about clothes or style, or their style is what this professor has deemed "a slob" then who cares? People dress the way they want to dress. They focus on what they think is important and maybe dressing up is not as important to a lot of people nowadays.

  29. I'm sorry I missed it – but I will check it out now! : >

  30. I think there has definitely been a shift to more casual dressing, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's possible to look casual, yet interesting and funky and cool. I am glad we don't have the constraints and rules of a dress code – I imagine it is far less appealing to wear a dress, hat, gloves and stockings/tights every time we are in public if there is a social imperative to do so. Presumably that's why things changed – people rebelled against such strictures. Freedom to choose is surely better, even if what people choose isn't always to our taste! The social class issues of fashion and clothing are fascinating to me too.
    Lots of food for thought as always, Patti! xxx

  31. I posted that same story about slobby dressing and what we should be wearing.

  32. This is so interesting. I agree. Most people look like slobs. There is a way to dress casually and still look chic. It is an art, I will admit. But dressing nicely can be expensive. In the past a lot of women made their own clothes. Have you tried to do that these days? Fabric is expensive. And nice fabric is difficult to find. Fabric stores are pretty much geared for Halloween costumes. Do we even have the time to make our own clothes? And few people even know how to sew. There need to be more designers out there who are willing to design attractive, practical, affordable clothing for both men & women. If I've spent money on a nice dress I certainly don't want to wear it while I walk the dog and then make splattery spaghetti sauce or crawl around with my kids at the playground. Come on you clothing designers out there. Get it together! Thanks for this Patti. It got a lot of people thinking.

  33. I first became attracted to dressing up when I was preparing for my wedding last year. I pored over photos of dresses and accessories and wondered to myself – why is it only "OK" to feel special and wear something that makes me feel beautiful on this one day and not on every other day of my life. I am wonderful every day!
    There are always those that would belittle ladies that dress up

  34. I think it's both. I know I look for secretly comfy clothes. A sweatshirt material moto-jacket. cotton everything, a little stretch here, a higher cut. Secret details. But if it won't survive a run through the washer? It's not gonna work.

    I imagine looking through the vintage clothes would be dreamy. I do miss the expectations of dressing up. I certainly never wear sweats or yoga pants to college class or pajamas to the store.

  35. I definitely think here in the UK people are getting increasingly slovenly, which is a shame because dressing up is such fun. Off to check out those other 2 bloggers now, thank you for sharing. X

  36. Thank you for referencing Dr. P. I will be looking into this more for sure. And your post comes on the heels of my re-running a series I wrote a couple years ago that looks at life lessons from a 1948 Home Economics book and compares it to what we see (or don't see) today by comparison.

  37. I love the idea of dressing up every day. In reality there are some days I just really need to coast by on my khakis and a tee.

  38. Wow, good one! I think America (the US anyway) is also much sloppier than Europe. I wonder why.

  39. My family was not well-to-do growing up. During mid 1950s-early 1960's, my mother never had more than $25 a week to feed and clothe a family of four. Her sewing skills (she was a Brit) were magical which meant our clothing was always beautifully made and stylish (she re-imagined many a Vogue pattern) even if the fabric was inexpensive. We lived overseas and traveled a great deal…always dressing up when we flew anywhere (gloves, hat, the whole shebang). Do I miss that level of dressing detail today? No, not really. However, I still dress well when I fly anywhere…comfortably, but nicely. Business casual describes the way I dress whether at work, volunteering, church, or grocery shopping. I like to go out clean, neat, wearing lip gloss and a bit of blush with my hair under control. It seems the civil thing to do.

  40. I think so much more is expecte dof us and we need versatile clothing to cope with all those roles.

  41. I'm glad we've broken free of the shackles that were the "must wear hat and gloves" tradition, but do we have to go to sweats and flip-flops? Taking some pride in our appearance but not feeling socially burdened is a good solution for me. :~)

  42. Interesting video. I personally think it is a shame we no longer dress up for events. I have even seen jeans worn at the Opera house here in London.

  43. I love that reporter from CBS. I thought it was funny when she said we go from simplicity into stupidity.

    There are definately loads of reasons not to bother with dressing "fancy". You work from home, you don't "need" to dress up for the office, it's casual Friday, Thursday Wednesday. Which are precisely the reasons why if you do take time with yourself and make an effort you stand out from the crowd and people will notice you.

    Laziness is a big culprit to sloppy dressing.

    Seriously…I would never ever go anywhere in PJs. It looks ridiculous.


  44. I think the place where people get this wrong is equating comfortable with sloppy. It's actually possible to be comfortable and still look put together.

    What's interesting to me is how today we have so many clothing options. Fashion "rules" are no longer valid. People can pretty much dress how they please. But go to any street and see if all the choice has made us look any better. Maybe the truth is that most people need guidance in how to best present themselves. It's like we are in clothing chaos

  45. A time and a place for each way of dressing. Some of us don't live in a corporate world anymore and are completely retired. That being said, I would NEVER wear pajamas out in public. That's just totally slobby.

  46. Did you see my post of yesterday morning? Great minds think alike! 😀

  47. I agree completely! I have been ranting about this for decades. I hate seeing people go out in their pajamas. It's not cute, it's gross and disrespectful to those around you.

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