The Land of LA is notorious for being the Capitol of Casual, at least as far as major US urban areas go. It’s not hard to feel overdressed in this town, unless you’re walking a red carpet (and even then only provided the paparazzi actually know who you are). The almost compulsory dressing down goes hand-in-hand with the zeitgeist of Cool, and here the worst faux pas is being perceived as Trying Too Hard. This, understandably, makes une femme absolutely nuts. Am I the only person in LA who actually enjoys dressing up on occasion?

One would presume–in West LA anyway–that the dress code for women seems to dictate that one should always look as if one is just going to or returning from yoga class. Men seem to be required to wear baseball caps and flip-flops. Up until recently, Uggs were overwhelmingly the footwear of choice. Job applicants show up for interviews with bare midriffs and muffin tops, and I’ve seen people dining at Crustacean in t-shirts that should have hit the rag bin five years hence.

Somewhat serendipitously, as I was beginning to ponder this cacaphony of casual wear, I stumbled across an article in September Vogue entitled “The Sloppy Syndrome.” The author, Jean Hanff Korelitz writes, “I have always had a very uneasy relationship with the idea of elegance. Nice clothes were fine, but you didn’t want to look as if you were trying too hard or cared that much. I could never seem to get dressed up without feeling compelled to mess up my hair or skip the stockings, just to take the edge off. When it came to heels, I always chickened out just before I left the house and swapped them for something that wouldn’t look so…forced.”

She goes on to explore some of the cultural and generational differences in attitudes toward dressing up, “Women of my mother’s vintage have always been well turned out, from their smocked girlhood dresses to their teen cashmere sweater sets to the professional clothes they wore as they entered the brave new post-Betty Friedan workplace….Being elegant, looking mature–these were not problematic for them.” She wonders if in our youth-worshipping, individualistic culture, looking too put-together signals identification with having achieved a certain age or whether it goes back to a fear of looking like we care what others think, and wanting to avoid the risk of not passing muster.

Either way, Angelenos have taken this sartorial attitude to extremes. But recently I’ve seen signs that this tide may be turning a bit. Saturday night we finally got in for dinner at Fraiche and I was delighted and surprised to see that the majority of other diners there actually Dressed Up, at least by LA standards. Granted, most of the clientele were themselves d’un certain age, but even some of the younger patrons had put on a dress and heels, and actually seemed to have washed their hair. I’m hopeful this isn’t either a passing fad or a sign of the Apocalypse, because for a city with so many “beautiful people,” I’ve never seen so many shlubs.

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  1. August 28, 2007 / 3:53 am

    If it’s bad in LA, you can only imagine what it’s like in a small “city” (c.70,000) whose origins are strictly lunch-bucket–mining and logging mills (altho’ we do boast a university-college). Pointy toes get remarked on with a barely-concealed accusation of “fashion victim” (don’t people know that the toes don’t actually get squeezed into those points!). Compliments on clothes are often thinly-disguised sneers at superficiality or profligacy. What can I do but suck it up and head out for some retail therapy, superficial spendthrift that I am!?

  2. August 28, 2007 / 12:47 pm

    Oh, I hear you on that. It’s a kind of reverse-snobbism that’s just as much intended to cut the receiver down to size as the country-club kind. Just a different manifestation of tribalism, or maybe just peoples’ insecurities, I guess.

  3. August 28, 2007 / 5:51 pm

    Well said! Miss Janey must agree with deja pseu about the dismal state of dress in LA. Things are no better on the east side. A few months back, friends of Mr. Janey’s commented,”We’ve never seen Miss J in jeans…” That’s because these particular friends are mostly seen for dinner outings, and Miss Janey likes to make an effort to look great when she goes out on the town. If others don’t like it, it is THEY who should step up, not expect Miss J others to dress down. Any slob can slip into jeans and flip flops, but where is the pleasure, the fun of getting dressed?

  4. August 29, 2007 / 2:21 pm

    I went to the opera in Chicago last summer, and was horrified to find people in khakis! even in the good seats! Granted, in the family seats in NYC you get the same thing, but at least if you pay a bit, you can actually be surrounded by a modest amount of glamour. Lately, it’s the only place outside the South and deb-type events where you can find actual black-tie.

    I’m reminded of a military ball I went to a few years ago. I asked my date if the event were actual black-tie or if a cocktail dress would be more appropriate. He, being even more snob than I, said that it was black-tie, and even if not, it should be. So I show up in a ball-skirt, only to be presented with mounds of long poly-blend dresses. The men, of course, looked perfect.

    If you can’t do actual blacktie at the opera or at a military ball, where can you? Khaki at the opera. I tell you what.

  5. August 29, 2007 / 2:27 pm

    For my birthday a few years back, I got tickets to “La Boheme” at the Dorothy Chandler. I was looking forward to a special, spiffy evening. There were people there in jeans. Khakis, jeans, I mean it’s the OPERA people!!! Show a little class.

  6. citizen spot
    August 30, 2007 / 3:27 am

    Old grandma W would be so proud! She loved the fashion, and the niner’s. Go figure. But seriously, no one ever dresses up anymore, except maybe for the SF Opera, but they even had a simulcast to the ATT (pacbell) park stadium jumbotron of the SF Opera’s opening show, for free. I missed it. DOH!

  7. August 30, 2007 / 3:52 am

    She loved her Scotch too, Grandma did. But yes, she did dress well.

  8. September 8, 2007 / 8:22 am

    I live in New Zealand and it’s a tyranny of casual wear and street wear here. I imagined the USA – the big cities anyway, like LA and New York – would be different. How sad to learn it’s not so! I can’t understand why grown-up people don’t enjoy dressing up. I’ve seen jeans at the opera, the ballet, weddings, funerals… I love classic styles, tailored, structured clothing, skirts and high heels. I really enjoy wearing grown-up lady clothes to the office but apparently some people find this quite revolutionary. I’ve had plenty of comments implying I’m shallow, vain and trying too hard.

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