I´d love to know your thoughts about over-dressing: like wearing something nice to a supermarket and something really extravagant to a casual occasion. I don’t mean expensive pieces, but just something elaborate and pretty. Do you think overdressing is pathetic and a sign of a boring life, or do you think it´s the rest of the people under-dressing that´s the problem?
First of all, I don’t believe that ANY kind of dressing is pathetic. Every woman has her reasons for choosing her clothing, and assuming that I could accurately gauge those reasons by looking at her is pure foolishness. That goes for over-dressing, under-dressing, dressing differently from peers, dressing impractically, dressing in ways that I cannot personally fathom … you name it. I am continually fascinated by the choices of others, but do my best to reserve judgment.
As for the specific questions of over- and under-dressing, let’s start on the casual side of the coin, shall we? I’ve heard many style experts claim that casual clothing culture has ruined our society. RUINED it! And while it makes me a bit sad to attend the opera wearing my best dresses and heels while my fellow audience members listen, rapt, in their sweatshirts and jeans, I don’t consider such shifts in style to signal deteriorating human morals. Life has gotten harder, faster, more overwhelming, and scarier as the years have worn on. If people elect to wear their comfies at all times as a means of keeping an even keel, feeling happy and secure, or for any other reason, who am I to judge?
As for over-dressing, I’m a fan. I wear dresses on Casual Friday, heels to the grocery store, statement necklaces for dinner at Wendy’s. For much of my career, I was overdressed ALL THE TIME. Which, I suppose, is directly related to the aforementioned casual clothing culture that has overtaken my country. But it’s also related to my unabashed love of clothing and style. I have absolutely no problem with people who dress down, but my personal preference is to dress up. And it delights me to see others who choose to dress up, regardless of context. Typical objections to over-dressing – it’s vain, it’s a sign of self-absorption, it makes others feel self-conscious – strike me as petty. If people want to wear ballgowns to the bowling alley as a means of self-expression, attention-seeking, or for any other reason, who am I to judge?
All that said, I prefer to have some sense of the level of formality before attending an event, meeting, or gathering. Although I respect the right to choice, I also acknowledge that fashion is social, that we project information about ourselves through our clothing choices, and that dressing well broadcasts self-respect outward to the observing world. Additionally being over- or under-dressed can attract negative attention in certain circles, creating uncomfortable social situations. Some people could care less about making waves, but personally, I err on the side of conformity of dress. When moving among strangers, I prefer to rely on my intelligence and personality to make waves for me.
Although certain situations ambush us, we can generally guess which outfits will make us appear over- or under-dressed. Taffeta dresses will look out of place at PTA meetings, sweatpants will seem odd at weddings. If you end up over- or under-dressed for any reason at all, my only advice is to own it. If you’re intentionally dressing outside the social norm, own it. Be confident and bold, flippant and carefree, and many will admire your strength. If you accidentally dress outside the social norm, own it. We’ve all been there, and laughing with others will demolish social barriers. Either way, you might as well embrace your position as sore thumb with good humor. Acting embarrassed and ashamed will simply prevent you from enjoying yourself, being yourself, and connecting with people who accept you no matter what you’re wearing.
Image courtesy Charline Tetiyevsky.